S&P’s Mea Culpa

 

It seems as if Standard and Poors has been waiting a few years to try and figure out how to atone for its major lapses in the past.

MoziloWhile it was dutifully handing out Triple A ratings to the likes of Washington Mutual, CountryWide and Wachovia, Rome burned. Some of the flames may have permanently singed Angelo Mozilo’s face. 

Certainly it would be wrong to ascribe all of the financial woes that we’ve experienced to S&P’s lack of actually doing what they have been renowned for, by I’m not bound by any sense of fairness.

Let’s just say that they were probably more than just an idle bystander. In the world of grades, they would have received considerably less than a “Gentleman’s C” for their ratings of the players that likely belonged to the same clubs as the S&P big boys.

Allegedly.

So how do you make up for the incredible oversights that allowed the financial giants to play games of leverage that overwhelmed its basic support structures?

Simple.

You just attack the basic financial structures of the United States.

Their pronouncements couldn’t really come as any great news to anyone. No one feels particularly good about the national debt and the vast amounts that are held by the Chinese.

As my parents would say whenever faced with any challenged that posed potentially distasteful outcomes, “What good can come of it?”

Imagine a doctor informing a patient that they have cancer. “Oh, and by the way, your hideously ugly as well”.

Well that may be true, but it didn’t really have to be said.

Being in Washington, the name of the game is spin. Often, policy activists and community organizers share a common strategy, and that is to use shame as a weapon.

So the spin is that S&P’s comment was to shame the leading political opponents to come to the table and work things out.

Not likely. The Supreme Court may recognize corporations to be individuals, but they still haven’t proven that they are capable of rational thought or caring and that goes for the elected officials, as well.

If they did, S&P wouldn’t have told us that are debt is ugly.

I especially liked the new Presidential Press Secretary’s response, saying that the political process will surprise S&P.

First of all, when did the President get a 12 year old press secretary? When did Jody Powell leave? But perhaps more importantly, whatever the dysfunctional political process must evolve into, it should have nothing to do with playing to S&P.

It should be fairly obvious what needs to be done, and that is for both sides to drop their ideology and learn that both sides have legitimate ideas.

In a word? Compromise, or as that one time Country King of Comedy used to say, “Get er done”.

Using rosy colored glasses, people talk of how well Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan were able to work together and wonder why it can’t happen that way now.

My guess is that in 30 years people will be looking back at today’s era and fondly remembering how well John Boehner and Barack Obama collaborated when it was in the nation’s best interests.

It’s all about lowering the bar. Who needs Triple A ratings, anyway?

We do, obviously, but S&P’s warning is for the possibility of a downgrade in a couple of years. To put that into perspective, it’s like worrying about whether your unborn great-great-great grandchild will have acne.

Besides, there still must be some trust fund that can be raided.

If you’re an unrequited bull you got past the S&P debacle and looked at today’s plunge as a gift to pick up some shares on a relatively cheap basis.

Yesterday being the first day of the new options cycle, I had cash resulting from the assignments of Visa, American Tower, Rio Tinto and American Express.

I especially liked the American Towers money.

I didn’t hold shares very long, as it was never a company that was on my radar screen, although Jim Cramer used to mention it with frequency during his early Mad Money days.

But with the announcement of the planned AT&T buyout of Deutsche Telecom’s T-Mobile unit all of the “Talking Heads” were in unison spouting about how bad that would be for American Towers as there would be no need for AT&T to lease as much space on those ubiquitous towers.

So of course, AMT did a drastic plunge on the news.

What a great time to buy, but just in case, I hedged and got a nice premium of $1.25 and a capital gain of $0.83 on the underlying shares that had a basis of $47.17.

Had I been greedy, I would have sold something higher than the $48 calls, because the over-riding AMT thesis wa wrong and quickly demonstrated as such.

Anyway, I felt like a little kid in a candy store. Everything looked so good yesterday and best of all, I had money in my hand.

By the time it was done, I picked up additional shares of Sallie Mae, Freeport McMoRan and British Petroleum. I bought new shares in Textron and Williams Sonoma, two of my past favorites and replaced my Rio Tinto Shares.

