Weekend Update – May 19, 2013

Shades of 1999.

I’m not certain that I understand the chorus of those claiming that our current market reminds them of 1999.

Mind you, I’m as cautious, maybe much more so than the next guy and have been awaiting some kind of a correction for more than 2 months now, but I just don’t see the resemblance.

Much has also been made of the fact that the S&P 500 is now some 12% above its 200 Day Moving Average, which in the past has been an untenable position, other than back when sock puppets were ruling the markets. Back then that metric was breached for years.

Back in 1999 and the years preceding it, the catalyst was known as the “dot com boom” or “dot com bubble” or the “dot com bust,” depending on what point you entered. The catalyst was clear, perhaps best exemplified by the ubiquitous sock puppet and the short lived PSINet Stadium, back then home to the world Champion Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens survived, perhaps even thrived since then, while PSINet was a casualty of the excesses of the era. When it was all said and done you could stuff PSINet’s assets into a sock.

During the height of that era the catalyst was thought to be in endless supply. But in the current market, what is the catalyst? Most would agree that if anything could be identified it would likely be the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing.

But as last week’s rumor of its upcoming end and then an article suggesting that the Federal Reserve already has an exit plan, the catalyst is clearly not thought to be unending. Unless the economy is much worse than we all believe it to be the fuel will be depleted sooner rather than later.

Now if you’re really trying to find a year comparable to this one, look no further than 1995, when the market ended the year 34% higher and never even had anything more than a 2% correction.

If llke me, and you’re selling covered options; let’s hope not.

For me, this Friday marked the end of the May 2013 option cycle. As I had been cautious since the end of February and transitioned into more monthly option contract sales, I am faced with a large number of assignments. Considering that the market has essentially been following a straight line higher having so many assignments isn’t the best of all worlds.

While I now find myself with lots of available cash the prevailing feeling that I have is that there is a need to protect those assets more than before in anticipation of some kind of correction, or at least an opportunity to discover some temporary bargains.

This week I have more than the usual number of potential new positions, however, I’m unlikely to commit wholeheartedly to their purchase, as I would like to maintain about a 40% cash position by the end of next week. I’m also more likely to continue looking at monthly option sales rather than the weekly contracts.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or the “PEE” category (see details). Additionally, although the height of earnings season has passed there may still be some more opportunity to sell well out of the money puts prior to earnings on some reasonably high profile names..

There’s no doubt that the tone for the week was changed by the down to earth utterances of David Tepper, founder of the Appaloosa Hedge Fund. He has a long term enviable record and when he speaks, which isn’t often, people do take notice. Apparently markets do, as well.

However, among the things that he mentioned was that he had lightened up on his position in Apple (AAPL). It didn’t take long for others to chime in and Apple shares fell substantially even when the market was going higher. Although I was waiting for Apple to get back into the $410-420 range, the rebound in share price following news of reduced positions by high profile investors is a good sign and I believe warrants consideration toward the purchase of new shares.

I recently purchased shares of Sunoco Logistics (SXL) in order to capture its generous and reliable dividend. My shares were assigned this past Friday, but I’m willing to repurchase, even at a higher price and even with a monthly option contract to tie me down. In the oil services business it is a lesser known entity and trades with low volume, however, it will share in sector strength, just in a much more low profile manner.

Pfizer (PFE) is another stock that was recently purchased in order to capture it’s dividend and premium and was also assigned this past week. However, it is among the “defensive” stocks that I think would fare relatively well regardless of near term market direction. Like many others that do offer weekly options, my inclination is to consider the selling monthly contracts for the time being.

While healthcare has certainly already had its time in the sun in 2013 and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) has had its share of that glory, after some recent tumult in its price and most recently its next day reversal of a strong move the previous day, I find the option premium appealing. However, as opposed to Pfizer, which I’m more inclined to consider a monthly option, Bristol Myers has too much downside potential for me to want to commit for longer periods.

Although I already own shares of Petrobras (PBR) and am not a big fan of adding additional shares after such a strong climb higher off of its rapidly achieved lows, Petrobras recently and quietly had quite an achievement. WHile everyone was talking about Apple’s $17 Billion bond offering that had about $50 Billion in bids, Petrobras just closed an $11 Billion offering with more than $40 Billion in bids.

