Carl Icahn Spells the End of an Era at Apple

This afternoon came news via a simple 140 space statement that Carl Icahn currently had “a large position” in Apple (AAPL).

By all accounts his discussion with CEO Tim Cook were cordial. Icahn himself, in another 140 space blast referred to it as “nice,” and he anticipated speaking to Cook again shortly.

I currently own Apple shares that somewhat surprisingly weren’t assigned away from me last week in an effort to grab the dividend. Considering that shares were trading at about $465 prior to the ex-dividend and the strike price sold was $450, my expectation had been that assignment was a certainty. Especially since option premiums were no longer showing any time premium with such a deep in the money option.

But as many know when it comes to Apple stock, rational thought isn’t always a hallmark of ownership.

I still think back to a comment made to an earlier Seeking Alpha article I had written in May 2012, when Apple was trading at about $575

“I guess it’s hard to not have a certain bias towards a company that has turned $30,000 of your dollars into $600,000 and may if things go right turn it into a $1,000,000.”

I always wondered whether that individual had taken interim profits or whether subsequent to May 2012 had secured some profits as Apple dropped some 200 points. The fact that its author was a CPA wasn’t lost upon me.

At the time, I thought that an investing strategy of hoping to turn $30,000 into $1,000,000 was irrational, just as turning $600,000 into $1,00,00 was irrational.

What was abundantly clear, as I took a cynical view of Apple shares in repeated articles when analysts were calling for a $1,000 stock price was that emotion was at work among many investors. Part of the emotion was the fervent belief that Apple could only keep innovating and would always be an aspirational product with great margins.

However, one refrain that repeatedly was played was that Apple shares were destined to go much higher, based on an absurdly low price to earnings ratio.

The contention was that one the market starting placing a value on Apple shares more consistent with other technology stocks, Apple would soar far above its current level.

Of course, the seemingly rational analysis dismissed the fact that the market may in fact, have been rational in giving Apple a P/E in the 12 range, just like any well regarded retailer.

A retailer? Apple is a retailer and not a technology company? Granted, it is no longer “Apple Computer,” but why should Apple be considered anything but a technology company?

That’s where Carl Icahn comes in.

Despite his recent foray into Dell Computer (DELL), his history as an activist shareholder has not included many companies in the technology arena.

Icahn refers to Apple as being “undervalued” but he isn’t looking at a low P/E to buttress his opinion. He is looking at a continuing large cash position that he envisions as a means of expanding the already large share buyback, that to many has already been the source of Apple strength going from its near term lows to $450.

This is not a case of finding fault with leadership, this is not a case of someone seeking to prevent shareholders from being robbed blind in an insider buyout deal. Apple is very different from Dell in so many ways.

This is all about leveraging cash, without regard to product pipeline and without regard to product margins. This isn’t about cutting expenses or changing direction. It is as pure as you can get – it is about cash.

Icahn cares nothing about this company other than for the cash it holds. Cash which is unleveraged isn’t worth very much to him or anyone else. It certainly adds nothing to a company’s P/E.

Icahn cares nothing about this company other than for the cash it holds. Cash which is unleveraged isn’t worth very much to him or anyone else. It certainly adds nothing to a company’s P/E. It’s time to face the fact that the stock market has been entirely rational in assigning Apple the P/E it has for these past years. It was not going to ever be considered a technology company again. It is a retailer with a narrow range of products which are bought at the whims of a fickle consumer.

While not terribly different from David Einhorn’s earlier attempt to wiggle cash out of the Apple coffers, Icahn is relentless and scrappy. What starts as perhaps a nice discussion can quickly go elsewhere.

While there is a quick pop in Apple shares in the aftermath of the announcement and while I anticipate shares to move even higher, this is the end for the Apple that you knew and loved. It wasn’t the death of Steve Jobs, but rather the indirect impact of his absence that spells the end, as Apple becomes like so many other companies simply nothing more than a vessel for someone that will have as limited interest as a pedestrian day trader.