Best of all, with the market coming back from down 220 to down 140, all of the newly purchased shares were already in the black.

Barely, but in the black, although nowhere near enough to offset the other shares that I owned. But still….

I came close to buying Google shares again, but just couldn’t pull the trigger, even though Google always seems to recover from its post-earnings blues fairly quickly. I just thought that there were some better opportunities over the next month, as that is always my time frame. What can these shares do for me during the current options cycle?

Plain and simple.

I suppose that I should be thanking Standard and Poors for creating the opportunity, but I’m still having difficulty with that concept.

If someone calls your sister a “whore” it’s hard to forget that fact, even if there’s some truth behind the comment.

If S&P had been a really good friend, I’m certain that a couple of really nice up days in the market could help to ease some of the bad feelings. Maybe if it took my sister out to dinner, showed her a nice time, I’d be willing to let bygones be bygones.

But let’s face it, S&P hasn’t been good to anyone lately.

By the way, apologies to my sister. She’s not anywhere near the whore that Standard and Poors can be.

 

 




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Geithner, Goldman and Google

What’s in the Szelhamos Portfolio?








DionNot as catchy as Abraham, Martin and John, but much more alliterative.


Unfortunately, Dion had to throw in the name “Bobby” after the title was already a done deal.


So, throw General Motors in there too, but pronounce in the way they do south of the border or, if you.re a fan of the obscure, the Balkans..


I don’t currently own GM, but I agreed with the $50 B bailout.


 


What I don.t agree with is the announcement that the federal government will be selling their remaining stake, at what will amount to a large loss, all in the name of political expediency.


Szelhamos used to believe that you should never talk about sex, politics, religion or money, when in proper company. So he did so on a regular basis, as do his offspring, since he also taught us to never keep proper company.


Although I voted for this administration, and only the third time that I correctly chose the winner in a presidential election since 1972, I’m having a harder and harder time supporting some of their economic and fiscal policies.


But, the other side isn’t very good. In fact, I think they.re even worse on the economic side of things. Compassionate conservatives, my ass.


Nonetheless, to divest because they want to wash their hands of the auto business before the election, as has been the reason attributed to the announcement, once again puts politics ahead of rational thought.


Not to mention the public good.


Of course, if I were a shareholder, I would also be pretty upset that they are once again tipping their hand on a market moving and disruptive kind of transaction.


I suppose you could make the case that divestiture would raise money to put toward deficit reduction. Additionally, potential capital gains by those purchasing shares in a secondary offering would increase tax revenues, but still, treat it like an investment.


I think that if Timothy Geithner, who along with Ben Bernanke, have been very good at funneling money back to the federal government was left to his own resources, he wouldn’t be giving up the shares so quickly.


Although Geithner is never at ease on camera, he appeared even more so during this mornings’ CNBC interview, as he tried to calm the international markets on the quality of US debt.


Unfortunately, politics gets in the way and the Treasury, too, will be held hostage by the children that we have elected to serve our interests.


While Geithner was speaking, Goldman Sachs was basking in its earnings report. The stock was up more than $4 during the pre-open. By noon, and one downgrade later, it was down more than $2.


Of course, that downgrade was from Dick Bove, who after bouncing around is at a firm that everyone seems to mispronounce. Rochdale, as in Rockdale.


Remember, Bove is the guy who appeared on a near daily basis on CNBC as he steadfastlt defended Chuck Prince’s CitiGroup as it kept falling and falling.


The dividend is absolutely safe”.


Remember that?


What happened? They’re still the smartest guys and now they’ve unloaded those expensive preferred shares held by Warren Buffett.


That can only be good for Goldman, but now comes the worry that with the retirement of those shares, so too are the principals of Goldman relieved of some of their obligations, such as not to sell their shares and not to retire.


Would it really be that bad if the likes of Blankfein faded away?


Certainly, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) would be able to find a new whipping boy, but some of the considerable heat would be off.


The Goldman bench is deep enough, even 2 levels down, that they could seemlessly continue operations, yet claim that those newly in charge had nothing to do with the questionable practices that fueled the financial crisis.


Win- win.