Caterpillar (CAT), which I also currently own, is a perennial member of my portfolio. To a very large degree it has been recently held hostage to rumors of contraction and slowing in the Chinese economy. It has, however, shown great resiliency at the current price level and has been an excellent vehicle upon which to sell call options.

As shown in the table above, I’ve owned shares of Caterpillar on 11 separate occasions in less than a year. While the price has barely moved in that period, the net result of the in and out trades, as a result of share assignments has been a gain in excess of 35%.

The more ambiguity and equivocation there is in understanding the direction of the Chinese economy the better it has been to own Caterpillar as it just bounces around in a fairly well defined price range, making it an ideal situation for covered call strategies.

Continuing the theme of shares that I currently own, but am considering adding more shares, is British Petroleum (BP). With much of its Deepwater Horizon liabilities either behind it or well defined, shares appear to have a floor. However, in the past year, that has already been the case, as my experience with British Petroleum ownership has paralleled that of Caterpillar in both the number of separate times owning shares and in return – only better.

Of course, better than either Caterpillar or British Petroleum has been Chesapeake Energy (CHK). I’ve owned it 18 times in a year. It too has had much of its liability removed as Aubrey McClendon has left the scene and it is already well known that Chesapeake will be selling assets under a degree of duress. With its turnaround on Thursday and dip below $20, I am ready to add even more shares.

I’ve probably not owned Conoco Phillips (COP) as much as I would have imagined over the past year probably As a result of owning British Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy so often. Shares do go ex-dividend this week which always adds to the appeal, particularly when I’m in a defensive mode.

Salesforce.com (CRM) was a recommendation last week. I did make that purchase and subsequently had shares assigned. This week it reports earnings and as many of the earnings related trades that I prefer, it offers what I believe to be a good option premium even in the event of a large downward move. In this case a 1% return for the week may be achieved if share price doesn’t exceed 8%

Sears Holdings (SHLD) always seems like a ghost town when I enter one of its stores, although perhaps a moment of introspection would indicate that I drive shoppers away. I’m aware of other story lines revolving around Sears and its real estate holdings, but tend not to think in terms of what has been playing out a s a very, very long term potential. Instead, I like Sears as a hopefully quick earnings trade.

In a week that saw beautiful price action from Macys (M), Kohls (KSS) and others, perhaps even Sears can pull out good numbers and even provide some positive guidance. However, what appeals to me is a put sale approximately 8% below Friday’s close that could offer a 4% ROI for the month or shorter.

Another retailer, The Gap (GPS), has certainly been an example of the ability to arise from the ashes and how a brand can be revitalized. Along with it, so too can its share price. The Gap reports earnings this week and has already had an impressive price run. As opposed to most other earnings related trades, I’m not looking for a significant downward move and the market isn’t expecting such a move either. Based on some of the strong retail earnings announced this past week I think The Gap may be an outright purchase, but I would be more likely to look at a weekly option sale and hope for quick assignment of shares.

TIVO (TIVO) is one of those technologies that I’ve never adopted. Maybe that’s because I never leave the house and the television is always on and I rarely see a need to change the station. But here, too, I believe TIVO offers a good short term opportunity even if shares go down as much as 20% following Monday’s earnings release. In the event that shares go appreciably higher, it is the ideal kind of earnings trade, in that coming during the first day of a monthly option contract, it could likely be quickly closed out and the money then used for another investment vehicle.

Om the other hand, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) is definitely one of those technologies that I’ve adopted, especially when having lived in New England. Fast forward 20 years and they are now everywhere in the Mid-Atlantic and spreading across the country as their new offerings also spread waists around the country. Going ex-dividend this coming week and offering a nice monthly option premium, I may bite at more than a jelly donut. However, it is trading at the upper end of its recent price range, like all too many other stocks.