While I’ve believed that Apple was an eminently good trading stock once in went down below the $450 level in February 2013, I think that in the very near term its suitability as a trade is even further enhanced, despite the large move higher this afternoon.

In fact, in the case of Apple, I would even consider the rare decision to purchase shares without immediate and concomitant sale of call options.

As long as Carl Icahn is on your side, you may as well consider him in the same vein as those who warn that you should “never fight the Fed,”  even if you believe Apple is too large for even Carl Icahn to take on. That’s because this is now also a new era of cooperative behavior (against Bill Ackman, at least), where the big boys are capable of joining forces these days and will do so like vultures when there’s cash to be had.

The only caveat is that it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy dreams of turning $30,000 into a $1,000,00 and so I would be all for taking profits wherever they present themselves.

 

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Week in Review (August 5 – 9, 2013 Reprint)

 

Option to Profit Week in ReviewAugust 5 – 9, 2013 
NEW POSITIONS/STO NEW STO ROLLOVERS CALLS ASSIGNED/PUTS EXPIRED CALLS EXPIRED/PUTS ASSIGNED CLOSED
7 / 8 1 3 4 / 1 0 / 0 0

    

Weekly Up to Date Performance

August 5 – 9, 2013

For the week, new purchases returned to its usual ways and well exceeded the time adjusted S&P 500 in a week that the market had a negative tone, but still showed great resilience.

New positions beat the adjusted index by 2.7%, and also bested the unadjusted index by  an even larger 3.1%.  But just as I used JC Penney as an excuse last week for trailing the overall market, this week’s results are skewed by having used a number of September 17, 2013 option contracts. That actually added almost 1% to the results.

Adjusting for time, to a standard weekly observation period the week’s new positions beat the adjusted S&P 500 by 1.7% and the unadjusted index by 2.1%.

The market showed an adjusted loss of  0.6% for the week, while the unadjusted S&P 500 lost 1.1%.  New purchases gained 2.1% for the week, well above the threshold, even when adjusting for extended options.

For positions opened in 2013 and subsequently closed, performance exceeded that of the S&P 500 by 0.5%. They are up 2.7% out-performing the market by 20.6%.

Well, this week was more like it, although I’m still upset about JC Penney, particularly the silence this past week regarding its vendor’s lending facility remains unanswered. Besides that, the soap opera was amusing and at least offered a brief window to sell some call options as Bill Ackman helped to temporarily raise share price by being Bill Ackman. Of course that only lasted about a day as shares went down because Bill Ackman acted like Bill Ackman.

Additionally, it was a week where we may have gotten a message that things aren’t as dour in China as we have believed. For me, that would be wonderful, because much of my 2013 thesis was based on better than expected outcomes from China. So far, that hasn’t been a good call, but I remain patient (and stubborn).

But otherwise, this was a week that demonstrates why a weak or declining market may have value and benefit that if alternating with an advancing market can create returns well in excess of the apparent net.

For much of 2013 that hasn’t been the case as alternating markets just haven’t been the norm as they usually are.

Every now and then when I need confirmation that sometimes the sum of the parts is far greater than the whole I look at historical returns and remind myself that a stock doesn’t have to move anywhere in order to be a profit generating machine.

Lately I’ve been looking for confirmation with great regularity.

As much as it’s convenient to try and read into this week’s weak performance, it’s probably not a good idea to do so.

With the August 2013 option cycle expiring next Friday, I’m simply hopeful that the market will maintain enough integrity to see many positions assigned.

That was also my hope at the end of June, but the Federal Reserve got in the way and prices dropped just in time to help reduce the number of assignments, so I’m not counting on anything.

Since I’m not reading much into the lack of strength this week, I still plan to follow the same pattern as with the past two months, looking to reduce cash from about 40% to 25% over the course of the week.

The question and where I’ve been varying the approach recently is deciding between weekly or monthly contracts when both are available.

I do want to have weekly contracts in the mix because they form the basis for cash flow necessary to both replenish cash reserves and fund new investments,  if they’re assigned.