Since I own quite a few shares of Goldman, I would like to see a win-win outcome.


David Viniar, the CFO, was a past high school classmate of mine. I didn’t really know him, but do remember his 70’s hairstyle, which is very different from what he now sports.


Unfortunately, he didn’t get good grades at today’s conference call and was thought to be evasive.


People like answers.


Now that leaves me with Google, to complete the alliterative theme.


Actually, I have nothing new on Google. Still weak today, but finding a floor at $520. What frightened me from picking shares yesterday during the bargain hours, was that it looked as if Google still had downside potential to $500, when I looked at its chart. Based on its previous action following large earnings related drops, I don’t expect that to happen.


But still.


I did have the chance to sell call options on Dow Chemical, Riverbed Technology, Textron, Freeport McMoran, Sallie Mae and Mosaic today and am still hoping to close a trade on Rio Tinto, while awaiting decent opportunities on all of the rest.


Freeport reports earnings tomorrow. I think they’ll be good, but I’m concerned that guidance will drive stock down. In return for that fear, I got $1.91 on a $52 call, when the stock was at $51.20


Sallie Mae also reports tomorrow. The stock price started inching up in the last hour today. I took that opportunity to sell 79 call contracts. Why not 80?


3 PM, I think the day’s outcome is already sealed and the trend is trickling upward. Now sit back and wait for IBM, Intel and some other company that I can’t recall, but don’t own, to report earnings after the closing bell.


Oh yeah. Our benefactor, Yahoo!


At least that’ll give me time to come up with lyrics to Geithner, Goldman and Google





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See a sneak preview of Chapter 1.  hoco blogs


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Trump for President





 


I don’t watch The Celebrity Apprentice, but you can’t escape Donald Trump.


Now, I did used to watch that cult Comedy Central favorite I’m with Busey. That was a show worth watching. Why they don’t air the re-runs is unfathomable to me. Shouldn’t they be amortizing their production costs by keying in on a whole new generation of people that missed the show during its first and only run?


TrumpBorrowing from Stephen Colbert’s take on Jon Kyl’s Planned Parenthood mis-statement, it is not an actual fact that Donald Trump fell off a motorcycle and suffered irreparable brain damage, helped along in his recovery by his dedicated wet-nurse, Gary Busey.


But it is highly likely.


No doubt that the injury would have been far worse had The Donald’s bouffant not cushioned the impact.


Although I don’t watch the show, it’s also hard to escape the commercials, especially since I’m tuned to CNBC all day long. The Meatloaf tirade and violent outburst toward Busey was frightening.




My quandary is that I used to really like Meatloaf. I actually met him years ago, at of all things, the circus in New York. This big hulk of a man was holding a helium balloon outside the restroom area, waiting for his kid.


Although I don’t use public restrooms, I haven’t saddled my own children with that neurosis, so it is possible that Meatloaf’s kid and my own had adjacent urinals.


Public restrooms


I had the chance to say to him “Mr. Loaf, greatest album ever”


I even saw him at a  concert just about 3 years ago and barely noticed the mistakes and forgotten lyrics in his set.


The point is, that the sooner Trump announces for President, the sooner they can yank Celebrity Apprentice from the airwaves. Isn’t that likely to be reason enough for the guy to run? Let’s get this out of our system, along with the whole “birther” issue and get onto the real issues, like is Obama a secret Muslim?


There’s no shortage that things that could stand to be yanked from the air.


Let’s assume for a blissful moment, that Trump has disappeared from the airwaves, what else needs to go?


As always, I would start with the talking heads. Why I continue to keep them on is another mystery. Clearly, it’s a manifestation of my jealousy for not being able to get paid to spew credibly sounding nonsense.


That is, unless you count the incredible blog related revenue.


There’s no question that the nonsense in this is in long supply, it’s just that the revenue isn’t pouring in, although Google does it’s share, thanks to their ad placement. Speaking of which, as I sit and watch the pre-open, Google took a nosedive along its historical levels in the $30-40 range in the afterhours.


I was absolutely convinced, because of its price action in the preceding week that it would go up, especially since everyone had already been talking about their increased expenses for the quarter.


