I used to work with someone who used the expression “It’s as clear as mud,” for just about every occasion, even the ones that had obvious causes, answers or paths forward.
Initially, most of us thought that was just some kind of an attempt at humor until eventually coming to the realization that the person truly understood nothing.
Right now, I feel like that person, although the fact that it took a group of relatively smart people quite a while to realize that person had no clue, may be more of a problem.
It should have been obvious. That’s why we were getting the big bucks, but the very possibility that someone who was expected to be capable, was in reality not capable, wasn’t even remotely considered, until it, too, became painfully obvious.
I see parallels in many of life’s events and the behavior of stock markets. As an individual investor the “clear as mud” character of the market seems apparent to me, but it’s not clear that the same level of diminished clarity is permeating the thought processes of those who are much smarter than me and responsible for directing the use of much more money than I could ever dream.
What often brings clarity is a storm that washes away the clouds and that perfect storm may now be brewing.
Whatever the outcome of the Greek referendum and whatever interpretation of the referendum question is used, the integrity of the EU is threatened if contagion is a by-product of the vote and any subsequent steps to resolve their debt crisis.
Most everyone agrees that the Greek economy and the size of the debt is small potatoes compared to what other dominoes in the EU may threaten to topple, or extract concessions on their debt.
Unless the stock market has been expressing fear of that contagion, accounting for some of the past week’s losses, there should be some real cause for concern. If those market declines were only focused on Greece and not any more forward looking than that, an already tentative market has no reason to do anything other than express its uncertainty, especially as critical support levels are approached.
Moving somewhat to the right on the world map, or the left, depending on how much you’re willing to travel, there is news that The People’s Republic of China is establishing a market-stabilization fund aimed at fighting off the biggest stock selloff in years and fears that it could spread to other parts of the economy. Despite the investment of $120 billion Yuan (about $19.3 billion USD) by 21 of the largest Chinese brokerages, the lesson of history is that attempts to manipulate markets tends not to work very well for more than a day or so.
That lesson seems to rarely be learned, as market forces can be tamed about as well as can forces of nature.
The speculative fervor in China and the health of its stock markets can create another kind of contagion that may begin with US Treasury Notes. Whether that means an increased escape to their safety or cashing in massive holdings is anyone’s guess. Understanding that is far beyond my ken, but somehow I don’t think that those much smarter than me have any clue, either.
Back on our own shores, this week is the start of another earnings season, although that season never really seems to end.
While I’ve been of the belief that this upcoming series of reports will benefit from a better than expected currency exchange situation, as previous forward guidance had been factoring in USD/Euro parity, the issue at hand may be the next round of forward guidance, as the Euro may be coming under renewed pressure.
Disappointing earnings at a time that the market is only 3% below its all time highs together with international pressures seems to paint a clear picture for me, but what do I know, as you can’t escape the fact that the market is only 3% below those highs.
The upcoming week may be another in a succession of recent weeks that I’ve had a difficult time finding a compelling reason to part with any money, even if that was merely a recycling of money from assigned positions.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in the Traditional, Double-Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
Much of my interests this week are driven purely by performance relative to the S&P 500 over the previous 5 trading days and the belief that the extent of those price moves were largely unwarranted given the storm factors.
One exception, in that it marginally out-performed the S&P 500 last week, is International Paper (NYSE:IP). However, that hasn’t been the case over the past month, as the shares have badly trailed the market, possibly because its tender offer to retire high interest notes wasn’t as widely accepted as analysts had expected and interest payment savings won’t be realized to the anticipated degree.
Subsequently, shares have traded at the low end of a recent price cut target range. As it’s done so, it has finally returned to a price that I last owned shares, nearly a year ago and this appears to be an opportune time to consider a new position.
With that possibility, however, comes an awareness that earnings will be reported at the end of the month, as analysts have reduced their paper sales and expectations and profit margins have been squeezed as demand has fallen and input costs have risen.