Now, the really big news is that next week’s first new position will be the 500th since expanding the service from being shared among only a small group of insiders to opening it up to outside subscribers 15 months ago.

Thank you for making it possible and providing reason to continue an implausible venture

Initially intended to provide a basis for subscribers to “graduate” after a few months, and the Informational web site continues to list that as the objective, a large core of subscribers have been here for all 499 trades.

That level of trust and confidence, together with the comments I receive are incredibly gratifying (as are the subscription fees).

Thank you. Looking forward to the next 500.

 

 

 



This week’s details may be seen in the Weekly Performance spreadsheet * or in the PDF file, as well as as in the summary.below

(Note: Duplicate mention of positions reflects different priced lots):



New Positions Opened:  ANF, GMCR (puts), FL, LO, MOS, MRO, PSX, WNR

Puts Closed in order to take profits:  none

Calls Rolled over, taking profits, into the next weekly cycle:  CAT

Calls Rolled over, taking profits, into extended weekly cycle: none

Calls Rolled over, taking profits, into the monthly cycle:  WNR, X

Calls Rolled Over, taking profits, into a future monthly cycle:  none

Calls Rolled Up, taking net profits into same cyclenone

Put contracts sold and still open: none

Put contracts expired: GMCR

Long term call contracts sold:  none

Calls Assigned:  ANF, EBAY, MOS, STX

Calls Expired:  none

Puts Assigned:  none

Stock positions Closed to take profits:  none

Stock positions Closed to take losses: none

Calls Closed to Take Profits: none

Ex-dividend Positions:  AAPL (ex-div 8/8 $3.05), BP (ex-div 8/7 $0.54), INTC (ex-div 8/5 $0.22), STX (ex-div 8/25 $0.38)

Some did report early assignment of AAPL (which was expected), in addition to early assignment of INTC (which was not expected). The early assignment of INTC was a small minority, while the number reporting early assignment of AAPL was more sizable, but less than a majority of respondents.



For the coming week the existing positions have lots that still require the sale of contracts:   CLF,  DE, FCX,  INTC, JCP, MCP, MOS, PBR, SHLD, WLT, WY, X (See “Weekly Performance” spreadsheet or PDF file)



* If you don’t have a program to read or modify spreadsheets, you can download the OpenOffice Suite at no cost.



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Weekend Update – August 11, 2013

I like to end each week taking a look at the upcoming week’s economic calendar just to have an idea of what kind of curveballs may come along. It’s a fairly low value added activity as once you know what is in store for the coming week the best you can do is guess about data releases and then further guess about market reactions.

Just like the professionals.

That’s an even less productive endeavor in August and this summer we don’t even have much in the way of extrinsic factors, such as a European banking crisis to keep us occupied in our guessing. In all, there have been very few catalysts and distractions of late, hearkening back to more simple times when basic rules actually ruled.

In the vacuum that is August you might believe that markets would be inclined to respond to good old fundamentals as histrionics takes a vacation. Traditionally, that would mean that earnings take center stage and that the reverse psychology kind of thinking that attempts to interpret good news as bad and bad news as good also takes a break.

Based upon this most recent earnings season it’s hard to say that the market has fully embraced traditional drivers, however. While analysts are mixed in their overall assessment of earnings and their quality, what is clear is that earnings don’t appear to be reflective of an improving economy, despite official economic data that may be suggesting that is our direction.

That, of course, might lead you to believe that discordant earnings would put price pressure on a market that has seemingly been defying gravity.

Other than a brief and shallow three day drop this week and a very quickly corrected drop in May, the market has been incredibly resistant to broadly interpreting earnings related news negatively, although individual stocks may bear the burden of disappointing earnings, especially after steep runs higher.

But who knows, maybe Friday’s sell off, which itself is counter to the typical Friday pattern of late is a return to rational thought processes.

Despite mounting pessimism in the wake of what was being treated as an unprecedented three days lower, the market was able to find catalysts, albeit of questionable veracity, on Thursday.

