Jumping Into the Market

Maybe coincidentally, but over the past two days I’ve had a number of subscribers mention that they had a large amount of cash to invest.

That isn’t unusual. Whether as a result of a 401k rollover, an inheritance or just having sat on the sidelines for a while or saving up for just the right moment, it happens.

Additionally, looking at a market that seems to be able to fight off any attempts to make it back down makes people want to be a part of the fun and that means putting to money into play and to work at the same time.

And you know what? It is fun, at least until you lose some money.

I have always believed that we all come pre-packaged with bad luck and that we have to take actions to minimize the bad luck. Admittedly, it’s not really about luck but rather bad judgment, emotions or other factors that somehow seem to conspire to get in the way of forward progress.

For those with a big pile of cash and the inclination to put the money into the stock market I don’t really think there is anything like a good time or a bad time. I think it’s always a good time, as long as you follow some rules.

  • What are your objectives?

Everyone should have identifiable objectives. Are you seeking to create income streams in addition to capital appreciation? Are you looking to generate capital appreciation and are less concerned about income?

If you’re going to be selling covered options understanding what it is that you hope to achieve will determine, to a degree, what kind of strike prices you may utilize and what portion of your shares held will be hedged with option sales.

 

  • What are your goals?

Once you know what you are seeking in broad terms, quantifying those objectives is a good idea.. Whether it’s on the basis of comparing performance to an index or whether your income stream meets your needs, goals are the report card necessary to know whether you’re on the right path.

 

  • Don’t put all of your money in at once

Part of that feeling that bad luck is pervasive is the belief that If I had a big lump sum of money to invest I would probably do so at the very peak of the market and the following day my big lump sum would be that much less.

Most everyone empathized with the George Costanza character on Seinfeld when he finally came to the realization that he was far better off doing exactly the opposite of what his instincts led him to do.

I suppose that it is possible that the very next day the market could sky rocket, but ask yourself, given your luck, which direction do you think that it would go if you made the commitment?

That’s what I thought.

 

  • Keep some money back in reserve

When looking to put a large amount of money to work the first thing I think about is how much I want to keep in reserve in the event of a sudden decline in stock prices that may represent an opportunity. Even though you’re thinking about putting your money to work, simply think of reserve cash as a sector that is part of an overall strategy to be diversified.

To make this simple, lets talk about a hypothetical $100,000 that’s begging for a home.

 

  • Don’t invest your rainy day fund

Let’s also assume that this is purely discretionary money. That is, there is virtually no chance that you would have to turn to it to meet an expected or even an unexpected expense. I’ve made that mistake and I never want to make it again. In fact, when I made the mistake the market was at unheard of levels in October 1987. No one in his right mind thought that we would ever look backward again. It was a time of incredible optimism and freely flowing margin.

 

  • Don’t use the financial world’s answer to “Hamburger Helper”

Don’t use margin. Leverage is for other people, like those who buy options. I hate to harp on the concept of luck, but you just know that as soon as you start to leverage up will be the very moment that the market heads lower. The use of margin just serves to magnify your losses and you get to pay interest for that privilege.

Normally, I have been 100% invested over the past years,  aiming to end each week with a 20-40% turnover of portfolio from assignments and then quickly re-investing that money. But the past few months I’ve tried to bring my cash up to a 40% level at the end of each option cycle and have then proceeded to try and get the level down to about 25-30% cash. That’s because I want at least 25% cash in the event of unexpected opportunities. You may have a different amount to keep in reserve, but whatever it is, keep something. In hindsight, there’s probably very little reason to ever be fully invested.

So let’s use that amount in this example, such that of the original $100,000, I would seek to keep $25,000 available for unforeseen bargains.

 

  • Have a timeframe for your investment strategy

That means I have $75,000 to invest, but next I need to know over what period of time I want to funnel the money into the market. Doing so is the same as the well known “dollar cost averaging” technique. But you really need to have the discipline not to chase the market if it keeps going higher and you have to resist throwing all of your money in because you’re afraid of missing out. That’s called “FOMO,” the fear of missing out. It’s like envy and is definitely one of the seven deadly sins.

To make the math easy, let’s just assume that I want to have my $75,000 fully invested over a period of 5 weeks.

That means that I can commit $15,000 each week to new positions (or to add to existing positions).

 

  • Be diversified by sector

The first thing that you may see is that $15,000 isn’t that much to begin a diversified investment plan.

The next issue that becomes part of the equation is just how do you achieve diversification when you’re just starting out. That’s especially true if you’re also selling options, because there is a minimum number of shares that need to be purchased, yet your funds may be limited.

For those selling options, there’s also a good chance that your brokerage rewards you with lower total commissions per contract based on the number of contracts transacted.

Pricing power is always nice but sometimes purchasing more than 100 shares of a specific stock may put you over that $15,000 weekly limit.

More importantly, putting all of your weekly eggs into a single stock puts you hostage to that stock and leaves you entirely undiversified.

In such situations, I think you’re better off giving up some pricing power on commissions, accepting a lower ROI in return for being able to buy more than a single stock with your weekly allocation.