Finally, Carnival (CCL) hasn’t exactly been the recipient of much good news lately. Although it’s up from its recent woes and lows. It does report earnings at the end of the June 2013 option cycle, but it also goes ex-dividend in the first week of the cycle, in addition to a offering a reasonable option premium

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Sunoco Logistics

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Chesapeake Energy, Petrobras

Double Dip Dividend: Carnival Line (ex-div 5/22), Conoco Phillips (ex-div 5/22), Dunkin Brands (ex-div 5/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Salesforce.com (5/23 PM), Sears Holdings (5/23 AM), The Gap (5/23 PM), TIVO (5/20 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.

 

 
 
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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan

Weekend Update – May 12, 2013

There’s certainly no way to deny the fact that this has been an impressive first 4 months of the year. The recently touted statistic was that after 4 months and one week the market had gone up 13%.

To put that into the perspective the statistic wanted you to have, the statistical factoid added that for all of 2012 the market was up only 7.2%. That certainly tells you not only how impressive this gain has been but how 2013 will undoubtedly leave 2012 in the dust.

What is left unmentioned is that in 2012, in a period of only 3 months and 1 week the market was up 12.9%.

What happened? Could that happen again? Those are questions asked by someone who turned cautious when the market was up less than 8% in 2013 and wasn’t adequately cautious in 2012.

SInce 1970, the S&P 500 has finished the year with gains of greater than 14% on a total of 16 occasions, so there could easily be more to come. That can easily be a justifiable perspective to hold unless you also look at the margins by which 14% was exceeded. In that event, the perspective becomes less compelling. It’s still possible to end the year substantially higher than 14%, just not as likely as such a great start might suggest.

But remember, statistics don’t mislead people. People mislead people.

There was little to no substantive news this past week as the market just continued on auto-pilot. If you owned shares of any of the stocks that had super-sized moves after earnings, such as Tesla (TSLA) or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), that was news enough. But for the rest of us it was quiet.

What was interesting, however, was the behavior of the market during the final hour of Thursday’s trading.

That period marked a turnaround sending the market quite a bit lower, at least based on recent standards when only higher seems to be the order of the day. Initially, the drop was ascribed to a strengthening of the dollar and further drop in gold. Those, however, had been going on for a while, having started earlier in the trading session.

What came to light and whose timing was curiously coincident with the market change in direction was a rumor of a rumor that someone from within JP Morgan (JPM) was suggesting that the Federal Reserve was ready to begin tapering its Treasury purchases, those signaling the beginning of an end to Quantitative Easing.

For the growing throng that believe that QE has been responsible for the market’s climb higher, life after QE couldn’t possibly be rosy.

First comes an errant AP Tweet, then an unconfirmed rumor of a rumor. Those incidents would seem to indicate vulnerability or at least an Achilles heel that could stand in the way of this year becoming the 17th in the list.

Easily said, but otherwise, there’s really not much else on the radar screen that appears poised to interfere with the market’s manifest destiny. Unless of course, Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve has indeed mapped out a strategy for winding down QE, transforms rumor into potential reality.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details). Additionally, as the week unwinds, I may place relatively greater emphasis on dividend paying stocks and give greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in the event that 2012 is the order of the day.

This week’s selections seem to have more healthcare stocks than usual. I know that healthcare may have already run its course as it was a market leader through the first 4 months of 2012, but some individual names haven’t been to the party or have recently fallen on hard times.

Amgen (AMGN) didn’t react terribly well following its recent earnings report, having fallen 6%. That’s not to say that it hadn’t enjoyed a nice gain in 2013. However, it does offer an attractive short term option premium, despite also being ex-dividend this week. That’s a combination that I like, especially when I still remain somewhat defensive in considering opening new positions.

Eli Lilly (LLY) is also trading ex-dividend this coming week. It has under-performed the S&P 500 this year, but still, a 10% gain YTD isn’t a bad four months of work. It has fallen about 7% since reporting its most recent quarter’s earnings.

Merck (MRK) isn’t joining the ex-dividend parade this week, but will do so during the June 2013 option cycle for those a little more long term oriented than I typically tend to be. However, during a period of having repositioned myself defensively, the longer term options have utility and can provide a better price cushion in the event of adverse market moves.