First, news of better than expected economic growth in China was just the thing to reverse course on the fourth day. For me, whose 2013 thesis was predicated on better than expected Chinese growth resulting from new political leadership’s need to placate an increasingly restive and entitled society, that kind of news was long overdue, but nowhere near enough to erase some punishing declines in the likes of Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF).

That catalyst lasted for all of an hour.

The real surprising catalyst at 11:56 AM was news that JC Penney (JCP) was on the verge of bringing legendary retail maven Allen Questrom back home at the urging of a newly vocal Bill Ackman. The market, which had gone negative and was sinking lower turned around coincident with that news. Bill Ackman helped to raise share price by being Bill Ackman.

Strange catalyst, but it is August, after all. In a world where sharks can fall out of the sky why couldn’t JC Penney exert its influence, especially as we’re told how volatile markets can be in a light volume environment? Of course that bump only lasted about a day as shares went down because Bill Ackman acted like Bill Ackman.The ensuing dysfunction evident on Friday and price reversal in shares was, perhaps coincidentally mirrored in the overall market, as there really was no other news to account for any movement of stature.

With earnings season nearly done and most high profile companies having reported, there’s very little ahead, just more light volume days. As a covered option investor if I could script a market my preference would actually be for precisely the kind of market we have recently been seeing. The lack of commitment in either direction or the meandering around a narrow range is absolutely ideal, especially utilizing short term contracts. That kind of market present throughout 2011 and for a large part of 2012 has largely been missing this year and sorely missed. Beyond that, a drop on Fridays makes bargains potentially available on Mondays when cash from assigned positions is available.

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

For an extended period I’ve been attempting to select new positions that were soon to go ex-dividend as a means to increase income, offset lower option premiums and reduce risk, while waiting for a market decline that has never arrived.

This week, I’m more focused on the two selections that are going ex-dividend this coming week, but may have gotten away after large price rises on Thursday.

Both Cliffs Natural Resources and Microsoft (MSFT) were beneficiaries of Chinese related news. In Cliffs Natural’s case it was simply the perception that better economic news from China would translate into the need for iron ore. In Microsoft’s case is was the introduction of Microsoft Office 365 in China. Unfortunately, both stocks advanced mightily on the news, but any pullback prior to the ex-dividend dates would encourage me to add shares, even in highly volatile Cliffs, with which I have suffered since the dividend was slashed.

A bit more reliable in terms of dividend payments are Walgreens (WAG), Chevron (CVX) and Phillips 66 (PSX).

Although I do like Walgreens, I’ve only owned it infrequently. However, since beginning to offer weekly options I look more frequently to the possibility of adding shares. Despite being near its high, the prospect of a short term trade in a sector that has been middling over the past week, with a return amplified by a dividend payment, is appealing.

Despite being near the limit of the amount of exposure that I would ordinarily want in the Energy Sector, both Chevron and Phillips 66 offer good option premiums and dividends. The recent weakness in big oil makes me gravitate toward one of its members, Chevron, however, if forced to choose between just one to add to my portfolio, I prefer Phillips 66 due to its greater volatility and enhanced premiums. I currently own Phillips 66 shares but have them covered with September call contracts. In the event that I add shares I would likely elect weekly hedge contracts.

If there is some validity to the idea that the Chinese economy still has some life left in it, Joy Global (JOY), which is currently trading near the bottom of its range offers an opportunity to thrive along with the economy. Although the sector has been relatively battered compared to the overall market, option premiums and dividends have helped to close that gap and I believe that the sector is beginning to resemble a compressed spring. On a day when Deere (DE) received a downgrade and Caterpillar was unable to extend its gain from the previous day, Joy Global moved strongly higher on Friday in an otherwise weak market.

Oracle (ORCL) is one of the few remaining to have yet reported its earnings and there will be lots of anticipation and perhaps frayed nerves in advanced for next month’s report, which occurs the day prior to expiration of the September 2013 contract.

