Weekend Update – September 1, 2013

Behind every “old wives’ tale” there has to be a kernel of truth. That’s part of the basis for it being handed down from one generation to the next.

While I don’t necessarily believe that the souls of dead children reside in toads or frogs, who knows? The Pets.com sock puppet was real enough for people to believe in it for a while. No one got hurt holding onto that belief.

The old saw “Sell in May and go away,” has its origins in a simpler time. Back when The Catskills were the Hamptons and international crises didn’t occur in regular doses. There wasn’t much reason to leave your money in the stock market and watch its value predictably erode under the hot summer sun back in the old days.

Lately, some of those old wives’ tales have lost their luster, but the Summer of 2013 has been pretty much like the old days. With only a bare minimum of economic news and that part of the world that could impact upon our stock market taking a summer break, it has been an idyllic kind of season. In fact, with the market essentially flat from Memorial Day to Labor Day it was an ideal time to sell covered options.

So you would think that Syria could have at least waited just another week until the official end to the summer season, before releasing chemical weapons on its own citizens and crossing that “red line,” that apparently has meaning other than when sunburn begins and ends.

Or does it?

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear where the United States believed that blame lay. He used a kind of passion and emotion that was completely absent during his own Presidential campaign. Had he found that tone back in 2004 he might be among that small cadre of “President Emeritus” members today. On Friday he did more of the same and sought to remove uncertainty from the equation.

Strangely, while Kerry’s initial words and intent earlier in the week seemed to have been very clear, the market, which so often snaps to judgment and had been in abeyance awaiting his delayed presentation, didn’t know what to do for nearly 15 minutes. In fact, there was a slightly positive reaction at first and then someone realized the potentially market adverse meaning of armed intervention.

Finally, someone came to the realization that any form of warfare may not be a market positive. Although selling only lasted a single day, attempts to rally the markets subsequently all faded into the close as a variant on another old saying – “don’t stay long going into the weekend,” seemed to be at play.

That’s especially true during a long weekend and then even more true if it’s a long weekend filled with uncertainty. As it becomes less clear what our response will be, paradoxically that uncertainty has led to some calm. But at some point you can be assured that there will be a chorus of those questioning President Obama’s judgment and subsequent actions and wondering “what would Steve Jobs have done.”

John Kerry helped to somewhat answer that question on Friday afternoon and the market ultimately settled on interpreting the message as being calming, even though the message implied forceful action. What was clear in watching the tape is that algorithms were not in agreement over the meaning of the word “heinous.”

With the market having largely gone higher for the past 20 months the old saying seeking to protect against uncertainty during market closures has been largely ignored during that time.

But now with uncertainty back in the air and the summer season having come to its expected end, it is back to business as usual.

That means that fundamentals, such as the way in which earnings have ruled the market this past summer take a back seat to “events du jour” and the avalanche of economic reports whose relevance is often measured in nano-seconds and readily supplanted by the next bit of information to have its embargo lifted.

This coming week is one of great uncertainty. I made fewer than the usual number of trades last week and if i was the kind that would be prone to expressing regret over some of them, I would do so. I expect to be even more cautious this week, unless there is meaningful clarity introduced into the equation. While wishing for business as usual, that may not be enough for it to become reality.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend and , Momentum categories, with no suitable “PEE” selections this week (see details).

While I currently own more expensive shares of Caterpillar (CAT), I almost always feel as if it’s a good time to add shares. Caterpillar has become everyone’s favorite stock to disparage, reaching its peak with famed short seller Jim Chanos’ presentation at the “Delivering Alpha Conference” a few weeks ago. as long as it continues trading in a $80-$90 range it is a wonderful stock for a covered call writing strategy and it has reliably stayed in that range.

Joy Global (JOY) reported its earnings last week and beat analysts estimates and reaffirmed its 2014 guidance. Nonetheless it was brutalized in the aftermath. Although already owning shares I took the opportunity to sell weekly put options in the belief that the reaction was well overdone.