Again, think about your luck. The stock or the sector that you would have happily thrown all of your money toward may have picked just the wrong time to fall out of investor favor. Unless there’s a  generalized market downturn, the chances of picking two out of favor sectors just before they go out of favor is less likely, even with your luck.

And when I say “your luck,” I mean my luck, too.

 

  • Be diversified by risk

Part of having a diversified portfolio is not only doing so by sector, but also by risk.

For example, you know that I classify selections as either being “TRADITIONAL” or “MOMENTUM.” The TRADITIONAL category encompasses shares that are less likely to have minute to minute gyrations, or at least are more likely to revert to their mean more quickly than a MOMENTUM kind of stock.

Think of Dow Chemical as a TRADITIONAL stock and Abercrombie and Fitch as a representative MOMENTUM stock. Although Dow Chemical is currently trading with a “beta” of 1.58, as opposed to Abercrombie and Fitch’s 1.30, that measure of volatility is somewhat misleading, as anyone owning both knows that Dow Chemical will typically let you sleep more soundly at night.

Certainly their respective option premiums tell the story. Dow Chemical is simply less risky. Do you want a portfolio full of Dow Chemicals or do you want a portfolio full of Abercrombie and Fitchs?

When you set up your portfolio give strong consideration to having the risk profile of your holdings reflect your own temperament for risk.

 

  • Don’t stress over predictable gyrations

Stock prices go up and stock prices go down. It’s a very predictable process.

The Biblical story goes that whenever King Solomon felt extremely happy or extremely sad, he would look at his ring, which was engraved with the expression “This too shall pass.”

If the gyrations bother you, consider using longer term duration option contracts. For example, a large adverse move in share price may create less anxiety when there is a monthly contract with weeks to go as opposed to a weekly contract with only a day left until expiration. Plenty can happen over the course of weeks, while it’s much less likely that significant movement will happen in a single day.

 

  • Have an exit plan

For those exercising a buy and hold strategy the conventional wisdom has always been that the individual investor rarely knows when to exit a position, whether to take profits or limit losses.

There is relatively little conventional wisdom that I agree with, but this is one of the ones that I can’t find fault with. Among the things that I love about covered options is that you define an exit strategy as soon as you open the position. It’s called the strike price.You define your ROI and your time frame, although it doesn’t always work out as planned.

But in the world of “Buy and Hold,” it’s not just that the individual investor doesn’t know when to exit, neither does their investment advisor. That’s especially true when it comes to locking in profits and less so when it comes to exiting losing positions.

Professional advisors typically use a variation of the old Bernard Baruch axiom that you should liquidate positions when they hit 10% losses.

That’s great, but of course, you know that with our luck that is the precise time that the stock begins its recovery.

Again, look at enough stocks and you’ll notice that most don’t stay depressed forever. In hindsight, how many times have you sold shares at a loss and then watched them recover?

While you’re doing that little mental exercise, how many times have you watched your paper gains evaporate and then come back and maybe evaporate again? It’s as if taking profits is a bad thing.

Now add another piece of pessimism to the mix. What makes you believe that the same person that selected a loser of a stock that is now down 10% suddenly has the skill and intelligence to exchange that stock for a winner? With my luck I tend to think that I would simply exchange it for something that was about to begin its price descent.

I don’t abide by the Bernard Baruch rule, but that has potential consequences. Some stocks simply don’t recover or take a very long time to do so and may also become non-performing assets.

I generally sell big losers in order to take advantage of tax codes that allow a portion of the losses to receive favorable tax credits, but that may not be appropriate for everyone or for every kind of account.

So set your own limits. Is it 10%, 15% 25%? But whatever it is, apply it consistently. Don’t fall prey to using a rational thought process to decide which to sell and which to keep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Update – July 28, 2013

Stocks need leadership, but it’s hard to be critical of a stock market that seems to hit new highs on a daily basis and that resists all logical reasons to do otherwise.

That’s especially true if you’ve been convinced for the past 3 months that a correction was coming. If anything, the criticism should be directed a bit more internally.

What’s really difficult is deciding which is less rational. Sticking to failed beliefs despite the facts or the facts themselves.

In hindsight those who have called for a correction have instead stated that the market has been in a constant state of rotation so that correction has indeed come, but sector by sector, rather than in the market as a while.

Whatever. By which I don’t mean in an adolescent “whatever” sense, but rather “whatever it takes to convince others that you haven’t been wrong.”

Sometimes you’re just wrong or terribly out of synchrony with events. Even me.

What is somewhat striking, though, is that this incredible climb since 2009 has really only had a single market leader, but these days Apple (AAPL) can no longer lay claim to that honor. This most recent climb higher since November 2012 has often been referred to as the “least respected rally” ever, probably due to the fact that no one can point a finger at a catalyst other than the Federal Reserve. Besides, very few self-respecting capitalists would want to credit government intervention for all the good that has come their way in recent years, particularly as it was much of the unbridled pursuit of capitalism that left many bereft.