As shares have declined following the defeat of Nelson Peltz’s move to gain a seat on the Board of Directors, the option premium has remained unusually high, reflecting continued perception of volatility ahead. At a time when revenues are expected to grow in 2016 and shares may find some solace is better than expected currency exchange rates.
Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) has been on my wish list for the past few weeks and continues to be a possible addition during a week that I’m not expecting to be overly active in adding new positions.
What caused Cypress Semiconductor shares to soar is also what was the likely culprit in its decline. That was the proposed purchase of Integrated Silicon Solution (NASDAQ:ISSI) that subsequently accepted a bid from a consortium of private Chinese investors.
What especially caught my attention this past week was an unusually large option transaction at the $12 strike and September 18, 2015 expiration. That expiration comes a couple of days before the next anticipated ex-dividend date, so I might consider going all the way out to the December 18, 2015 expiration, to have a chance at the dividend and also to put some distance between the expiration and earnings announcements in July and October.
Potash (NYSE:POT) is ex-dividend this week and was put back on my radar by a reader who commented on a recent article about the company. While I generally lie to trade Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), the reader’s comments made me take another look after almost 3 years since the last time I owned shares.
The real difference, for me at least, between the 2 companies was the size of the dividend. While Potash has a dividend yield that is about twice the size of that of Mosaic, it’s payout ratio is about 2.7 times the rate of that of Mosaic.
While that may be of concern over the longer term, it’s not ever-present on my mind for a shorter term trade. When I last traded Potash it only offered monthly options. Now it has weekly and expanded weekly offerings, which could give opportunity to manage the position aiming for an assignment prior to its earnings report on July 30th.
During a week that caution should prevail, there are a couple of “Momentum” stocks that I would consider for purchase, also purely on their recent price activity.
It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). However, if you do sell call options, the fact that it has been trading at a reasonably well defined range of late while offering an attractive dividend, may be the best nice thing that can be said about the stock.
I recently had shares assigned and still sit with a much more expensive lot of shares that are uncovered. I’ve had 2 new lots opened in 2015 and subsequently assigned, both at prices higher than the closing price for the past week. There’s little reason to expect any real catalyst to move shares much higher, at least until earnings at the end of next month. However, perhaps more importantly, there’s little reason to expect shares to be disproportionately influenced by Greek or Chinese woes.
Trading in a narrow range and having a nice premium makes Abercrombie and Fitch a continuing attractive position, that can either be done as a covered call or through the sale of puts.
Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is another whose shares were recently assigned and has given back some of its recent price gains while banks have been moving back and forth along with interest rates.
With the uncertainty of those interest rate movements over the next week and with earnings scheduled to be released the following week, I would consider a covered call trade that utilizes the monthly July 17, 2015 option, or even considering the August 21, 2015 expiration, to get the gift of time.
Finally, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) reports earnings this week after having sustained a 21.5% fall in shares in the past 2 months. That’s still not quite as bad as the 31% one month tumble it took 5 years ago, but shares have now fallen 36% in the past 7 months.
The option market is implying a 5% price movement next week, which on the downside would bring shares to an 18 month low.
Normally, I look for the opportunity to sell a put option in advance of earnings if I can get a 1% ROI for a weekly contract at a strike price that’s below the lower level determined by the option market’s implied movement. I usually would prefer not to take possession of shares and would attempt to delay any assignment by rolling over the short put position in an effort to wait out the price decline.
In this case the ROI is a little bit less than 1% if the price moves less than 6%, however, at this level, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares, especially if Alcoa is going to move back to a prolonged period of share price stagnation as during 2012 and 2013.
That was an excellent time to be selling covered calls on the shares as premiums were elevated as so many were expecting price recovery and were willing to bet on it through options.
You can’t really go back in time, but sometimes history does repeat itself.
At least that much is clear.
Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper
Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America
Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 PM)
Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.