If the reports of an improving Chinese economy are to be believed, and that may be a real test of faith, then Joy Global stands to do well. Like Caterpillar, it has traded in a reasonably narrow range and is especially attractive in the $48-53 neighborhood.

eBay (EBAY) is simply on sale, closing the week just below the $50 level. With no news to detract from its share price and having traded very well in the $50 -53 range, it’s hard to justify why it fell along with other stocks in the uncertainty that attended the concerns over Syria. It’s certainly hard to draw a straight line from Syria related fears to diminished earnings at eBay.

By the recent measure that I have been using, that is the comparison to the S&P 500 performance since May 21, 2013, the market top that preceded a small post-Ben Bernanke induced correction, eBay has well underperformed the index and may be relatively immune from short term market pressure.

Baxter International (BAX) is one of those stocks that I like to own and am sad to see get assigned away from me. Every job has its negative side and while most of the time I’m happy seeing shares assigned, sometimes when it takes too long for them to return to a reasonable price, I get forlorn. In this case, timing is very serendipitous, because Baxter has fallen in price and goes ex-dividend this week.

Coach (COH) also goes ex-dividend this week and that increases its appeal. At a time when retail has been sending very mixed messages, and at a time when Coach’s position at the luxury end is being questioned as Michael Kors (KORS) is everyone’s new darling, COach is yet another example of a stock that trades very well in a specific range and has been very well suited to covered option portfolios.

In general, I’ve picked the wrong year to be bullish on metals and some of my patience is beginning to wear thin, but I’ve been seeing signs of some stability recently, although once again, the risk of putting too much faith into a Chinese recovery may carry a steep price. BHP Billiton (BHP) is the behemoth that all others bow to and may soon receive the same kind of fear and respect from the potash industry, as it is a prime reason the cartel has lost some of its integrity. BHP Billiton also goes ex-dividend this week and is now about 6% below its recent price spurt higher.

Seagate Technology (STX) isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. but it is down nearly 20% from its recent high, at a time when there is re-affirmation that the personal computer won’t be disappearing anytime soon. While many of the stocks on my radar screen this week have demonstrated strength within trading ranges, Seagate can’t necessarily lay claim to the same ability and you do have to be mindful of paroxysms of movement which could take shares down to the $32 level.

While Seagate Technology may offer the thrills that some people need and the reward that some people want, Walgreen (WAG) may be a happy compromise. A low beta stock with an option premium that is rewarding enough for most. Although Walgreen has only slightly under-performed the S&P 500 since May 21st, I think it’s a good choice now, given potential immunity from the specific extrinsic issues at hand, particularly if you are under-invested in the healthcare sector.

Another area in which I’m under-invested is in the Finance sector. While it hasn’t under-performed the S&P 500 recently, Bank of New York Mellon (BK) is still about 7% lower in the past 5 weeks and offers a little less of a thrill in ownership than some of my other favorites, JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS). Sometimes, it’s alright giving up on the thrills, particularly in return for a competitive option premium and the ability to sleep a bit sounder at night.

Finally, with the excitement about Steve Ballmer finally leaving Microsoft (MSFT) after what seems like an eternity of such calls, the share price has simply returned to a more inviting re-entry levels. In fact, when Ballmer announced his decision to leave the CEO position in 12 months, I did something that I rarely do. I bought back my call options at a loss and then sold shares at the enhanced share price. Occasionally you see a shares appreciation outstrip the appreciation in the in the money premium and opportunities are created to take advantage of the excitement not being reflected in future price expectations.

At the post-Ballmer excitement stage there is still reason to consider share ownership, including the anticipation of another dividend increase and option premiums while awaiting assignment of shares

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York Mellon, Caterpillar, eBay, Microsoft, Walgreen

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Baxter International (ex-div 9/4), BHP Billiton (ex-div 9/4), Coach (ex-div 9/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

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I received a very nice text message from a subscriber this morning.