You probably don’t need the arrows in the graph above to know when those past two earnings reports occurred. Based Larry Ellison’s reaction and finger pointing the performance issues were unique to Oracle and one could reasonably expect that internal changes have been made and in place long enough to show their mark.

Fastenal (FAST) is just a great reflection of what is really going on in the economy, as it supplies all of those little things that go into big things. Without passing judgment on which direction the economy is heading, Fastenal has recently seemed to established a lower boundary on its trading range after having reported some disappointing earnings and guidance. Trading within a defined range makes it a very good candidate to consider for a covered option strategy

What’s a week without another concern about legal proceedings or an SEC investigation into the antics over at JP Morgan Chase (JPM)? While John Gotti may have been known as the “Teflon Don,” eventually after enough was thrown at him some things began to stick. I don’t know if the same fate will befall Jamie Dimon, but he has certainly had a well challenged Teflon shell. Certainly one never knows to what degree stock price will be adversely impacted, but I look at the most recent challenge as just an opportunity to purchase shares for short term ownership at a lower price than would have been available without any legal overhangs.

Morgan Stanley (MS), while trading near its multi-year high and said to have greater European exposure than other US banks, continues to move forward, periodically successfully testing its price support.

With any price weakness in JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley to open the week I would be inclined to add both, as I’ve been woefully under-invested in the Finance sector recently.

While retailers, especially teen retailers had a rough week last week, Footlocker (FL) has been a steady performer over the past year. A downgrade by Goldman Sachs (GS) on Friday was all the impetus I needed and actually purchased shares on Friday, jumping the gun a bit.

Using the lens of a covered option seller a narrow range can be far more rewarding than the typical swings seen among so many stocks that lead to evaporation of paper gains and too many instances of buying high and selling low. Some pricing pressure was placed on shares as its new CEO was rumored a potential candidate for the CEO at JC Penney. However, as that soap opera heats up, with the board re-affirming its support of their one time CEO and now interim CEO, I suspect that after still being in limbo over poaching Martha Stewart products, JC Penney will not likely further go where it’s unwelcome.

Finally, Mosaic (MOS) had a good week after having plunged the prior week, caught up in the news that the potash cartel was falling apart. Estimates that potash prices may fall by 25% caused an immediate price drop that offered opportunity as basically the fear generated was based on supposition and convenient disregard for existing contracts and the potential for more rationale explorations of self-interest that would best be found by keeping the cartel intact.

The price drop in Mosaic was reminiscent of that seen by McGraw Hill FInancial (MHFI) when it was announced that it was the target of government legal proceedings for its role in the housing crisis through its bond ratings. The drop was precipitous, but the climb back wonderfully steady.

I subsequently had Mosaic shares assigned in the past two weeks, but continue to hold far more expensively priced shares. I believe that the initial reaction was so over-blown that even with this past week’s move higher there is still more ahead, or at least some price stability, making covered options a good way to generate return and in my case help to whittle down paper losses on the older positions while awaiting some return to normalcy.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Footlocker, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Chevron (ex-div 8/15), Phillips 66 (ex-div 8/14), Walgreen (ex-div 8/16)

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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Weekend Update – August 4, 2013

To summarize: The New York Post rumors, “The Dark SIde” and the FOMC.

This was an interesting week.

It started with the always interesting CEO of Overstock.com (OSTK) congratulating Steve Cohen, the CEO of SAC Capital, on his SEC indictment and invoking a reference to Star Wars to describe Cohen’s darkness, at least in Patrick Byrne’s estimations.

It ended with The New York Post, a one time legitimate newspaper suggesting that JC Penney (JCP) had lost the support of CIT (CIT), the largest commercial lender in the apparel industry, which is lead by the charisma challenged past CEO of The NYSE (NYX) and Merrill Lynch, who reportedly knows credit risk as much as he knows outrageously expensive waiting room and office furniture.

The problem is that if CIT isn’t willing to float the money to vendors who supply JC Penney, their wares won’t find their way into stores. Consumers like their shopping trips to take place in stores that actually have merchandise.