I’ve owned shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) only once since the spin-off of its refinery arm, Phillips 66 (PSX). It used to be a very regular part of my portfolio prior to that occasion. The parent certainly hasn’t fared as well as the child in the 15 months since Phillips 66 has traded as a public company. The 80% difference in return is glaring. But like so many stocks, I think Phillips 66 isn’t priced for a new purchase, while Conoco Phillips represents some opportunity. Additionally, though not yet announced, there should be a dividend forthcoming in the next week or two.

I don’t recall why I didn’t purchase shares of Marathon Oil (MRO) last week after a discussion of its merits, but it probably had to do with the limited buying I was doing across the board. It reported earnings last week, perhaps that was a risk factor that didn’t have commensurate reward in the option premiums offered. But this week, with that risk removed, it goes ex-dividend and the consideration begins anew.

Although I already own shares of JP Morgan, I would consider adding to that position. Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue of separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, there’s not too much disagreement that Jamie Dimon will forever be remembered as one of the supporting pillars during and in the immediate aftermath of our financial meltdown. The recent spate of diversions has kept JP Morgan from keeping pace with the S&P 500 during 2013, but I believe it is capable of cutting that gap.

Autodesk (ADSK) reports earnings this week and is down about 4% from its recent high. I often like to consider earnings trades on shares that are already down somewhat, however, shares are up quite a bit in the past 3 weeks. While the options market was implying about a 6% move upon earnings, anything less than a 7% move downward could offer a 1.1% option premium for the week’s exposure to risk.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those rare companies that haven’t kept up with market lately. That’s been especially true since its recent stock split. Although it does offer a an attractive weekly premium, the challenge may lie the possibility that shares are not assigned as the May 2013 option cycle ends, because earnings are reported during the first week of the June 2013 cycle. Barring a large downward move prior to earnings, there would certainly be ample time to re-position with another weekly or even monthly option contract prior to earning’s release.

To round off my over-exposure to the technology sector, I may consider either adding more shares of Cisco (CSCO) or selling puts in advance of this week’s earning’s report. I’ve added shares in each of three successive weeks and don’t believe that Cisco’s earnings will reflect some of the woes expressed by Oracle (ORCL). My only personal concern is related to the issue of diversification, but for the moment, technology may be the sector in which to throw caution to the wind.

US Steel (X) has been one of those stocks that I’m not terribly happy about, although that really only pertains to the current lot that I hold. Along with pretty much everything in the metals complex, US Steel hasn’t fared very well the past few months. However, I think that I am ready for a resurgence in the sector and am hoping that the sector agrees with me, or at least continues to show some strength as it has this past week.

Finally, despite having owned Facebook (FB) since the IPO and currently owning two individual lots, priced at $29 and $27.17, it remains one of my favorite new stocks. Not because I can count on it going to $30, but because I can count on it staying in a reasonable pricing neighborhood and becoming a recurrent stream of option income.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Conoco Phillips, Merck, Salesforce.com

Momentum Stocks: Facebook, US Steel

Double Dip Dividend: Amgen (ex-div 5/14), Eli Lilly (ex-div 5/14), Marathon Oil (ex-div 5/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Autodesk (5/16 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.

 

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Weekend Update – May 5, 2013

ADP. ISM. FOMC. ECB

They came one after another at us last week. Not to mention the Jobless Report and the Employment Situation Reports to end the week.

Following the previous week where I had temporarily gone on one of my wild and drunken spending ways buying new shares with assignment proceeds, I returned to a more cautious note this past week.

Maybe it was the soup. While I have much greater comfort when on a shopping spree, usually borne out of a bullish view of the world, this week even the comfort food was sending me some kind of misleading message, spoonful after spoonful. I don’t always listen to my soup, but when I do, I know that things are serious. This week’s message wasn’t exactly cryptic in nature. For certain, the message wasn’t “Buy, Buy, Buy.”

But to simply assume the message is correct is bordering on lunacy, so I just decided not to buy quite as much, proving that we can all get along. Besides, “sell, sell, sell,” seemed so draconian.