I think that if I’m ever in the market for a publicist for Option to Profit, my search need go no further.

His message, in its entirety was “Option to Profit: Come for the premiums, stay for the dividends.”

My guess is that he’s been seeing a stream of dividends coming in lately. Today alone had Lorillard, Weyerhauser and Molson-Coors.

Some of you know that I have mixed feelings about dividends and am not really a big fan.  (I Don’t Understand Dividends and The Myth of Dividends) but as long as there appear to be some pricing inefficiencies in option premiums when dividends are about to be paid (Double Dipping Dividends), why would you want to pass up that opportunity?

I’ve been increasingly putting an emphasis on dividends as market volatility has declined, in order to increase over all yield and I have to admit that I don’t mind receiving those brokerage alerts telling me when a dividend check has been deposited into my account (Dividends? Forget DRIP and Go PRIP).

Because of my belief in attempting to exploit those pricing inefficiencies when they appear is why I send out queries on ex-dividend mornings for those positions that were in the money at the time of going ex-dividend. It’s all about collecting the data and validating the strategy and the information that so many of you regularly provide is very helpful and appreciated.

I’ve been looking for a good way to express the OTP portfolio’s dividend yield for a while but it’s difficult to really get a good fix and one that accurately depicts the reality, especially if seeking to project annual return.

Since I like to compare everything to the S&P 500 Index, it makes sense that I do the same for dividend yield.

Currently the average S&P 500 stock offers a 2.06% dividend yield. However, that is impacted by the 82 stocks in the index that pay no dividends.

So for the 412 dividend paying stocks in the index, the average yield is 2.46%. In 2012 the average dividend paying stock had a 2.7% yield. The current year’s lower yield reflects generally higher stock prices.

If you look at the Weekly Performance spreadsheet you may have noticed for the past two months or so some calculations on each page that assesses dividend yield of open positions and projects that yield on an annual basis.

I had not been planning on saying anything about those spreadsheet scribblings until the end of the year, until having received this morning’s message.

The good news is that with increased data collection the model for creating projections is beginning to resemble reality.

The better news is the reality.

The dividend yield for positions closed in 2012, all 272 of them was 2.9%

Thus far the yield for positions closed in 2013 is 2.7%

Both of those reflect all positions and not just those paying dividends. As a result the gap is 0.7% and in a very favorable direction.

At the moment, not including new purchases this week, the remaining open positions in the OTP portfolio are delivering an annualized dividend yield of 2.9%, again that includes both dividend and non-dividend paying positions.

For those that are a bit more traditional than I am and have long appreciated dividends I finally see your perspective as those account credits have been adding up.

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Weekend Update – August 25, 2013

You’re only as good as your earnings. Having stopped making an honest living a little on the early side, I still need to make money, or otherwise my wife would insist that I do something other than watch a moving stock ticker all day.

Since there’s far too much competition on the highway exit near our home and my penmanship has deteriorated due to excessive keyboard use, I’ve come to realize that stock derived earnings, predominantly from the sale of options and accrual of dividends, are the only thing keeping me from joining those less fortunate.

I’m under no delusions. I am only as good as my earnings, just as Bob Greifeld, CEO of NASDAQ (NDAQ) should be under no delusions, as he is only as good as his response to the most recent NASDAQ failing.

On that count, I may have the advantage, although he may have better hygiene and a wardrobe that includes a clean hoodie.

There was a time that we thought of stocks in very much the same earnings centric way. If earnings were good the stock was good. There was a time that we didn’t dwell quite as much on the macro-economic data and we certainly didn’t spend time thinking about Europe or China.

However, after this most recent earnings season, which will come to an end a few days before the next season is kicked off on October 8, 2013, maybe it’s a good thing that it’s only during the otherwise slow summer months when other news is sparse, that we focus on earnings.