At about 3:18 PM the carnage on JC Penney’s stock began, taking it from a gain for the day to a deep loss on very heavy volume, approximately triple that of most other days.

Lots of people lost lots of money as they fled for the doors in that 42 minute span, despite the recent stamp of approval that George Soros gave to JC Penney shares. His money may not have been smart enough in the face of yellow journalism fear induced selling.

The very next morning a JC Penney spokesperson called the New York Post article “untrue.” It would have helped if someone from CIT chimed in and set the record straight. While the volume following the denial was equally heavy, very little of the damage was undone. As an owner of shares, Thane’s charisma would have taken an incredible jump had he added clarity to the situation.

So someone is lying, but it’s very unlikely that there will ever be a price to be paid for having done so. Clearly, either the New York Post is correct or JC Penney is correct, but only the New York Post can hide behind journalistic license. In fact, it would be wholly irresponsible to accuse the article of promoting lies, rather it may have recklessly published unfounded rumors.

By the same token, if the JC Penney response misrepresents the reality and is the basis by which individuals chose not to liquidate holdings, the word “criminal” comes to my mind. I suppose that JC Penney could decide to create a “Prison within a Store” concept, if absolutely necessary, so that everyday activities aren’t interrupted.

For the conspiracy minded the publication of an article in a “reputable” newspaper in the final hour of trading, using the traditional “unnamed sources” is problematic and certainly invokes thoughts of the very short sellers demonized by Patrick Byrne in years past.

Oh, and in between was the release of the FOMC meeting minutes, which produced a big yawn, as was widely expected.

I certainly am not one to suggest that Patrick Byrne has been a fountain of rational thought, however, it does seem that the SEC could do a better job in allaying investor concerns about an unlevel playing field or attempts to manipulate markets. Equally important is a need to publicly address concerns that arise related to unusual trading activity in certain markets, particularly options, that seem to occur in advance of what would otherwise be unforeseen circumstances. Timing and magnitude may in and of themselves not indicate wrongdoing, but they may warrant acknowledgement for an investing public wary of the process. A jury victory against Fabrice Tourre for fraud is not the sort of thing that the public is really looking for to reinforce confidence in the process, as most have little to no direct interaction with Goldman Sachs (GS). They are far more concerned with mundane issues that seem to occur with frequency.

Perhaps the answer is not closer scrutiny and prosecution of more than just high profile individuals. Perhaps the answer is to let anyone say anything and on any medium, reserving the truth for earnings and other SEC mandated filings. Let the rumors flow wildly, let CEOs speak off the top of their heads even during “quiet periods” and let the investor beware. By still demanding truth in filings we would still be at least one step ahead of China.

My guess is that with a deluge of potential misinformation we will learn to simply block it all out of our own consciousness and ignore the need to have reflexive reaction due to fear or fear of missing out. In a world of rampantly flying rumors the appearance of an on-line New York Post article would likely not have out-sized impact.

Who knows, that might even prompt a return to the assessment of fundamentals and maybe even return us to a day when paradoxical thought processes no longer are used to interpret data, such that good news is actually finally interpreted as good news.

I conveniently left out the monthly Employment Situation Report that really ended the week, but as with ADP and the FOMC, expectations had already been set and reaction was muted when no surprises were in store. The real surprise was the lack of reaction to mildly disappointing numbers, perhaps indicating that we’re over the fear of the known.

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

One of last week’s earnings related selections played true to form and dropped decidedly after earnings were released. Coach (COH) rarely disappoints in its ability to display significant moves in either direction after earnings and in this case, the disappointment was just shy of the $52.50 strike price at which I had sold weekly puts. However, with the week now done and at its new lower price, I think Coach represents a good entry point for new shares. With its newest competitor, at least in the hearts of stock investors, Michael Kors (KORS) reporting earnings this week there is a chance that Coach may drop if Kors reports better than expected numbers, as the expectation will be that it had done so at Coach’s expense. For that reason I might consider waiting until Tuesday morning before deciding whether to add Coach to the portfolio.