As always, their ad revenue was stellar and their CPC (cost per click) income was up 8%. I love Google’s ads. They make me money when strangers just click on them for me.


How great is America? No wonder Sergey came here.


In a blatantly anti-semitic move, Larry Page has become CEO (Not a factual statement, thank you Colbert staff writers)


He was loudly derided for contributing a statement at last night’s conference call that was barely longer than The Emancipation Proclamation.


Look, he’s only been on the job for a week. Lincoln, who died on this date 145 years ago (coincidentally the 44th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah), had 2 years to work on his statement.


If Google follows its typical pattern in the aftermath of its earnings announcement plunge, it will languish today and then recover its loss over the next 2 weeks.


If you bought shares yesterday prior to the announcement and sold call options, you did receive a $12/share cushion. Roll that over into a May contract and unless Google goes into historically uncharted territory, you will be back in black.


That’s probably not very comforting, but read Chapter 12 in the OTP Book, enjoy the fine cartoon by my resident illustrator, Dr. Bob,  and learn to embrace a different perspective. You’ll be much happier.


As will I if you buy the book.


Between Google and the book, I can fade away and never intrude on your internet waves again.


If only Donald Trump would do the same?


 





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Old Dogs

At this point my new 14 month old puppy is neither a puppy, nor new.


But I think we’re already at the point that he’s incapable of learning new tricks.


LaszloI, on the other hand, am certainly not a young pup, as the very gray whiskers will attest, but I’ve learned the art of the Tweet.


My wife and sister would like me to learn the Art of Shaving, as my sister recently gave me a gift from a store by the same name.


I may not know when my unkempt appearance warrants a shave, but I do now know the differences between @, # and $.


So, as a veteran Tweeter, I’ve now posted about 29 times on the first day.


Too much?


The only thing is that I’m not certain if Tweeting is somewhat similar to the sound that a fallen tree makes in the forest. In that case, I may never find out if 29 Tweets was too much., but there were already 15 followers.


So far, I seem to have gotten a number of followers who all appear to share a common characteristic. Based on their profile pictures and poses, I would say that they probably spent significant amounts of time in Eastern European truck stops.


We’ll see.


But another new things was suggested by a past newsletter subscriber, and bless him, a purchaser of the OTP book, who asked why I didn’t include charts and tables in the blog to better illustrate the points.


Mt first thought was that charts and tables aren’t that humorous and they require more work.


Then, I also remembered that my wife told me last night that she was funnier than I was.


Hmmm.


So, today I tweeted that while Goldman Sachs was being further bitch slapped by the Senate, it’s price fell about $4 in the opening minutes. That presented a nice opportunity to pick up shares and sell the $155 call options, that happen to expire tomorrow. The net on the transactions would be about $0.80 per share. Granted, that’s only 0.5%, but still, not bad for less than 2 days, with very little additional risk.


So let’s give it a try. Here’s the chart


GS Chart


You know that I’m not a huge fan of technical analysis, but when a solid company drops like that, without real substantive news, it’s often a good opportunity to jump in.


In this case, the options premiums were:


GS Options premiums


See? I told you these weren’t very funny.



Who knows? Maybe my wife was right. After all, , she did turn out to be right about slavery and heroin.


By the same token, JP Morgan took another hit today as well and I think, represents a good opportunity to pick up shares on the cheap.


Same with Mosaic, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to include more charts today. I’ve seen enough of their somber sorry statistics.


Yeah, let’s see if she’s as able at artful alliteration  as am I.



Now, normally I  wait until the end of the day to compose the blog, but I was so excited by learning the Tweeting trick that I just couldn’t wait any longer.  Were it not for the fact that I have to stay away from salt, I would have shared one of Laszlo’s chicken jerky snacks with him.


But then, I also realized that I should wait to celebrate until I see how that Goldman recommendation works out.


There’s always a new trick to be learned tomorrow.

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Rip Van Winkle

At some point, even Rip Van Winkle wasn’t going to return from that final sleep.


But here I am, 9 months later and not a single blog post.


Not quite the 20 years that Van Winkle allegedly slumbered away, but based on my life expectancy, still, a pretty big portion.