If you’ve been paying attention, this hasn’t been a particularly encouraging month, especially as far as retail sales go, which are about as good a reflection of discretionary spending as you can find. Beyond that, listening to guidance can make shivers run down one’s spine as less than rosy earnings pictures are being painted for the future. The very future that our markets are supposed to be discounting.

As it is the S&P 500 is now about 0.3% below the earlier all time high that was hit on May 21, 2013. That in turn gave way to a rapid 5.7% fall and equally rapid 8.6% recovery to new highs. By all historical measures that post-May 21st drop was small as compared to the gains since November 2012 and we are right back to that level.

Perhaps once summer is over and our elected officials return to Washington, DC, not only would they have an opportunity to see me at a highway exit, but they may also get back to doing the things that create the dysfunction that makes earnings less salient.

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

Most of the positions considered this week are themselves lower than they were at the low point following the May 21st peak and have underperformed the S&P 500 since that time. For the moment, as I contribute to cling to the idea that there will be some additional market weakness, my comfort level is increased by focusing on positions that don’t have as much to fall.

I’ve been anxious to buy either Cisco (CSCO) or Oracle (ORCL) ever since Cisco’s disappointing earnings report. During more vibrant markets a drop in the share price of an otherwise good company would stand out as a buying opportunity. However, recently there has been more competition among those companies suffering precipitous earnings related price drops. While striving to keep my cash reserves at sufficient levels to allow me to go on a wild spending spree, I’ve resisted opportunities in CIsco and Oracle. Both, however, are getting more and more appealing as their prices sink further.

Oracle will report its earnings right before the end of the September 2013 option cycle and I have a very hard time believing that it could be three disappointments in a row, especially after some high profile remarks by CEO Larry Ellison regarding leadership at Apple (AAPL) that could come back to haunt him, even if only in terms of comparative share performance.

A technology company that always intrigues me, if at the price point relative to its option contract strikes, is Cypress Semiconductor (CY). It’s products and technology are quietly everywhere. However, its CEO, T.J. Rodgers has become precisely the opposite, as he is increasingly appearing in the media and offering political and policy opinions that make you wonder whether he is getting detached from the business, as perhaps may be said of Ellison. In Cypress Semiconductor’s case I think the business is small and focused enough that it can withstand some diversions. It is one of the few positions that has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 21st.

Among companies reporting earnings this week is salesforce.com (CRM), which also has Larry Ellison connections. the most recent of which is a great example of how business and strategic needs may trump personal feelings. For those who would innocently suffer collateral damage otherwise, that is the way it should be, as two companies seek to have the sum of their parts create additional value. While I do own shares of salesforce.com, I would be inclined to consider the sale of puts as a means to add additional shares and achieve an earnings stream of 1% for the week while awaiting the market’s reaction to earnings. My only hesitancy is that the strike at which that return can be achieved as more close to the strike of the implied move downward than I would ordinarily like.

Having recently lost shares of Eli Lilly (LLY) to early assignment in order to capture its dividend, I’ve wanted to re-purchase shares. Along with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that I have been wanting to add for a while, they both offer attractive option premiums and are both 5% below their May 21st prices, which I believe limits their short term risk, during a period that I prefer to be somewhat defensive. Additionally, Bristol Myers offers extended weekly options that can be used as part of a broader strategy to attempt and stagger option expiration dates and perhaps infusions of cash back into portfolios for new purchases.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBGI) is a local television broadcasting powerhouse that just purchased the important Washington, DC ABC affiliate. But it is far more than a local presence, as it has quietly become the nation’s largest operator of television stations, barely 4 years after fears of bankruptcy. Of course its recent buying spree may put pressures on the bottom line, but for now it is coming off a nearly 8% earnings related price decline and goes ex-dividend this week. Both of those work for me.