At some point it gets ridiculous as people seriously ask whether it can really be considered a rally of defensive stocks are leading the way higher. As if going higher on the basis of stocks like Proctor & Gamble (PG) was in some way analogous to a wad of hundred dollar bills with lots of white powder over it.

There have been other times when single stocks led entire markets. Hard to believe, but at one time it was Microsoft (MSFT) that led a market forward. In other eras the stocks were different. IBM (IBM), General Motors (GM) and others, but they were able to create confidence and optimism.

What you can say with some certainty is that it’s not going to be Amazon (AMZN), for example, as you could have made greater profit by shorting and covering 100 shares of Amazon as earnings were announced. than Amazon itself generated for the quarter. It won’t be Facebook (FB) either. despite perhaps having found the equivalent of the alchemist’s dream, by discovering a means to monetize mobile platforms.

Sure Visa (V) has had a remarkable run over the past few years but it creates nothing. It only facilitates what can end up being destructive consumer behavior.

As we sit at lofty market levels you do have to wonder what will maintain or better yet, propel us to even greater heights? It’s not likely to be the Federal Reserve and if we’re looking to earnings, we may be in for a disappointment, as the most recent round of reports have been revenue challenged.

I don’t know where that leadership will come from. If I knew, I wouldn’t continue looking for weekly opportunities. Perhaps those espousing the sector theory are on the right track, but for an individual investor married to a buy and hold portfolio that kind of sector rotational leadership won’t be very satisfying, especially if in the wrong sectors or not taking profits when it’s your sector’s turn to shine.

Teamwork is great, but what really inspires is leadership. We are at that point that we have come a long way without clear leadership and have a lot to lose.

So while awaiting someone to step up to the plate, maybe you can identify a potential leader from among this week’s list. As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details).

ALthough last week marked the high point of earnings season, I was a little dismayed to see that a number of this week’s prospects still have earnings ahead of them.

While I have liked the stock, I haven’t always been a fan of Howard Schultz. Starbucks (SBUX) had an outstanding quarter and its share price responded. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the last 20 or so points. What did catch my interest, however, was the effusive manner in which Schultz described the Starbucks relationship with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). In the past shares of Green Mountain have suffered at the ambivalence of Schultz’s comments about that relationship. This time, however, he was glowing, calling it a “Fantastic relationship with Green Mountain and Brian Kelly (the new CEO)… and will only get stronger.”

Green Mountain reports earnings during the August 2013 option cycle. It is always a volatile trade and fraught with risk. Having in the past been on the long side during a 30% price decline after earnings and having the opportunity to discuss that on Bloomberg, makes it difficult to hide that fact. In considering potential earnings related trades, Green Mountain offers extended weekly options, so there are numerous possibilities with regard to finding a mix of premium and risk. Just be prepared to own shares if you opt to sell put options, which is the route that I would be most likely to pursue.

Deere (DE) has languished a bit lately and hasn’t fared well as it routinely is considered to have the same risk factors as other heavy machinery manufacturers, such as Caterpillar and Joy Global. Whether that’s warranted or not, it is their lot. Deere, lie the others, trades in a fairly narrow range and is approaching the low end of that range. It does report earnings prior to the end of the monthly option cycle, so those purchasing shares and counting on assignment of weekly options should be prepared for the possibility of holding shares through a period of increased risk.

Heading into this past Friday morning, I thought that there was a chance that I would be recommending all three of my “Evil Troika,” of Halliburton (HAL), British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean (RIG). Then came word that Halliburton had admitted destroying evidence in association with the Deepwater disaster, so obviously, in return shares went about 4% higher. WHat else would anyone have expected?

With that eliminated for now, as I prefer shares in the $43-44 range, I also eliminated British Petroleum which announces earnings this week. That was done mostly because I already have two lots of shares. But Transocean, which reports earnings the following week has had some very recent price weakness and is beginning to look like it’s at an appropriate price to add shares, at a time that Halliburton’s good share price fortunes didn’t extend to its evil partners.

Pfizer (PFE) offers another example of situations I don’t particularly care for. That is the juxtaposition of earnings and ex-dividend date on the same or consecutive days. In the past, it’s precluded me from considering Men’s Warehouse (MW) and just last week Tyco (TYC). However, in this situation, I don’t have some of the concerns about share price being dramatically adversely influenced by earnings. Additionally, with the ex-dividend date coming the day after earnings, the more cautious investor can wait, particularly if anticipating a price drop. Pfizer’s pipeline is deep and its recent spin-off of its Zoetis (ZTS) division will reap benefits in the form of a de-facto massive share buyback.

My JC Penney (JCP) shares were assigned this past week, but as it clings to the $16 level it continues to offer an attractive premium for the perceived risk. In this case, earnings are reported August 16, 2013 and I believe that there will be significant upside surprise. Late on Friday afternoon came news that David Einhorn closed his JC Penney short position and that news sent shares higher, but still not too high to consider for a long position in advance of earnings.

