It seems as if it has been a long time since we were at that stage where good economic news was interpreted negatively and bad news was celebrated.
Lately, on the economic front there really hasn’t been any bad news, although depending on your perspective perhaps the good news just hasn’t been good enough. That might include unrequited expectations for a consumer buying frenzy that hasn’t yet materialized as a result of energy savings.
On the other hand the good news has been steady. Not terribly spectacular, but a steady climb toward an improved economic landscape for more and more people. Again, to put a little cynical spin on things, for some the climb has been far too slow and the 5.5% unemployment rate a bit illusory as so many may have simply dropped out of the employment seeking pool.
After a week in which the market moved in alternating directions on no news at all during the first 3 days of trading, it finally reverted to a paradoxical form when the Employment Situation Report was released on Friday morning.
A much better than expected number and with no revisions to previous months was great if you were among those looking for and finding a new job. What it wasn’t great for were the prospects of interest rates staying low and the Federal Reserve continuing with its “patience.”
At least that’s how the impact of the data was perceived. The good news was cast in a very negative way and the immediate reaction was not much different from the panic that might beset a grocery store when in August the Farmer’s Almanac may call for unusually brutal winter and people clear the shelves of milk in anticipation.
While there are still far too many people in need of jobs and newly created jobs aren’t necessarily of the same caliber of pay as those lost since 2008, for some the burden of the good news was too much to bear and the selling accelerated to a level not seen in quite a while, although never really to the point of toilet paper frenzy.
At the very least for those who practice a paradoxical approach to the interpretation of news, they were able to contain some of their emotions even as their irrational selling ruled the day. It was like still finding a carton of milk after the hordes had beaten you to the store, indicating that not everyone believed that Armageddon was the next stop.
I think that if I could choose, I’d much rather be trading stocks when there is an identifiable and consistent reaction to events, even if it may be less than rational. The early part of the week, moving up and down daily in individual vacuums could do little to create any kind of confidence regarding market direction. In essence, it’s easier to plan survival tactics when maniacs are in charge than it is when no one is in charge.
Those that were in charge on Friday based their actions on fear and dragged the rest of us down with them.
They were fearful that putting more people to work would accelerate the timetable for raising interest rates. That in turn would lead to greater costs of doing business and would be coming at a time that the rest of the world is lowering rates.
That would probably lead to even greater strength in the US Dollar, perhaps even USD and Euro parity, which only serves to accentuate those currency headwinds that have already been highlighted as reducing corporate earnings and would only further create competitive threats.
Cycles. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.
The reaction by traders on Friday would have you believe that none of this was previously known or suspected to be in our future.
The reality is that we all know that rates are going to go higher. It’s just a question of whether we follow Janet Yellen’s perceived path or Stanley Fisher’s accelerated path.
Personally, my fear is how we could be trading in a market that in the space of a single week, when both Yellen and Fischer expressed their opinions, could go from the comforting assurances from Janet Yellen to completely tossing out those assurances. That leads to the question of whether we believe she is simply wrong or just lying.
Neither of those is very comforting.
It’s actually even worse than that, as last week the market, following a positive response to Yellen’s comments turned on her barely 2 days later upon Fischer’s suggestion that interest rate increases would be coming sooner, rather than later.
On the other hand a more rational consideration of Friday’s reaction would suggest that maybe the reaction itself was irrational and unwarranted because Janet Yellen is in a better position to know about the timing or rate increases than a nervous portfolio manager and is probably much less likely to lie or mis-represent her intentions.
There’s always that.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
Following Friday’s sell-off a number of positions appear to be more appropriately priced, however, the accelerating nature of the sell-off should leave some residual precaution as approaching the coming week, as even stock innocents were taken along for the plunge on Friday and could just as easily still be at risk.
Another large climb in 10 Year Treasury interest rates makes interest related investment strategies more appealing to some and the impending start of the European version of Quantitative Easing may also serve to siphon investment funds from US equity markets.
While I do have some room in my mind and heart for some more exciting kind of positions this week, my primary focus is likely to be on more mundane positions, especially if there’s a dividend at hand. This week’s selection is also more limited, than usual, as I expect my week to be ruled by some of that heightened caution, at least at the outset of trading.