JP Morgan (JPM) which is increasingly becoming the poster child for everything wrong with big banks, at least from the point of view of regulators and the Department of Justice, finally showed a little bit of price stability by mid-week. Although I don’t know how any initiatives directed toward JP Morgan will work out, I’m reasonably sure that talk of looking at Jamie Dimon as a potential Treasury Secretary won’t be rekindled anytime soon. At current price levels, however, I think shares warrant another look.

While I’m not a terribly big fan of controversy, I think it may be time to publicly proclaim support for Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Having suffered through ownership beginning prior to the dividend cut, it has been an uncomfortable experience, ameliorated a bit by occasional purchase of additional shares and sacrificing them for their option premiums. Beginning with a report approximately 6 weeks ago that China had purchased a massive amount of nickel in the London commodity market, Cliffs has been slowly showing strength that may suggest demand for iron ore is increasing. Held hostage to our perceptions of the health of the Chinese economy, which can vary wildly from day to day, Cliffs’ share price can be equally volatile, but I believe will be rewarding for the strong of stomach.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) was widely criticized as no longer being “cool.” That suits me just fine, figuratively, but not literally, as I resist wearing anyone’s logo with compensation. However, after joining other teen retailers in receiving earnings related punishment, I sold puts on its shares and happily saw them expire. Long a favorite stock of mine on which to generate option premium income, I think it’s at a price level that may offer some stability even with a demographic customer base that may not offer the same stability. This has been a great company to practice serial covered call writing, as long as you have a parallel strategy during the week of earnings release. In this case, that leaves three months of evaluating opportunities and perhaps even receiving a dividend before the next quarterly challenge.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, Cisco, Cypress Semiconductor, Eli Lilly, JP Morgan, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Cliffs Natural Resources

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (ex-div 8/29), Sinclair Broadcasting (ex-div 8/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: salesforce.com (8/29 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.


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Daily Market Update (August 21, 2013 Reprint)



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Daily Market Update – August 21, 2013 (Close)

Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw pact nations invasion of Czechoslovakia.

That’s not ordinarily something that I use an an introduction to a Daily Market Update, but bear with me. After all, it’s Wednesday and that’s usually a slow trading day for us. The early market action didn’t give any reason to think that this Wednesday would be different from any other.

Except that today we sit and await the release of the FOMC minutes in an era when the Federal Reserve has taken on new transparency and current members are suggesting that even more transparency may be warranted.

45 years ago on that date, my family and I were supposed to leave Hungary, where we had been vacationing, having returned to the country we left across a land-mined border in the middle of the night twelve years earlier. Hungary, a member of the Warsaw Pact, a member Soviet Union satellite nation had only recently allowed those who escaped during the 1956 Revolution to return as tourists, once they realized that tourist dollars weren’t in conflict with dogma.

Our visas, which were absolutely necessary for travel, as was reporting your itinerary to local authorities, were due to expire on that date.

Funny thing, though. The airport was closed.

There were fighter jet planes flying overhead and we were turned back by soldiers who wouldn’t allow entry onto the road leading to the airport. My parents were smart enough to know not to ask questions. Questions required answers and that was considered to be information.

If Seinfeld had existed in Hungary the certainly would have been a character intoning “No information for you.”

Returning to the hotel, the clerk asked for our visas and before we knew it the police were at the hotel threatening to have us arrested for over staying our visas, suggesting that perhaps we were spies.

The American Embassy could provide no information. Why were the airports closed? When could we leave? They knew, but in a land where information was so tightly controlled they couldn’t be seen as the source of a leak that would have preceded any official local government spin.

They did tell us that all borders were sealed and informed us that we could stay at the embassy if our request for visa extensions wasn’t granted.

An embassy worker suggested a “gratuity” could get us an extension and it did. My father later told others who had been denied that the equivalent of about two dollars would buy a visa extension.

Back in the hotel lobby, television pre-empted its usual airing of the endless loop of “The Flintstones” episodes to play patriotic kind of music. Forget about trying to get a newspaper that gave out any kind of information. Not only were the borders sealed, but so was all flow of information and so were people’s mouths.