Actually, I dreamt that I wrote a book.


My publicist tells me that while I was gone, people now Tweet and Poke..


And so, he strongly suggests that if I want to push sales of the OTP Book, I need to Tweet and Poke.



So I started slowly. Figuring that I could get into less trouble by Tweeting, until he explained to me what those actually meant.


So now I am @TheAcsMan and I’m being told to get a moniker for all of the friends that I really would rather shun, but now must Poke and be poked.


I spent the day in Hershey, Pennsylvania yesterday. It reminded me a little of the time that Ned Flanders and his kids moved to the town that made the Hummel figurines. It was as idyllic as he had imagined it would be and somehow, it became maddening in its perfection.


Hershey looks idyllic. I wonder?


I spent about 4 hours driving yesterday, but not before making my 2010 SEP-IRA contribution, just in time for taxes.


 Now, with this new piece of change sitting in  the account, readers of the OTP newsletter, or those smart enough to have already purchased the book, and yes, there are some of those, can probably guess what I did.


RIverbed Technology was an old favorite of mine, but I haven’t owned it since about $28.


So now I own it.


In fact, I did something that I don’t usually do, but the money was really burning a hole in my pocket.


I spent the entire amount on RVBD and I bought all of the shares in one chunk.


That in itself wasn’t bad, but as I started my drive, with SmartPhone using the E*Trade app and my netbook logged in to E*Trade, I just  just watched RVBD tumble about $2.


I know, you’re thinking how “uncool” I am, because I don’t have an iPad.


Listen, there are lots of reasons that I’m not cool. Just add that to the list.


OK. I know that there are other readers that are aghast at the safety concerns of being so plugged in while driving.


Eh, what’s life insurance for then?


But it got worse. I had left the house without being able to get my sell order for the $33 April call option executed. Again, a broke a cardinal rule, in that I got hung up over a penny or two between bid and ask.


As I was heading home by 3 PM, things hadn’t gotten better, with the Dow still down over 100 points and RVBD leading the retreat.


So it came as a little surprise that in the after-market, what should I see, but RVBD move up about $5 from its close on an unexpected announcement  a week ahead of earnings.


With the excitement of being able to get a second chance at selling the call options, but now at $35.


With 2 days left until options expirations, I hope my shares get assigned. Then I promise I’ll follow my own rules.


I did take the opportunity to buy back my $80 Mosaic contracts. With a cost basis of about $76.40, I netted about $1.20 on the call contracts. I’m hoping for an upward move tomorrow, as Mosaic came back from down $1 to even, late in the session and then selling $77.50 call options.


That’s what the milking is all about.


Speaking of which, if I was still writing the original Option to Profit Newsletter, I would be putting out a buy signal on Goldman Sachs at $160.15, with the sale of an April 160 call option at a premium of $1.38.


Although I don’t currently own any Google, it announces earnings tomorrow. Older readers may remember some of my Google rants. I personally am very reluctant to pick up shares right before earnings announcement. Fortunately, I don’t have any spare cash right now. But if I did, I would purchase Google at $576 (give or take) and sell a $580 call option at an $11.60 premium.


Google usually acts explosively when they announce earnings, always on the first Thursday or earnings season.


If you look at the historic price action on the few days before earnings are announced, they seem to be in the direction opposite of where Google goes after the announcement.


Most recently, despite a small price climb today, Google’s action has been decidedly negative.


I think it will go up nicely after hours on Thursday. If I’m right, an shares get called, you would have a $1500 profit for 2 days.


Or not.


If I am wrong, Google typically goes down between $30 and $40 and then recovers about 50% or more of the retracement in a week or so. At that point, you would strongly consider selling May Google calls.
I’ve never owned more than 100 shares of Google at a time, but it is a great stock on which to repeatedly sell and then buy back option contracts


If you were a subscriber, you know that I would usually give 4 or 5 short term trades on the Wednesday before expiration, but without the explanations.


I’m too tired to do that, but you know what to look for.


Wake me up in about 19 years. Maybe a gentle poke would be sufficient.

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Collecting Crumbs

 

It’s that time of the month again.

No, I’m not being visited by Aunt Flo, as the euphamism would go, if indeed it were germane.