Another consistently on my radar screen, but certainly requiring a great tolerance for risk is Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). It was relatively stable this past week and it would have been a good time to have purchased shares and covered the position as done the previous week. While I always like to consider doing so, I would like to see some price deterioration prior to purchasing the next round of shares, especially as earning’s release looms in just two weeks.

Sticking to the fashion retail theme, L Brands (LTD) may be a new corporate name, but it retains all of the consistency that has been its hallmark for so long. It’s share price has been going higher of late, diminishing some of the appeal, but any small correction in advance of earnings coming during the current option cycle would put it back on my purchase list, particularly if approaching $52.50, but especially $50. Unfortunately, the path that the market has been taking has made those kind of retracements relatively uncommon.

In advance of earnings I sold Dow Chemical (DOW) puts last week. I was a little surprised that it didn’t go up as much as it’s cousin DuPont (DD), but finishing the week anywhere above $34 would have been a victory. Now, with earnings out of the way, it may simply be time to take ownership of shares. A good dividend, good option premiums and a fairly tight trading range have caused it to consistently be on my radar screen and a frequent purchase decision. It has been a great example of how a stock needn’t move very much in order to derive outsized profits.

MetLife (MET) is another of a long list of companies reporting earnings this week, but the options market isn’t anticipating a substantive move in either direction. Although it is near its 52 week high, which is always a precarious place to be, especially before earnings, while it may not lead entire markets higher, it certainly can follow them.

Finally, it’s Riverbed Technology (RVBD) time again. While I do already own shares and have done so very consistently for years, it soon reports earnings. Shares are currently trading at a near term high, although there is room to the upside. Riverbed Technology has had great leadership and employed a very rational strategy for expansion. For some reason they seem to have a hard time communicating that message, especially when giving their guidance in post-earnings conference calls. I very often expect significant price drops even though they have been very consistent in living up to analyst’s expectations. With shares at a near term high there is certainly room for a drop ahead if they play true to form. I’m very comfortable with ownership in the $15-16 range and may consider selling puts, perhaps even for a forward month.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Dow Chemical, L Brands, MetLife, Transocean

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Pfizer (ex-div 7/31)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 PM), Riverbed Technology (7/30 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 – July 21, 2013

This week may have marked the last time Ben Bernanke sits in front of far less accomplished inquisitors in fulfilling his part of the obligation to provide congressional testimony in accordance with law.

The Senate, which in general is a far more genteel and learned place was absolutely fawning over the Federal Reserve Chairman who is as good at playing close to the vest as anyone, whether its regarding divulging a time table for the feared “tapering” or an indication of whether he will be leaving his position.

If anything should convince Bernanke to sign up for another round it would be to see how long the two-faced good will last and perhaps give himself the opportunity to remind his detractors just how laudatory they had been. But I can easily understand his taking leave and enjoying the ticker tape, or perhaps the “taper tick” parade that is due him.

But in a week when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Bernanke had opportunities to move the markets with their appearances, neither said anything of interest, nor anything that could be mis-interpreted.

Instead, at the annual CNBC sponsored “Delivering Alpha Conference” the ability of individuals such as Jim Chanos and Nelson Peltz to move individual shares was evident. What is also evident is that based upon comparative performance thus far in 2013, there aren’t likely to be many ticker tape parades honoring hedge fund managers and certainly no one is going to honor an index.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. There are many potential earnings related trades this week beyond those listed in this article for those interested in that kind of trade. (see details).

A portion of this week’s selections reflect the recently wounded, but certainly not mortally, from recent disappointing earnings. While there may not be any victory tours coming anytime soon for some of them, it’s far too short sighted to not consider the recent bad news as a stepping stone for short term opportunism.

In terms of absolute dollars lost, it’s hard to imagine the destruction of market capitalization and personal wealth at the hands of Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC) and eBay (EBAY). While no one is writing an epitaph for eBay, there are no shortage of obituary writers for Microsoft and Intel. However, although most all businesses will someday go that path, I don’t think that any of that triumvirate are going to do so anytime soon, although Microsoft’s nearly 11% drop on Friday was more than the option market anticipated. It was also more than an innocent cough and may not be good for Steve Ballmer’s health.

Since my timeframe is usually short, although I do currently have shares of Intel that will soon pass their one year anniversary, I don’t think their demise or even significantly more deterioration in share price will be anytime soon. All offer better value and appealing option premiums for the risk of a purchase. Additionally, both Intel and Microsoft have upcoming dividends during the August cycle that simply adds to the short term appeal. My eBay shares were assigned on Friday, but I have been an active buyer in the $50-52.50 range and welcomed its return to that neighborhood.

I currently own some shares of Apple (AAPL) and sold some $450 August 17, 2013 calls in anticipation of its upcoming earnings. While I normally prefer the weekly options, the particular shares had an entry of $445 and haven’t earned their keep yet from cumulative option premiums. The monthly option instead offered greater time protection from adverse price action, while still getting some premium and perhaps a dividend, as well. However, with earnings this week, the more adventurous may consider the sentiment being expressed in the options market that is implying a move of approximately 5% upon earnings. Even after Friday’s 1% drop following some recent strength, I found it a little surprising at how low the put premiums are compared to call options, indicating that perhaps there is some bullish sentiment in anticipation of earnings. I simply take that as a sign of the opposite and would expect further price deterioration.