Huntsman (NYSE:HUN), Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) seem to be appropriate choices for the coming week and all under-performed the S&P 500 during the past week, with the latter perhaps having more currency related considerations in their futures.
Trading right near its one year low is Huntsman Corp . It’s not a terribly exciting company, but at the moment, who really needs excitement?
Trading only monthly options I might consider the use of a longer term option sale, perhaps a May 2015, to further reduce the excitement, while bypassing earnings in late April and adding a decent sized premium to the potential return, in addition to the upcoming dividend and, hopefully, some capital gains from shares, as well.
There probably isn’t very much that can be said about Coca Cola that would offer any great new insights. With a number of potential support levels beneath its current price and a recently enhanced option premium, particularly in a week that it is ex-dividend, a position seems to offer a good balance of reward with risk.
While the company may still be floundering in its efforts to better diversify its portfolio of offerings and while it may continue to be under attack for its management, those may be of little concern for a very short term strategy seeking to capitalize on option premiums and the upcoming dividend. At its current price level, however, it is below its mid-point level range for the past 6 months and may offer some near term upside in the underlying shares in addition to the income related opportunities.
You really know that it’s no longer your “grandfather’s stock market” when big pharma is no longer the keystone in everyone’s portfolio and is no longer making front page new on a daily basis. Instead, increasingly big pharma is playing second fiddle to smaller pharmaceutical companies, at least in garnering attention, unless it is involved in a proposed buy-out or merger, as is increasingly the case.
On a steady price decline since the end of January 2015, when the market started its own party mode, Merck shares are also ex-dividend this week and offer a better premium proposition than is normally the case when doing so.
Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has for the past few months been held hostage by energy prices and will likely continue so while the supply – demand situation for oil evolves for better or worse.
The only good news is that while it may be unduly castigated for its joint energy holdings the impact has been relatively muted. During the past few months as shares have become more volatile its option premiums have understandably been increasing and making it again worthy of some consideration.
Although it doesn’t go ex-dividend for another 3 weeks I would already place my sights on trying to capture that dividend and would consider a longer term option contract in order to attempt to lock in several weeks of premiums in addition to the dividend as oil is likely to go up and down many times during that time frame.
Sometimes, the best approach during periods of advanced volatility is to try and ride things out by placing some time distance between your short option positions and events.
I was considering adding more shares of Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) a few weeks ago, as it passed the $52.50 level, thinking that it might be ready for a breakout, perhaps bringing it back to levels last seen before the breakdown of the potash cartel. I can’t really recall why I ultimately decided to look elsewhere, but instead shares went into another break-down.
That breakdown last week will hopefully be much smaller, since I already own shares and will take nowhere near as long to recoup the losses.
The nearly 8% decline in shares last week for no discernible reason has now brought them back to the upper range of where I had most recently been comfortable adding shares. While the broader macro-economic picture may suggest less acreage being put to use to add to the supply of already low priced crops there isn’t such a clean association between commodity prices and fertilizer prices.
With its ex-dividend date having just passed and with the recent trend still pointing downward, Mosaic may be a good candidate to consider the sale of put options as a means of potential entry into a long position, but at an even lower price.
Finally, for the third consecutive week I would consider establishing a position in shares of United Continental (NYSE:UAL) as part of a paired trade with an energy holding, especially if you crave the kind of excitement that Huntsman may not be able to provide.
I’ve been using Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) as the matching energy position and had my UAL shares assigned this past Friday, despite a large price drop for the second consecutive week just before expiration.
With the energy holding still in my portfolio I would consider another purchase of UAL, particularly if there is weakness in its shares to open the week. As has been the case previously, because of the volatility in shares the option premiums have been very generous. However, rather than directly taking advantage of those premiums, my preference has been to balance risk with reward and instead have opted for lower premiums by selecting deep in the money strike prices. Doing so allows shares to drop in price while still being able to deliver an acceptable ROI for the week.
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical
Momentum Stocks: Mosaic, United Continental
Double Dip Dividend: Huntsman (3/12), Coca Cola (3/12), Merck (3/12)
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.