Although I currently own two higher priced lots of its shares, I purchased additional shares of Mosaic (MOS) after the plunge last week when perhaps the least known cartel in the world was poised for a break-up. While most people understand that the first rule of Cartel Club is that no one leaves Cartel Club, apparently that came as news to at least one member. The shares that I purchased last week were assigned, but I believe that there is still quite a bit near term upside at these depressed prices. While theories abound, such as decreased fertilizer prices will lead to more purchases of heavy machinery, I’ll stick to the belief that lower fertilizer prices will lead to greater fertilizer sales and more revenue than current models might suggest.

Barclays (BCS) is emblematic of what US banks went through a few years ago. The European continent is coming to grips with the realization that greater capitalization of its banking system is needed. Barclays got punished twice last week. First for suggesting that it might initiate a secondary offering to raise cash and then actually releasing the news of an offering far larger than most had expected. Those bits of bad news may be good news for those that missed the very recent run from these same levels to nearly $20. Shares will also pay a modest dividend during the August 2013 option cycle, but not enough to chase shares just for the dividend.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) released its earnings this past Thursday and the market found nothing to commend. On the other hand the price drop was appealing to me, as it’s not every day that you see a 5% price drop in a company of this caliber. For your troubles it is also likely to be ex-dividend during the August 2013 option cycle. While there is still perhaps 8% downside to meet its 2 year low, I don’t think that will be terribly likely in the near term. Big oil has a way of thriving, especially if we’re at the brink of economic expansion.

Safeway (SWY) recently announced the divestiture of its Canadian holdings. As it did so shares surged wildly in the after hours. I remember that because it was one of the stocks that I was planning to recommend for the coming week and then thought that it was a missed opportunity. However, by the time the market opened the next morning most of the gains evaporated and its shares remained a Double Dip Dividend selection. While its shares are a bit higher than where I most recently had been assigned it still appears to be a good value proposition.

Baxter International (BAX) recently beat earnings estimates but wasn’t shown too much love from investors for its efforts. I look at it as an opportunity to repurchase shares at a price lower than I would have expected, although still higher than the $70 at which my most recent shares were assigned. In this case, with a dividend due early in September, I might consider a September 17, 2013 option contract, even though weekly and extended weekly options are available.

I currently own shares of Pfizer (PFE), Abbott Labs (ABT) and Eli Lilly (LLY) in addition to Merck (MRK), so I tread a little gingerly when considering adding either more shares of Merck or a new position in Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), while I keep an eye of the need to remain diversified. Both of those, however, have traded well in their current price range and offer the kind of premium, dividend opportunity and liquidity that I like to see when considering covered call related purchases. As with Baxter, in the case of Merck I might consider selling September options because of the upcoming dividend.

Of course, to balance all of those wonderful healthcare related stocks, following its recent price weakness, I may be ready to add more shares of Lorillard (LO) which have recently shown some weakness. The last time its shares showed some weakness I decided to sell longer term call contracts that currently expire in September and also allow greater chance of also capturing a very healthy dividend. As with some other selections this month the September contract may have additional appeal due to the dividend and offers a way to collect a reasonable premium and perhaps some capital gains while counting the days.

Finally, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) is a repeat of last week’s earnings related selection. I did not sell puts in anticipation of the August 7, 2013 earnings report as I thought that I might, instead selecting Coach and Riverbed Technology (RVBD) as earnings related trades. Inexplicably, Green Mountain shares rose even higher during that past week, which would have been ideal in the event of a put sale.

However, it’s still not to late to look for a strike price that is beyond the 13% implied move and yet offers a meaningful premium. I think that “sweet spot” exists at the $62.50 strike level for the weekly put option. Even with a 20% drop the sale of puts at that level can return 1.1% for the week.

The announcement on Friday afternoon that the SEC was charging a former Green Mountain low level employee with insider trading violations was at least a nice cap to the week, especially if there’s a lot more to come.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Baxter International, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lorillard, Merck, Royal Dutch Shell, Safeway

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Barclays (ex-div 8/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 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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