I’m always looking to buy or add shares of Caterpillar (CAT). I just had some shares assigned in order to capture the dividend. After Chanos‘ skewering of the company and its rapid descent as a direct result, I was cheering for it to go down a bit further so that perhaps shares wouldn’t be assigned early. No such luck, even after such piercing comments as “they are tied to the wrong products, at the wrong time.” I’m not certain, but he may have borrowed that phrase from last year when applied to Hewlett Packard (HPQ). For me, the various theses surrounding dependence on China or the criticisms of leadership have meant very little, as Caterpillar has steadfastly traded in a well defined range and have consistently offered option premiums upon selling calls, as well as often providing an increasingly healthy dividend. To add a bit to the excitement, however, Caterpillar does report earnings this week, so some consideration may be given to the backdoor path to potential ownership through the sale of put options.

While Chanos approached his investment thesis from the short side, Nelson Peltz made his case for Pepsico’s (PEP) purchase of Mondelez (MDLZ). My shares of Mondelez were assigned today thanks to a price run higher as Peltz spoke. I never speculate on the basis of takeover rumors and am not salivating at the prospect of receiving $35-$38 per share, as Peltz suggested would be an appropriate range for a, thus far, non-receptive Pepsico to pay for Mondelez ownership. Despite the general agreement that margins at Mondelez are low, even by industry standards, it has been trading ideally for call option writers and I would consider repurchasing shares just to take advantage of the option premiums.

Fastenal (FAST) is just one of those companies that goes about its business without much fanfare and it’s shares are still depressed after offering some reduced guidance and then subsequently reporting its earnings. It goes ex-dividend this week and offers a decent monthly option premium during this period of low volatility. Without signs of industrial slowdowns it is a good place to park assets while awaiting for some sanity to be restored to the markets.

Although I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) and Michael Kors (KORS) are frequently alluring positions, although always carrying downside risk even when earnings reports are not part of the equation. I have been waiting for Kors to return to the $60 level and it did show some sporadic weakness during the past week, but doggedly stayed above that price.

Abercrombie and Fitch is always a volatile position, but offers some rewarding premiums, as long as the volatility does strike and lead to a prolonged dip. It reports earnings on August 14, 2013 and may also provide some data from European sales and currency impacts prior to that. Kors also reports earnings during the AUgust cycle and ant potential purchases of either of these shares must be prepared for ownership into earnings if weekly call contracts sold on the positions are not assigned.

Finally, it’s hard to find a stock that has performed more poorly than Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Although no one has placed blame on its leadership, in fact, they have been lauded for expense controls during demand downturns, it didn’t go unnoticed that shares rallied when the CEO announced his upcoming retirement. It also didn’t go unnoticed that China, despite being in a relative downturn, purchased a large portion of the nickel, a necessary ingredient for steel, available on the London commodity market. For the adventurous, Cliffs reports earnings this week and seems to have found some more friendly confines at the $16 level. The option market expects a 9% move in either direction. A downward move of that amount or less could result in a 1% ROI for the week, if selling put options. I suspect the move will be higher.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, eBay, Intel. Microsoft, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Michael Kors

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 7/24 $0.25)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/23 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (7/25 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.

Disclosure: I am long AAPL, FAST, CAT, CLF, INTC. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

 

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Weekend Update – July 14, 2013

Blame “The Big Man.”

For some, “The Big Man” may refer to a personal deity. For others, the late saxophonist for The E Street Band.

While I have abiding faith in each of those, there’s no doubt in my mind that Ben Bernanke is “The Big Man.”

While the stock market soared to a new high just two months after its most recent high, it shouldn’t be lost on too many people that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve was at the center of the move down from the highs as well as the move beyond the high.

Just take a quick look at the journey of the S&P 500 from its high on May 21, 2013 to its new high on July 11, 2013.

Guess who got the blame for those drops? That’s right. Ben Bernanke in what was obviously a slam dunk example of cause and effect, at least based on the fervor with which fingers were pointed.

But on the heels of Thursday’s march to record heights very few of those fingers were pointed in Bernanke’s general direction or heaping praise upon him.

After Thursday’s close, one well known individual only begrudgingly gave Bernanke credit for the gains, suggesting that it was unexpectedly good earnings that drove the rally. In her questioning of interview guests, her phrasing of the question to get their opinions on the root cause of the day’s rally trailed off as mentioning Bernanke as a possible catalyst.

You can argue cause or correlation, but to me it’s clear. Especially when you consider that the most extreme moves, on June 20 and July 11, 2013 came after some words from the Chairman in complement of the committee minutes.

What isn’t clear is what exactly Bernanke said that made this month any different and resulted in a market making new highs. Did he speak more slowly? Did he enunciate more clearly?