Three days later we were allowed to leave and arrived in Paris. It was there that we saw images of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks on overhead televisions in the airport, but we still had no clue as to what was happening. It looked as if it was World War II kind of archival footage.

But the International Herald Tribune told the story. The “Prague Spring” as it had become known under the liberalization of Alexander Dubcek was crushed, just as Poland and Hungary had their brief attempts to rid themselves of Soviet yoke crushed.

It is absolutely amazing at how a government can entirely control our access to information. I don’t know how long it took for normal Hungarian citizens to learn what had been going on next door to them, but they certainly didn’t talk about it on the streets while it was all unfolding.

So why am I recalling old news of 45 years ago? Mostly because Eddy Elfenbein of “Crossing Wall Street” fame made note of the anniversary and suggested I write a post. I had let the day just slip by, never giving it a thought.

Now we’re awash in information. The one-time opaque Federal Reserve is now like your best friend telling you more than you need to know or more than you can understand. But you have to be right there when that friend spills all, because you need to know before any of your other friends.

Government reports, ADP, Tweets, blogs, Instagram and an endless supply of other sources of information with the only gatekeeper being the one who is supposed to ensure that all get equal access to its release, give or take a few nano-seconds, for give or take a few million.

If Hampton Pearson, the usual purveyor of information on CNBC had it in him to give away the minutes in exchange for blow and hookers, society might be better off having a chance to chew over the information rather than reflexively responding to it.

The problem has become one of interpretation of news. Keeping the population ignorant of the news is one thing, but an over-flow of news is far better because it creates a new kind of ignorance, one that has its genesis in too many competing and often contradictory bits of data that cause us to proceed irrationally or haphazardly and sometimes bounce from one action to the next without a coherent plan.

In a society where information is strictly controlled or parceled, there isn’t much in the way of interpretation necessary. You simply knew that the truth was diametrically opposite of the official version.

This afternoon will come word by word parsing of the FOMC minutes. Although this month is likely to be a non-event, much like last month, the interpretations can differ wildly and the markets can go into spasms from too much attention being paid to the details.

In the meantime we continue to get conflicting earnings reports and alternating positive and negative market reactions to the news. Just think about the  names mentioned yesterday. Anadarko, Intel, Chesapeake Energy and add to those Home Depot, JC Penney and others and see how quickly their fates are altered with the flow of information and the parsing of that information. It can make the difference between putting a $250 price tag on Apple or placing a $700 target. Same information, yet two disparate interpretations.

So often the net result of that flow of information is minimal change, but a wide range of reaction. Just look at the immediate reaction to the release of the FOMC minutes this  afternoon. Someone or their algorithm interpreted the minutes in a negative manner, sending the market down an additional 70 points in 5 minutes, only to see it then add 130 points in the next 40 minutes.

Increasingly, I’m beginning to believe that being in an information vacuum has its merits. At the very least ignoring the party line, taking note of the jets flying above and having a goal that is immutable.



 OTP Sector Distribution* as of August 21, 2013

  * Assumes equal number of shares in positions

Intraday versions of the Daily Market Update are not archived. You may access prior day’s Daily Market Updates by clicking here

The posting of these trades is not a recommendation to initiate positions nor to execute any trading positions, as they may represent time sensitive actions.


Monday through Thursday? See “Daily Market Update” with first edition published by 12 Noon and Closing Update published by 4:30 PM

Friday? See Week in Review for summary statistics and performance

Sunday? See Weekend Update for potential stock choices for coming week

Any day? See Performance for open and closed positions

Subscribers may see ROI statistics on all new, existing and closed positions on a daily updated basis



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Weekend Update – August 18, 2013

I believe, although I could be mistaken, that an original version of the Bible suggested that “an octogenarian shall lead them.”

Last week I was wondering where the next catalyst was going to come from.