CrumbsNo, it’s the end of yet another options cycle in just a few short days. Time to see if there are any crumbs left out there just waiting to be taken. And you do have to act quickly, because before you know it those crumbs get smaller and smaller, before they disappear entirely.

I suppose that since I now try to find as many weekly options opportunities as possible, that third Friday of each month has lost a bit of its significance. Now its more or less like any other Friday.

I’ve never had a visit from Aunt Flo, but I can’t imagine that her dropping by on a weekly basis would be very good.

In a way, I guess that’s as sad as when you know that Aunt Flo won’t be visiitng anymore. Fortunately, that single long hair on my chin that popped up after Flo disappeared is obscured by my full beard.

By the same token, most people I know no longer deal in euphamisms, anyway. They get right down to brass tacks, no sense beating around the bloody bush.

Hmm, now I’m not certain if the preceding itself was a euphamism for something, but no matter, I just like using uniquely British adjectives.

Since options premiums keep me afloat, I have a need to trade, but times like these offer the biggest dilemmas. Those times are when I have shares that are at a paper lss and haven’t had option premiums written on them for the most recen sycle, whether weekly or monthly.

Holding on to so many positions that are significantly below their purchase prices, it’s hard to justify trying to optimize options premiums by writng near the money contracts when their assignment would result in meanigful capital losses.

Although I always check my spreadsheets to see how much in accumulated premiums each position has captured, I still have a reluctance to take the loss by selling a near the money option, even when it is mitigated or even fully offset by those premiums.

I’m not beyond rationalizing my actions, though.

But when you see the clock ticking away on the one hand, you also see the possibility of that silver lining in depressed stock prices, or at the very least the lack of support in silver prices, as I sometimes own unhedged shares of an UltraShort Silver ETF.

Will there be some good news coming out of the European Union sending our markets for a nice climb? I sure wouldn’t want to miss out on recouping some of those paper losses, but those crumbs, those 0.5% options premiums, do I really want to leave those on the table?

The answer to those questions are “who knows” and “not really”

The full answer to the latter question is actually “not really, but I don’t want to feel like a schmuck”.

But you do have to eat, you can’t really let pride get in the way. As small as they may be, those crumbs can add up.

And so, in a measured reaction to a meandering day, I often take the opportunity to scrape some last remaining crumbs, by seling options with just a day or two left until their expiration.

I want those premiums, even if their just a matter of pennies.

Pennies count.

The risk you take when taking crumbs, trying to milk every last penny out of an under-performing position is that there will be a wild, completely unexpected explosion to the upside in the hours that remain on the contract.

Opportunities potentially lost. That ends up being the performance metric, but since I don’t harbor regrets, I also rarely learn lessons. You can fool me over and over again as long as those premiums add up and losses have some strategic value in reducing tax liability.

When I did add the crumbs up it was worth the risk, given the reward and the need to be able to feed Laszlo the Dog.

It’s either crumbs or go back to work, not to mention the shriveled carcass of a wiener dog.

Hmmm. Weiner dog.

If anyone reading this is old enough to remember Bob Denver’s character, Maynard G. Krebs, you would know my reaction to the very thought of “work”.

So wherever and whenever you can get those crumbs, get them.

Tomorrow? Who knows what tomorrow brings. New rumors, maybe some actual news, maybe not.

No matter. The week always ends in a few days and a whole new world of opportunities comes along.

And with each week you can hope for the whole loaf and gladly take the crumbs, too.

  

  

 

 

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For Reformed Broker

 

Springsteen in Concert – Buddy Holly’s Rave On

Springsteen in Concert – Not Fade Away/She’s the One/Backstreets – Medley 1977

For Marek Fuchs – Thunder Road (Capitol Theater 1978 version)

And for his visual and funny bone needs, The Marx Brothers:

Duck Soup

Animal Crackers

A Day at the Races

A Night at the Opera

A Night in Casablanca

The Coconuts

Patience. These are large files and may take a while to stream to your mp3 player

 

 

Return to “What Buddy Holly Teaches Us”

 

Check out Recent PortfolioTransactions

  

 

 

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