When the most recent minutes were released it came as somewhat of a surprise that so much attention within the FOMC was spent on how the markets react to words. The concern that FOMC members had for the words used by its members, especially its Chairman, was evident in the text of the minutes.

Words. Words that are interpreted at will. Words that are interpreted in context, out of context, on the basis of breathing patterns and cadence.

But to show how long we have come, at least no one is interpreting policy on the basis of the thickness of Bernanke’s attaché case.

What’s also not clear to me is how “credible” individuals can make comments, such as “by offering so much information in such a muddled fashion, they have made policy less transparent,” in reference to the FOMC by a Bank of America (BAC) official. Compare that to the complaints levied against predecessor Alan Greenspan, whose leadership and obtuse pronouncements were criticized for their lack of transparency.

But that is the general theme. There is no “winning,” despite how simple Charlie Sheen made it sound during manic periods. As Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke is criticized roundly regardless of what he says or does, as if he is pushing the “enter” key to get those algorithms running a muck when the outcome is bad and criticized when the results are pleasing.

Perhaps I listen and read with a very different set of filters, but the metrics and criteria for a tapering of Quantitative Easing seems to be clearly defined. It is the policy that everyone loves to hate, but most of all, really love, at least when it comes to personal fortunes. The conflict within must be terrible, when on the one hand you have disdain for the interference but really love the results. It’s probably similar to how noted politicians may feel when engaging in illegal acts between consenting adults when they have sworn to uphold those laws.

While my personal fortune has improved this week, I too am conflicted. I’m certainly happy about the gains, but would like to see somewhat of a resting period. With these sudden gains I stand to see too many positions assigned next week with the expiration of the July 2013 option cycle. Of course, I felt the same way last month, until I got what I wished for well in excess of my wishes, following the June 2012 FOMC minutes and Bernanke’s press conference, just 2 days prior to monthly expiration. Suddenly, the number of assignments was far fewer than anticipated.

Beyond that, I still have memories of a similar rapid recovery from a 5% drop in 2012 that saw me also wishing for a breather, only to see the bottom fall out from under and drag the market down 9%.

Surely there is something than can make us all happy. It just appears to not be Ben Bernanke unless he calls it a public service career, although I certainly wouldn’t be among those looking forward to that outcomeCertainly not like a ubiquitous and noted gold enthusiast who commented “the good news is at least that Ben Bernanke is leaving,” when asked who he thought might be replacing him.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. (see details).

As has been the case several times over the past few months it sometimes gets more challenging to discover potential bargains at mountain tops when you can still see the valley below. This week the general trend is looking for low beta and high yield stocks.

The contrarian in me always looks at stocks that have received analysts downgrades. On Friday, both Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) and Target (TGT) had that honor. Fortunately, Target’s first CEO and a member of the original Dayton family of owners who passed away this week didn’t have to suffer the indignity of a downgrade. Although both Bristol Myers and Target are both up from recent dips and approaching 52 weeks highs, of late they have also fared well during market declines. While I prefer either of these low beta stocks on the immediate period before an ex-dividend date, I actually would have much preferred that they reacted more negatively to the downgrades, but in a strong market they may simply be a case of “high and going higher,” while perhaps also having some downside resistance.

Another pharmaceutical company that has my attention this week is GlaxoSmithKline. Its chart looks just like that of Bristol Myers, but has the added benefit of an expected dividend payment during the August 2013 option cycle, although like Bristol Myers will also add some earnings related risk during that cycle. It tends to match the S&P 500 during downward moves, so Bristol Myers may have an edge in that regard if you have room for only one more pharmaceutical in your portfolio. However, the dividend, i believe may outweigh that consideration, especially if you believe that the overall market is headed higher.

I don’t very often own shares of any of the major oil and gas companies other than British Petroleum (BP) and it has been many years since I’ve owned Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A), although there is rarely a week that I haven’t checked its chart and performance. Keeping with the theme, its low beta and very generous dividend, which is likely during the August 2013 cycle make it an appealing consideration.

Caterpillar (CAT) has been cited almost on a daily basis as being one of the worst performers of the S&P 500, at lest prior to last week’s strong performance. Caterpillar, which only has a very small portion of its overall business dependent on the Chinese economy hasn’t been able to escape the perception that it is intimately tied to that market and has been held hostage by that weakness and uncertainty. I almost always own shares and currently have two lots. Despite last week’s strong move and the relatively high beta, I may add additional shares as they are ex-dividend during the week offering an increased payout.

Cheniere Energy Partners (CQR), which operates liquefied natural gas terminals, is a good example of a low beta/high dividend company. It has been reliably paying a consistently sized dividend since going public in 2007, currently a 5.6% yield. Although it does report earnings on August 2, 2013 and has in the past exhibited some greater volatility with earnings, it is also expected to go ex-dividend during the August 2013 option cycle. It also tends to do well in down markets, which has appeal for me since I’m still somewhat nervous about what tomorrow may bring, even if Bernanke stays silent.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) is a company that I usually only consider purchasing in order to capture its dividend. I did consider it recently for that purpose, but didn’t buy the shares. Now, instead, I’ve come to appreciate it on its own merits. Those include a low beta, a nice call premium for the remaining week of the monthly option cycle and freedom from earnings reports until sometime in September, as Darden was among the last to report earnings in the immediately prior earnings season.