After a couple of years of headline grabbing events and man made disasters such as “Fiscal Cliff” and “Sequestration,” it was actually good to have a summer off. We didn’t even have the obligatory Greek banking crisis this August. The downside, of course, is that there’s nothing to react toward. Instead, stocks have had to trade on such fundamentals and basics as valuation and earnings. As with many traditions, there are fewer and fewer people who can remember the origins of such things.

If you can remember back almost a year, Apple (AAPL) was just hitting $700/share and it was the reason you could have discounted the other 499 stocks that comprised the S&P 500. As went Apple, so went the health of the overall market.

It was a simpler time.

Things have changed, but then came news that Carl Icahn had put together a “large” Apple position. Then came word the Leon Cooperman, Chairman of Omega Advisors, was equally ebullient about Apple.

Its shares immediately shot up an immediate $22 upon a simple Icahn Tweet. The “Cooperman Bump” was good for another 2%, but he’s much younger.

Wonderful. We needed market leadership and Apple was ready to take the reigns once again thanks to a couple of guys who have a combined 147 years between them. Can George Soros be far behind? Based on what his ownership had done for JC Penney (JCP) shares before he curiously added 2 million shares during the course of his divorce from a much younger Bill Ackman, you would probably prefer that he kept his distance if you were long Apple shares.

As it turns You can’t predicate an entire market on the basis of a nearly octogenarian investor’s lust for overseas cash piles. While Apple piled up even more cash reserves, it also added on to its share value while the market had a recently rare triple digit move downward and just came off its worst week in 2013.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to lead us to a better place where we know only of profits, dividends and buybacks. A place where we are always renewed and bathed in truth.

For me the market starts anew every week as I scan to see what positions have been assigned due to the sale of call options. As occasionally happens when a monthly cycle ends my world is essentially recreated, but you never know where the truth lies. What I do know is that far fewer of my positions were assigned this week than I had expected, even with the gift of Icahn.

With continually competing voices citing reasons we go higher matched off with equally compelling reasons we go lower, the standoff is as old as that between good and evil, but suddenly evil is looking stronger.

While it may seem inviting to have an octogenarian activist lead the way, the greatest likelihood is that such a shepherd has his own interests more at heart than that of his willing flock.

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

While my preference ordinarily is to focus on selling weekly options, given some uncertainty last week, I may look to sell more monthly contracts as a defensive measure in the event of a short term downturn.

In the past year the astute have noted that “as goes Google (GOOG), so does Apple not follow,” as the prevailing thesis was that it was not possible to be invested in them concurrently. While recent attention has deservedly shifted to Apple as it’s price moved higher on news of a new iPhone and then Icahn’s position, so too has attention shifted away from Google.

I haven’t owned shares of Google in more than a year and even though it has advanced steadily since then, its recent 6% decline is enough to get me interested once again. With the next lower support level nearly $100 away the risk may be greater than the underlying “beta” might suggest, but perhaps at any sign of Apple infatuation cooling we all know where the money has to be going.

If you have the stomach for such things JC Penney reports earnings this week. I own shares, including some bought just this week and subsequently assigned. However, had you asked me a few weeks ago, I would have believed that JC Penney comparative quarter results were going to be very positive. But once the high profile dissension from Bill Ackman, calling for a speedy appointment of a permanent CEO became known and that short term melodrama played itself out, my opinion changed considerably. It would seem unlikely that such internal controversy would arise before a surprisingly good earnings report.

However, for the adventurous selling puts expiring August 23, 2013 can return an 1.3% ROI and leave you without the need to own shares if a post-earnings related drop ends up being less than 25% The options market is anticipating a 17.5% decline.