Although so often a drastically sharp move downward comes from unexpected or lightly regarded catalysts, there’s not too much of an excuse to overlook some potentially obvious catalysts when the market appears to be in an overbought condition. For me, already sensitized to a possible drop, the FOMC, ECB and Employment Situation were individually capable of initiating and speeding a sudden descent.

Aligned? Had the Federal Reserve given a strong hint of an end to Quantitative Easing, had they suggested an earlier timetable for interest rate hikes, or had the European Central Bank not lowered rates that combination had the makings of a nasty punch. Throw a second successive month of disappointing employment numbers, perhaps with downward revisions of previous months and now you’ve got a party.

For short sellers, at least.

While the market did have a slightly delayed reaction to the FOMC minutes, it was fairly mute, despite doubling the early losses. The following day, which is often the day the real action occurs after an FOMC meeting, had its tone already set earlier by the ECB decision to drop rates.

That just left Friday, with a little hint from Wednesday’s release of the ADP statistics. that job growth may be slowing due to some headwinds in the economy. Much of the talk on Wednesday was how fearful everyone was that the number on Friday would be terribly negative.

The fact that the number was, in fact, an indication of a growing economy and there were massive upward revisions to earlier months was the surprise that should never have been a surprise, as thesis changing revisions are routine.

So all of the important letters were aligned, as no one really cares about ISM, and there was reason for a party. The order of the day on Friday was “buy, buy, buy,” once again delaying the “Sell in May” crowd’s ascent and giving me cause to reflect as the majority of my monthly covered call positions are now in the money and do not stand to further profit in the event of a continued market rise.

Of course, if I wanted to continue the lunacy, I would simply rationalize it all and convince myself that I now have a nice cushion between share and strike prices to withstand a fall between now and May 18, 2013. Sooner or later my call for a significant market drop will have to take on broken clock qualities.

Yet, the rationalizations aren’t working. Maybe I need another spoonful of soup.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the “PEE” category, despite earnings season still going strong (see details). Additionally, this week the emphasis is once again on dividend paying stocks and still giving greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any pauses in the runaway train. Of course, after Friday’s run higher capping off a week when the S&P 500 moved 2% higher, good luck finding any bargain priced shares. Bargains may be justifiably so. Sometimes there’s a reason no one asks you to dance. You just refuse to look in the mirror, justifiably so.

I jumped the gun a bit on Friday afternoon and purchased shares of Pfizer (PFE). After a very impressive share run higher, which hasn’t really occurred in the post-Viagra era, Pfizer reported earnings last week and continued the weakness that immediately preceded the report, after some European regulatory disappointments. A case of too much and too fast from my perspective, but the shares appear as a reasonably low risk over the coming weeks, particularly with a safe and healthy dividend and an upcoming ex-dividend date this week.

Wells Fargo (WFC) has been a frequent purchase target. While I do like shares, it along with so many others is more expensive than I would like. However, it has proven resilient in defending its share price when tested and the test levels have been slowly climbing higher. That’s certainly a more healthy way to see appreciation and I think offers less risk in what may become a risky environment. Additionally, their new ad campaign, “At least we’re not JP Morgan” (JPM) speaks volumes with regard to superfluous risk. As often before, my entry point is not so coincidentally synchronized with an ex-dividend date.

Weyerhauser (WY) is not a stock that I buy very often, but in hindsight I wonder why. Not because it does anything spectacular, but rather because it is so unspectacular that it has the core requirements of being an ideal covered call stock. It generally trades in a narrow range, has an options premium that is more than symbolic and pays a competitive dividend. What’s not to like, especially this week as it also goes ex-dividend.

Although I don’t have any “PEE” selections this week, Marathon Oil (MRO) does report earnings on May 7, 2013. However, unlike the usual earnings related plays that I prefer, it isn’t expected to trade in a wide range after the announcement. It’s implied move is far less than the 10% or greater that I usually look for while still offering a 1% ROI. Instead, it’s just like any other stock that happens to be reporting earnings, except that it’s approximately 5% off of its recent high, satisfying another of the criteria I look for when considering the risk associated with trading around earnings season.