I love trading shares or buying puts in Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). Of course, doing so runs counter to the pursuit of low beta positions, but it does offer a small dividend. Its volatility is what makes it a frequently good trade when selling either covered calls or puts. The risk tends to come with earnings and occasionally they do pre-release information, especially regarding European operations and currency risk, typically two weeks before earnings, which are currently scheduled for August 14, 2013.

For those with strong constitutions, there is VMWare (VMW) which will report earnings on July 23, 2013, the first week of the August 2013 cycle. Its shares still haven’t recovered from the loss related to February 2013 earnings, as there is increasing concern that its proprietary product no longer can sustain growth against competition for the cloud by Microsoft (MSFT), Oracle (ORCL) and Amazon (AMZN).

For the final week of the July 2013 option cycle, prior to earnings, for those believing that VMWare will delay any substantive move until after earnings, there is an opportunity for the short term trade which includes the sale of calls. However, if purchased shares are not assigned, earnings related risk is of concern.

Finally, there are many high profile companies reporting earnings this coming week, many of whom trade with high beta and have had recent large gains. However, the option premium pricing of out of the money puts, which I typically like to sell to exploit earnings, are very inexpensive, indicating continuing bullish sentiment.

Two exceptions are SanDisk (SNDK) and Align Technology (ALGN).

As perhaps expected, they are neither low beta, nor offer high dividend yields, or any yield for that matter. Both SanDisk and Align Technology are significantly higher over the past two months, both hovering at 20% gains since early May 2013 and easily outperforming the S&P 500 during that period. The worries of years past that SanDisk was doomed as flash memory was going to become a commodity hasn’t quite worked out as predicted.

As a lapsed Pediatric Dentist, I’m very familiar with Align Technologies “even a monkey can perform Orthodontics” technology and it has recently expanded its product portfolio and is increasingly enticing non-specialists to adopt the product in the hopes of creating new profit centers within office practices.

If either is a case of “high and going higher,” then selling out of the money puts expiring this coming Friday is certainly a consideration and a relatively simple way to generate premium income. If either is poised to give back recent gains Align Technology offers a better risk to reward experience as you can generate approximately 0.9% ROI for the week if shares drop less than 15%. However, the additional caveats for both of these is that they do tend to underperform in a dropping market.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers, Cheneire Energy Partners, Darden Restaurants, GlaxoSmithKline, Royal Dutch Shell, Target

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, VMWare

Double Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (7/18 $0.60)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Align Technology (7/18 PM), SanDisk (7/17 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 – July 7, 2013

Much has been made of the recent increase in volatility.

As someone who sells options I like volatility because it typically results in higher option premiums. Since selling an option provides a time defined period I don’t get particularly excited when seeing large movements in a share’s price. With volatility comes greater probability that “this too shall pass” and selling that option allows you to sit back a bit and watch to see the story unwind.

It also gives you an opportunity to watch “the smart money” at play and wonder “just how smart is that “smart money”?

But being a observer doesn’t stop me from wondering sometimes what is behind a sudden and large movement in a stock’s price, particularly since so often they seem to occur in the absence of news. They can’t all be “fat finger ” related. I also sit and marvel about entire market reversals and wildly alternating interpretations of data.

I’m certain that for a sub-set there is some sort of technical barrier that’s been breached and the computer algorithms go into high gear. but for others the cause may be less clear, but no doubt, it is “The Smart Money,” that’s behind the gyrations so often seen.

Certainly for a large cap stock and one trading with considerable volume, you can’t credit or blame the individual investor for price swings, especially in the absence of news. Since for those shares the majority are owned by institutions, which hopefully are managed by those that comprise the “smart money” community, the large movements certainly most result in detriment to at least some in that community.

But what especially intrigues me is how the smart money so often over-reacts to news, yet still can retain their moniker.

This week’s announcement that there would be a one year delay in implementing a specific component of the Affordable Care Act , the Employer mandate, resulted in a swift drop among health care stocks, including pharmaceutical companies.

Presumably, since the markets are said to discount events 6 months into the future, the timing may have been just right, as a July 3, 2013 announcement falls within that 6 month time frame, as the changes were due to begin January 1, 2014.

By some kind of logic the news of the delay, which reflects a piece of legislation that has regularly alternated between being considered good and bad for health care stocks, was now again considered bad.

But only for a short time.

As so often is seen, such as when major economic data is released, there is an immediate reaction that is frequently reversed. Why in the world would smart people have knee jerk reactions? That doesn’t seem so smart. This morning’s reaction to the Employment Situation report is yet another example of an outsized initial reaction in the futures market that saw its follow through in the stock market severely eroded. Of course, the reaction to the over-reaction was itself then eroded as the market was entering into its final hour, as if involved in a game of volleyball piting two team of smart money against one another.