Among the walking wounded this week was Macys (M). I’ve been waiting a long time for an opportunity to own shares again, although those opportunities usually come when bad news is at hand. In this instance it was the same as had wounded numerous others this earnings season. With no other distractions during a quiet late summer people actually pay attention to such mundane things as earnings and guidance. In this case, they didn’t like what they heard, but that has by and large been the lot of retailers of late. Under the leadership of Terry Lundgren you do have to believe that if any retailer will be able to pull out from underneath the doldrums, it will be Macys.

Another of my favorite retailers, especially coming off price weakness, like most everything this past week, is Coach (COH). However, as with many of the stocks in this week’s listing, the challenge is whether what appears to be value pricing is instead, a value trap, as an overall declining market takes the good along with the bad lower. With an almost 14% drop since its earnings, Coach has had a head start on any general decline which gives me some solace if investing new funds.

Following Cisco’s (CSCO) disappointing earnings report, which may have added fuel to the market’s weakness, the technology sector didn’t fare terribly well. John Chambers, the CEO has alternated from genius to out of touch and back to genius in the span of just a few years, but may now be returning to the “out of touch” category in the eyes of some.

However, for me, he evoked an image of Hoard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks (SBUX), who a number of quarters ago following a brutal reaction to a disappointing earnings report, provided one of the most ardent defenses of his company and why the reaction was so wrong. If you had faith in Schultz, you were well rewarded. I think Chambers offered a similar post-earnings response and despite te immediate concerns there is reason for following his zeal.

Oracle (ORCL) on the other hand, may offer a better return, based upon the option premiums which may reflect an earnings report near the end of the September 2013 option cycle. It’s often difficult to distinguish its CEO, Larry Ellison, from its product, but he was in the news this week with sometimes less than flattering comments about Apple and Google. The last times Oracle disappointed with its earnings reports Ellison didn’t follow the Schultz lead and instead, pointed fingers. WHile I may be looking for more monthly options during this week’s trading activity, an Oracle trade may be an exception.

Among the vanquished last week was Seagate Technology (STX). It’s 27% decline, however started in mid-July. I owned shares the previous week and they were assigned. Seagate is another position that I would strongly consider as a candidate for weekly option sales, particularly if using deep in the money strikes.

McGraw Hill FInancial (MHFI) goes ex-dividend this week and has been on a nice ride ever since the initial reaction to news that their role in the financial meltdown was to be investigated. In fact, it recently surpassed that point from which it fell off the cliff upon the news. Normally that would be a warning signal for me, however, shares have recently scaled back 5%. I think that McGraw Hill was unduly punished by the market and still, in fact, has catching up to do, despite its great run since February 2013, when there was a near immediate realization that the reaction was well overdone.

I’m a little ambivalent about adding additional shares of Transocean (RIG to my two existing lots. Just a few days earlier I felt reasonably assured that the $47 lot would be assigned. At that time I was already thinking of re-purchasing shares in order to capture the upcoming dividend. Also in the Icahn stable of companies in his radar scope, Transocean hasn’t fared quite as well as others, and has not yet increased its dividend as Icahn suggested, although its change has come to its executive offices. Together with Halliburton (HAL) and British Petroleum (BP), Transocean is one of the “Evil Troika” that consistently offers a good place to park money owing to its narrow trading range, option premiums and dividend payout.

Finally, although Mosaic (MOS) has appeared in each of the past two weekly articles, its selection never gets old as long as it keeps doing what it has so reliably done ever since news of the dismantling of the potash cartel became known. In this case, what it has done after suffering a 20% plunge is to slowly begin raising the bar higher as questions arise regarding the ability of the cartel to stay asunder. For the past three weeks I’ve erased substantial paper losses by adding shares and selling in the money calls whose premiums are enhanced by fear and uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. The pattern that Mosaic has been taking is essentially two steps forward and one step back and that is just perfect for executing a serial covered call strategy that hopefully follows shares back

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Google, Macys, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Mosaic, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: McGraw Hill FInancial (ex-div 8/22 $0.28), Transocean (ex-div 8/21 $0.56)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: JC Penney (8/20 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.


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