I already own shares of St. Jude Medical (STJ) at a price slightly higher than Friday’s close. I rarely think about adding additional shares unless the price has had a significant drop. However, St. Judes Medical has had a fall relative to the market and certainly to the heath care sector. I don’t envision it as being at undue risk in the event of a market downturn, due to its modest existence during the upturn.

Parker Hannefin (PH) and W.W. Grainger (GWW) both go ex-dividend this week. Although their share rise on Friday adds to some reluctance to add them to the portfolio next week, if the Employment Situation statistics and the revisions are any guide, there may be very good reason to suspect that industrials and the companies that support the industrials may be ready for a little bit of a resurgence. Neither offer incredibly exciting dividends, but share appreciation may be more a part of the equation than it is for most stocks that I consider due to their option and dividend income potential.

I’ve been looking for a re-entry point in Goldman Sachs (GS) for a while. Again, hindsight told me that may have been a couple of weeks ago as shares were a relative bargain. The fact that shares have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 12 weeks has appeal for me, as I believe it marks a company that may be better equipped to out-perform going forward, particularly in a downturn.

Finally, Abercrombie and FItch (ANF) is an always exciting stock to own, especially as earnings are approaching. In this case earnings aren’t expected until May 15, 2013, so there is a little bit of breathing space to consider shares before the added volatility kicks in. When it moves, the moves are spectacular and certainly the option premiums reflect that kind of risk. My bias at the moment is that if an opportunity will arise it will likely take the form of put sales. However, that is only something that I would do if emotionally prepared to hold shares going into earnings if assigned. If so, a bit of luck may be necessary to turn the tables and sell call contracts going into earnings or sell additional puts if you’re really adventurous.

Traditional Stocks: Goldman Sachs, Marathon Oil, St. Jude Medical

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: W.W. Grainger (ex-div 5/9), Parker-Hannefin (ex-div 5/8), Pfizer (ex-div 5/8), Wells Fargo (ex-div 5/8), Weyerhauser (ex-div 5/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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.

 

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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan

Shame on you, Apple

Oh, and congratulations, too.

Shame and congratulations on you for completing the world’s most successful corporate issuance of bonds. $52 Billion in bids clamoring for $17 Billion of product.

Remember when Apple (AAPL) products had that kind of demand?

Remember when its stock had that kind of demand?

Remember, the cynics say that dividends and stock buybacks are the sort of things that you do when you can’t propel the business forward.

A few years ago, in a ruling that will forever remain controversial, the United States Supreme Court essentially ruled, that in at least a narrow definition, corporations were people.

For most purposes that designation is somewhat non-sensical, but for the all important world of campaign financing making corporations animate objects had a great benefit. Namely, the privilege of donating obscene amounts of money to political campaigns.

But along with all of the great privileges of belonging to the human race, there have to be some downsides, as well. Social obligations and the burdens and joys of human emotions come to mind.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, one of the very first human traits that they exhibited after they had done something very wrong and against the “rules” was to feel shame. Ironically, what they did wrong was to have eaten from “The Apple.”

This week, Apple should feel shame.

They borrowed money, as much as 75 basis points above US Treasuries in order to fund a planned $50 Billion buyback and the costs of three years worth of dividend payments.

From a business perspective, Apple should be congratulated, having found a way to satisfy increasingly noisy shareholders and hold the tax man at bay. Although I do wonder why they even had to go 75 basis points above US Treasuries, you can’t argue with the success of the initiative. You would, however, think that Apple was more credit worthy than our own government, but apparently they don’t even measure up to Microsoft (MSFT) in that regard.

While the interest payments are a deductible expense, the real beauty is that Apple is able to put cash directly and perhaps indirectly back in the hands of shareholders without the need to repatriate tons of foreign cash and pay US taxes once having done so. Of course, they also figured out a way to turn down the heat on Tim Cook, just a bit.

Having been an Apple shareholder as recently as last week, I suppose I would have lauded that move by Tim Cook, but now, I find it shameful.

Firstly, not that I expect any devastating news at Apple, but suddenly shareholders have taken a subordinate position to new bond buying stakeholders. The risk to shareholders is certainly small in that regard, but it is also certainly unnecessary.