Some smart money must have lost some money during that brief period of time as they mis-read the market’s assessment of the meaning of a nearly 200,000 monthly increase in employment.

After having gone to my high school’s 25th Reunion a number of years ago, it seemed that the ones who thought they were the most cool turned out to be the least. Maybe smart money isn’t much different. Definitely be wary of anyone that refers to themselves as being part of the smart money crowd.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. (see details).

As a caveat, with Earnings Season beginning this week some of the selections may also be reporting their own earnings shortly, perhaps even during the July 2013 option cycle. That knowledge should be factored into any decision process, particularly since if you select a shorter term option sale that doesn’t get assigned, since yo may be left with a position that is subject to earnings related risk. By the same token, some of those positions will have their premiums enhanced by the uncertainty associated with earnings.

Both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) were on my list of prospective purchases last week. Besides being a trading shortened week in celebration of the FOurth of July, it was also a trade shortened week, as I initiated the fewest new weekly positions in a few years. Both shares were among those that took swift hits from fears that a delay in the ACA would adversely impact companies in the sector. In hindsight, that was a good opportunity to buy shares, particularly as they recovered significantly later in the day. Lilly is well off of its recent highs and Abbott Labs goes ex-dividend this week. However, it does report earnings during the final week of the July 2013 option cycle. I think that healthcare stocks have further to run.

AIG (AIG) is probably the stock that I’ve most often thought of buying over the past two years but have too infrequently gone that path. While at one time I thought of it only as a speculative position it is about as mainstream as they come, these days. Under the leadership of Robert Ben Mosche it has accomplished what no one believe was possible with regard to paying back the Treasury. While its option premiums aren’t as exciting as they once were it still offers a good risk-reward proposition.

Despite having given up on “buy and hold,” I’ve almost always had shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) over the past 5 years. They just haven’t been the same shares for very long. It’s CEO, Andrew Liveris was once the darling of cable finance news and then fell out of favor, while being roundly criticized as Dow shares plummeted in 2008. His star is pretty shiny once again and he has been a consistent force in leading the company to maintain shares trading in a fairly defined channel. That is an ideal kind of stock for a covered call strategy.

The recent rise in oil prices and the worries regarding oil transport through the Suez Canal, hasn’t pushed British Petroleum (BP) shares higher, perhaps due to some soon to be completed North Sea pipeline maintenance. British Petroleum is also a company that I almost always own, currently owning two higher priced lots. Generally, three lots is my maximum for any single stock, but at this level I think that shares are a worthy purchase. With a dividend yield currently in excess of 5% it does make it easier to make the purchase or to add shares to existing lots.

General Electric (GE) is one of those stocks that I only like to purchase right after a large price drop or right before its ex-dividend date. Even if either of those are present, I also like to see it trading right near its strike price. Its big price drop actually came 3 weeks ago, as did its ex-dividend date. Although it is currently trading near a strike price, that may be sufficient for me to consider making the purchase, hopeful of very quick assignment, as earnings are reported July 19, 2013.

Oracle (ORCL) has had its share of disappointments since the past two earnings releases. Its problems appear to have been company specific as competitors didn’t share in sales woes. The recent announcement of collaborations with Microsoft (MSFT and Salesforce.com (CRM) says that a fiercely competitive Larry Ellison puts performance and profits ahead of personal feelings. That’s probably a good thing if you believe that emotion can sometimes not be very helpful. It too was a recent selection that went unrequited. Going ex-dividend this week helps to make a purchase decision easier.

This coming week and next have lots of earnings coming from the financial sector. Having recently owned JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) I think I will stay away from those this week. While I’ve been looking for new entry points for Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), I think that they’re may be a bit too volatile at the moment. One that has gotten my attention is Bank of New York Mellon (BK). While it does report earnings on July 17, 2013 it isn’t quite as volatile as the latter two banks and hasn’t risen as much as Wells Fargo (WFC), another position that I would like to re-establish.

YUM Brands (YUM) reports earnings this week and as an added enticement also goes ex-dividend on the same day. People have been talking about the risk in its shares for the past year, as it’s said to be closely tied to the Chinese economy and then also subject to health scare rumors and realities. Shares do often move significantly, especially when they are stoked by fears, but YUM has shown incredible resilience, as perhaps some of the 80% institutional ownership second guess their initial urge to head for the exits, while the “not so smart money” just keeps the faith.

Finally, one place that the “smart money” has me intrigued is JC Penney (JCP). With a large vote of confidence from George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, it’s hard to not wonder what it is that he sees in the company, after all, he was smart enough to have fled Hungary. The fact that I already own shares, but at a higher price, is conveniently irrelevant in thinking that Soros is smart to like JC Penney. In hindsight it may turn out that ex-CEO Ron Johnson’s strategy was well conceived and under the guidance of a CEO with operational experience will blossom. I think that by the time earnings are reported just prior to the end of the August 2013 option cycle, there will be some upward surprises.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, General Electric,

Momentum Stocks: AIG, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 7/11), Oracle (ex-div)7/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/10 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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