Secondly, what happened to the ideals?

Although he was a ruthless competitor, the late Steve Jobs had ideals. First and foremost, they related to the products offered by Apple. But they also extended to the financial practices that eschewed capital markets and were ruggedly self-reliant in order to meet its corporate objectives.

While Apple still has exquisite products, among my previous critiques of the company quality of products has never been at issue, they are straying from the founder’s ideals on all counts.

While it can be safely said that the last time Apple ventured into the bond market, it did so to save itself from financial ruination, Steve Jobs had not yet returned to the company. We’ll never know whether Apple under Jobs’ leadership would have been driven to the point of desperation, but we do know that in the 25 subsequent years that source was never tapped again.

Whatever the basis for his ideals, they included a disdain for share buybacks and dividends. As recently as a 2010 shareholder meeting, Jobs stated that Apple needed to keep its cash for growth opportunities and further said that paying a dividend or buying back stock would not change the stock price. You can argue those points, but what you can’t argue is that Jobs’ idealism exchanged the illusory effects of dividends and buybacks for the real effects of stock appreciation.

So here we are. Shares had fallen in excess of $300, the pipeline appears dry and questions regarding TIm Cook’s continuing leadership have popped up.

In response, Apple has gone where the beleaguered go. They have gone the route of buybacks and dividends. Nothing terribly creative, but a step designed to quiet some of the complaints from shareholders and activists.

Yet, they went to the bond markets to get the necessary cash to perform what may in and of itself been unnecessary. By all reports they did so to avoid repatriation of foreign held cash and to avoid paying U.S. taxes upon those funds.

Remember the 2012 elections? Remember candidate Romney and the controversy surrounding his taxes? There was never a question as to whether Romney had broken the law or done anything illegal. It was an issue of his taking advantage of every loophole in the tax code that was imaginable. Not illegal, but most people innately believed that there was just something wrong about navigating a path that no one creating regulation or legislation could have imagined would exist.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett believe that to be the case. I suppose that’s another way that Apple doesn’t measure up to Microsoft.

On its surface you know that there is something wrong when an individual can have an IRA valued in excess of $100 Million. Not because the amount is so large, but rather because of the annual contribution thresholds. For example, assuming Mr. Romney made a maximum $5,000 contribution each year for 30 years and achieved an annual 35% return, he would still only have $40 million.

Shameful.

Yet here Apple has garnered its own shame. Exploiting the tax code in a way that the average person, perhaps even investors in Apple, intuitively know is wrong. Maintaining a significant cash reserve overseas to avoid paying taxes just doesn’t pass the smell test for most people, despite being legal.

But by so doing, they are also not re-investing any significant portion of their $150 Billion cash reserve into the business, nor are they pursuing meaningful acquisitions. The money sits in a low interest environment.

Given that shameful disregard for shareholders,you could understand why there was a growing chorus for something substantive to be done.

While corporations traditionally did not have social responsibilities, that too is a burden of now joining the human race. Among the social responsibilities is to put their money to work and to pay taxes, without hiding behind the loopholes or the unanticipated escape routes found in existing regulations and legislation.

I’m not really certain whatever happened to Adam and Eve after their banishment from the Garden of Eden. Their expulsion was swift, and perhaps the entire human race paid a steep price for their actions.

I think Apple’s recent action will result in the same steep price for its shareholders as the euphoria around the offering has already disappeared. The future looks less optimistic as Apple settles into a state where they are no different from the rest and beginning to rely on smoke, mirrors and lapses in tax policy to perpetuate their leadership.

In the meantime, without anything substantive in its future, Apple will remain a trading vehicle that may offer risk to those looking at it as a long term value.

While I can’t hold Apple in esteem for their anti-social behavior, and blatant thumbing of its corporate nose at its responsibilities, I do think that if offers some exceptional short term opportunities, especially when coupled with a covered call program.

I look forward to more of those positions as shares come back down in price to the $410-420 range, which I anticipate occurring prior to next week’s ex-dividend date.

As long as they’ve already made a deal with the devil, I may as well get my piece.

 

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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan