Feeding the Beast

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Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed by your addictions that you are unable to exercise rational judgment. When The Beast calls, it’s voracious and sucks all the air out of the room.


You can try, but you can’t escape The Beast. So don’t even bother to try.


If I’m writing about it now, you can safely guess that yesterday was one of those days.


The cold sweats, the shaking, the denial. All classic signs that The Beast had taken over and that beast is not patient or forgiving. It needs its sacrificial offerings.


And that was exactly what I was facing yesterday, as we were within 36 hours of the end of this options cycle.


The BeastThe Beast was calling to me. He wanted those offerings. he had waited long enough.


For me, The Beast can only be soothed by placing trades. Any trades.


Despite its outward calm appearance, yesterday was a turbulent day. If you’re accustomed to only looking at the closing numbers, you’d have no idea of what had transpired. You’re also the kind of person that probably eats sausage without the slightest thought of the attendant inhumanity.


While the Dow Jones was up by about 65 points, the S&P 500 was only up 2 points. As a general rule, usually there’s an 8:1 ratio, or so. Today it was more like 30:1, meaning that things weren’t quite as good as the Dow’s numbers would have you believe.


Its been a rough 7 week period. At today’s close, unless something really extraordinary happens, we’ll finish down for the seventh week in a row. Based on the hideous Research in Motion earnings report after the close yesterday, all indications are that it will be a bad day today.


But on the positive side, if you thought shares in RIM were a good value yesterday, you’ll really think that they’re value priced today.


And if you’re looking for value, maybe you should head over to pick up shares of Pandora, which was able to keep its share price above the IPO offering for almost 26 hours.


Better buy those shares now, because one talking head of an analyst is looking for a $5 price soon.


Too soon to joke about Pandora? My bad.


This month has been fairly atypical for me. I haven’t made anywhere near the number of trades that I normally make. Beyond that, when I did take profits by closing out a sold call option position, instead of being presented with a new opportunity to sell new call options as the price of the underlying stock resumed its upward climb, I sat waiting for that climb.


They never came.


The Beast doesn’t understand that. He wants trades, even if they lack rational basis.


And that describes what I did yesterday.


Instead of having the opportunity to sell new call options on shares at higher prices, I decided to wring out every last cent by chasing the stocks down, even of that meant losing them to assignment at a loss.


How smart is that?


But you don’t think about things like that when it feels as if bugs are crawling inside your skin.


So I sold in the money call options of DuPont, Dow Chemical, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and maybe something else.


I forget, but they were all losing positions.


What I do remember is that I also sold puts on something called Harbin Electric, one of those decidedly bogus Chinese companies. It had already fallen about $8 to a price of $6. So I sold $5 puts for a premium of $0.52.


What’s the opposite of “Value”? I always get confused when dealing with puts.


Anyway, clearly you do desperate things when The Beast must be fed.


I tried to rationalize my trades by saying that the market would be down today and I would end up not only getting the premium, but also keeping my shares. 


But I was wrong.


The market went down later in the day yesterday and at least for the moment all of those stocks were below their strike price.


Given the tone of RIM’s numbers, no one is really expecting a good day today. Since I am now careful about what I wish for, I’m staying agnostic on today’s market. But it is safe to say that if you do already own RIM shares, you will be RIM jobbed today.


And not in a good way.


The truth is, I don’t really know what I want. Although superficially I always want the market to rise, sometimes deep down I really do want it to fall.


Reverse that for the Sirius and Harbin puts


Sort of schadenfreude with purpose and not just schadenfreude for the hell of it.


As the day ended, the chills seemed to subside, although I still had a slight tremor. The Beast lay uncomfortably close to me on the La-Z-Boy, sated, but prone to rear its ugly head at any moment.


As long as those moments are between 9:30 AM and 4 PM.


Admittedly, sometimes I’ve been so in need of feeding that beast that I’ve wandered into off hour trading, but in an effort not to kill its host, The Beast and I have come to an agreement that we really won’t do that very often.


Fortunately, The Beast understands that weekends are for sustenance of the host. No trading, no writing about trading and no talking about trading.


But come Monday morning the Beast will be ready and perversely enough, I’ll be more than ready to start gorging his bad and ugly self.


Come gains or losses, I do love That Beast.



 


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Careful what you Wish For

What’s in the Szelhamos Portfolio?








There was a time, not that long ago, that a curse would visit me once each month. Sometimes those months had 4 weeks and sometimes those months had 5 weeks.


No this isn’t that monthly curse that mothers must instruct their daughters upon, although many would call it a miracle, rather than a curse.


ishes and HopesBut in my case this was the curse of wishes and hopes.


Now, by my own choice, I’ve invited that one time monthly curse into my life every week.


The problem with selling call options is that you often find yourself wishing for stock movements that are inconsistent with human hopes and desires.


Unless you’re a short seller.


But most normal people want to see an unabated rise in the stock market.


Up, up and away.


Although I’m an inveterate believer in covered call strategies, I certainly understand the flip side, particularly since I’ve lived through the agony of losing a stock to assignment after an unexpectedly large run-up in price.


My wounds are still fresh from having lost Green Mountain Coffee Roasters at $45 when it shot up to $65.


Did I mention that it was about $80 now? Although the cynic in me believes that there’s still another accounting issue on the horizon and it’s a much steeper drop from $80, than it was from $35 when Herb Greenberg first caught our attention with the peculiarities of their numbering system.


So when the unthinkable happens, there’s only one thing that you can do, since ranting and breath holding isn’t very adult-like.


Instead, you wish and hope for the price to fall. That’s much more adult like.


Even though you don’t really think of it in such terms, what you are really doing is wishing for financial pain to be inflicted on others so that you don’t suffer the pain of missed opportunities.


To explain that in terms a child could understand, when you get to the window to order your ice cream cone and are told that they’re all out of your favorite flavor, you secretly hope that the person next to you who got the last scoop suddenly drops theirs to the ground below.


Granted, that puts you at odds with everyone else and if your the kind the craves human acceptance, you really don’t want to be lumped in with short sellers in the eyes of society, or the type of people that wish to see ice cream cones littering the floor.


Now that there are far more stocks that have weekly options available the wishing and hoping comes far more often and societal scorn just gets heaped on and on.


This week just so happens to be the end of the June options cycle, but these days, the third Friday of the month just doesn’t carry the same cache as it once did.


Remember when triple and quadruple witching hours threw the fear of God into even the most hardened of traders?


Those too are just yawners these days.


Lots of people still talk about unusual price swings near the close of trading on options expiration, but really they’re just rehashing memories of a time long ago. They can’t face the reality of what their high school sweet-heart looks like at the reunion, so instead they remember the good old days, when men were men, screaming buy and sell orders at one another as the seconds were ticking away toward the close of another month’s options cycle.


Those days are gone, too. There’s not that much screaming anymore. Someone probably wished that away too, tired of all the noise and chaos, and ultimately ushered in electronic trading and settlement.


On Tuesday, after that beautiful day of gains across the board, I looked at where my holdings were standing relative to  their options’ strike prices and I saw that I was now on track to lose many of them to assignment if they stayed at those levels.


Granted, I had purchased some of those stocks on Monday, with the express intention of holding the shares for just a few days. But now I had come to think of them as my own and really didn’t want to lose them.


I bought Home Depot for the next day dividend. I also bought shares of Transocean, Google and JP Morgan and sold in the money options after they rose beyond their initial purchase prices.


So I did what the god foresaken short sellers do.


I hoped and wished for the market to fall.


Why not just my stocks? Why the whole market?


Because I have a well diversified portfolio. Unfortuntely, as smart as I was to diversify the holdings, I wasn’t smart enough to foresee that I’d be at risk for losing most of my shares.


So I hoped for a nice little drop in prices. The key word here was “little”.


In my ideal world, prices would drop just to the point that all of the holdings closed just below their strike prices and then we’d do the same thing over again.


Well, I got what I had hoped for, except a whole lot more than hoped for.


I just wasn’t being careful.


Even poor Pandora suffered in it’s IPO. Imagine pricing $4 above the high end of the expected range and then going as high as 60% above the IPO price, only to end up the day about 9%.


All in all, most people would be happy with with a one day 9% gain, but I don’t think that was the case today.


I didn’t wish that on Pandora and all the poor folks that got suckered into buying at at pre-debacle prices. The newly issued shares changed hands nearly three times. There are probably some very happy people and lots of very unhappy people.


Since I didn’t hold shares in Pandora, I found today’s minute by minute trading chart amusing. The rapidity of its fall from $26 was impressive and it just deteriorated through the day.


When the dust settled the day was just a mirror image of Tuesday. This time, it was a sea of red for all of my positions, no different from everyone else out there. Of course, the options sales offset some of those losses, just as they cut some of the gains on Tuesday.


I did get off a single trade yesterday. The same one that I had tried to do on Tuesday. I finally found enough buyers for the Sirius – XM Satellite Radio January 2012 puts that I had wanted to sell.


Puts are another strange universe, again hoping for market setbacks.


Since I sold puts I was actually banking on Sirius’ stock price to rise between now and January. Wouldn’t you know it, but Sirius actually went up yesterday.


Finally a position that went in the right direction, if only for a day.


So today, I’m hoping for a market climb nearly equivalent to Wednesday’s loss.


And then as long as I’m hoping, Friday would just roll over and flatline.


Isn’t that an uplifting image? But that’s just part of the curse.


The power of hope is pretty amazing. I just wish I could make up my mind and know exactly what I should be wishing for. That would make me a better person, one much more in tune with society.


Nah. Maybe next month.


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How my Wife’s Bra Saved us Money





 


I’m essentially retired.


I work on rare occasions, today, coincidentally being one of those days. I have another 4 days lined up for the rest of 2011. If it weren’t for the varied attendant body aches and pains, I’d be very happy, instead of just very happy.


Besides what Sugar Momma brings home, it’s just me, my computer and my discount broker.


Today, she bought home a squirrel and some acorns, while I try to catch elusive trades. It would be nice if she actually bought home a pay check. Instead, it gets electronically deposited, which takes away a little of the excitement of fondling the money proxy.


I miss the days when I used to be paid in gold fillings. I admire the integrity and conviction of a toothless by personal choice Ron Paul.


So after giving up a very substantial income when I was on the dark side, we’ve had to learn to economize in all aspects of our lives.


First, we sent our youngest son to a state university. Much less expensive than our previous attempts at educating one of our kids. Although during my initial consideration of Altucher’s treatise on why college is a waste, I dismissed his theory, now I’m not so certain.


Next, we insisted that he enlist in the army. Any army, as long as they had a tuition benefit. He’s currently in basic training, having decided on the United States Armed Forces. They will be paying for his senior year of middle school.


Then we stopped checking the mail box and answering the telephone. I also conveniently forget to sign checks. There’s alot you can get away with if you blame it on age.


Of course, you already know that I use a discount broker. No need to splurge there.


But even during times of belt tightening, man needs a respite from the daily grind, so in that mindset, Sugar Momma and I decided that we needed a vacation.


Rather than out typical luxurious retreat and pampering, oh how I loved the chocolate hydrotherapy of our past life, the hot and cold running prostitutes and other regal amenities, we decided to be one with nature and went camping.


Among the things that I love and respect about my Sugar Momma is her ability to see outside the box, even if that’s no longer an accepted hip consulting expression.


The one thing that I would like to change about her is her inability to get out of the box when she accidentally gets entrapped.


Can’t tell you how many times she’d been unknowingly placed out with the recycling.


Plus sizeAnyway, instead of buying an expensive tent, she suggested we use one of her bras for shelter. She was always good for such thoughts. Unfortunately, the royalties on her patented use of bras as 2 chinstrapped Yarmulkes for Orthodox Jewish people with hydrocephalus had by now gone dry, along with the CSF.


(Too many obscure references?)


Regardless, another bra was a sleeping bag for two and a third one was used as a fishing net and it helped to feed an entire village.


Priceless.


You’ve probably already figured out that Sugar Momma doesn’t read my blog.


What prompted that line of thinking was her discussion with a neighbor last night regarding an upcoming “girls day” when they were going to go shopping for custom made bras.


I have no clue what a custom made bra costs, but I’m guessing that her material costs alone will be substantial. Much less so for the neighbor.


The two joked that they would tell the salesperson that they were sisters. I don’t dare post their pictures, but trust me, they’re not spitting images.


So as a result,  I’ll have to trade more for those luxuries in life.


Trading more has come as a by-product of weekly options. The weeklies have been so nice to me, although they’ve complicated my life and made it harder to keep track of my holdings.


As has Twitter.


Specifically, its been a little more difficult to keep track of what positions have been hedged, which ones are weeklies and whether split priced positions were priced at different strikes.


Since I’m new to the weeklies, I haven’t yet designed a simple color coded spreadsheet to help me mindlessly be aware of my envoronment. At home, I know to match my crocodiles with crocodiles and my lion clothes with other lion clothes, but it’s not so easy when it comes to trading.


Yesterday was another one of those near perfect days that have been fewer and fewer recently, Although we had one of those jjust 3 trading days ago, it still seems so distant.


WIth the exception of a very small and new position in Bank of America and the predictable laggards AIG and RIMM, everything else was up today. Somewhat disappointingly, so were some of the positions I was hoping to pick up next week.


But there’s still plenty of time. After all, whereas we had the great day 3 days ago, the very next day more than erased the jubilation.


What seemed different today was that there really was no jubilation. None of the talking heads seemed to be saying that we were heading even higher, or the typical “we’ve turned the corner”.


That has to be bullish, but in my own proprietary indicator, I saw bearish signs.


So I did what I usually do when the market has a strong upward move. I try capitalizing on the bullish sentiment and sell those call options while the premiums move higher on bullish sentiment. As many as I can.


That’s what I did today. Resold the Transocean options that I bought back yesterday and then sold calls for shares in Freeport McMoRan, British Petroleum and, yes, wait for it, my small position in Google.


Finally, “Mission Accomplished”


However, was not all joy, as I took a very small loss as I closed out my short put position in Yahoo.


But you’re wondering what my proprietary indicator is, aren’t you? No you’re not, because in all likelihood you haven’t even made it this far down in today’s blog.


Who are you kidding?


Well, just for my own satisfation, that indicator is the number of clicks on Google ads on this site.


The more clicks I get, the more likely that we’re at some kind of a top. Who clicks on these kind of financial ads anyway, unless they think there’s an opportunity awaiting them?


Oh yeah, that and tomorrow’s Pandora offering. Somehow, this great service, but lousy business model, got the much coveted single letter stock designation of “P”.


No short term or long term prospects of profits, but just as with LinkedIn, the offering size and price per share have ratcheted upward.


That can’t be good either.


But once again, I don’t really care, since I don’t play that game of chasing hot stocks. Even solid companies like VMWare, after a meteoric post-IPO rise cooled off pretty fast after liquid nitrogen got poured over it. A little too fast for normal people to bail.


Instead, I’m just going to take one of those idle bras and fill it up with today’s trading profits and wait for the next boring opportunity.


Then I’ll just perch my lazy boy on the La-Z-Boy to watch my wife run around the house trying to find all of her bras.


Priceless.





 




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Mission Accomplished

It’s pretty fascinating how a word or phrase can change its meaning from one generation to another.


For example, there was once a time that if you called someone a “two bit whore” that meant that you could procure their prostitution services for a mere 25 cents.


These days, if you call someone a “two bit whore” they likely can’t be had for less than 25 dollars.


Imagine how Rip Van Winkle would have been confused.


Well, that and the Dutch Guilder thing.


Mission AccomplishedThere was also a time that “mission accomplished” was an expression used with much pride. A smile, a thumbs up and a jaunty gate all spelled “mission accomplished”.


Today, “mission accomplished” is often said with much derision, almost like “Heckuva job, Brownie”. In fact, if I could find a universally recognized font for heavy sarcasm, I would have used it, but that too might be subject to generational interpretation.


I start each day with some objectives in mind. Some days those objectives are achieved and other days I just ignore the preceding 24 hours.


As you know, I always check the New York Times Obituaries to ensure that I’m not among the very recentlu honored.


Once that’s cleared out of the way, CNBC is turned on, coffee is poured and I look at my spreadsheets and portfolio screen to map out possible action for the day.


Today, there was a little extra, however.


Today was the day to drastically reduce the number of people that I was following on Twitter. The very same people that were my followers and that I had I just started following on Saturday to see whether there would be any impact on my overall numbers.


And was there. A 30% increase in followers. All for just selling my social media soul.


But as I thought, whatever potential guilt I might harbor about just using and then tossing them aside was short lived. As opposed to your brokerage and the SEC, there’s no penalty for “free riding”. Go ahead, game the system.


I cut about 190 Twitter accounts that I had been following over the course of the previous 24 hours and, so far, no ramifications. No loss within my ranks. In fact, I picked up even more followers today.


Mission accomplished. No sarcasm intended, although I’m also assuming that those people don’t read the blog. If they do, I may have to call in an outside conultant to deal with the bad publicity and the premature call to victory.


But wait, if you read on, there’s even more.


Knowing that some of my shares in AIG, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs were going to be assigned, I had already planned to pick up some new shares. It was all scripted out.


Funny thing, though.


I looked at my portfolio holdings and it still showed all of my shares in Goldman and JP Morgan. I had expected some to remain, as I wasn’t fully hedged, but there was no rationale for all of them being left in my account intact.


I called my E*Trade “Platinum Group” and on their end they didn’t see the shares. Problem was, though, neither did they see the cash the should have been available to allow me to make more trades from the assignment of my shares.


They were convinced that I needed to clear my cache for the cash to appear, or maybe it was the other way around.


We went through all of the little mechinations, but alas, “bupkis”.


So I was told that they would do a manual balance reconciliation.


FIne.


That is until I tried to pick-up shares in Transocean and was told that there wasn’t sufficient cash in the account.


Just a little setback in the script.


Back on the horn to E*Trade, while I watched Transocean move from $62.85, where I had placed my ill-fated order to $63.40.


But no problem, because by the time they were finally able to resolve the issue, Transocean was back down to my price. The E*Trade guys offered me some commssion free trades, which I thanked them for, but declined, as they have always been excellent in every phase of execution.


Anyway, I finally picked up shares and promptly sold in the money $62.50 options. I did that because a “buy recommendation” had just come out on Transocean. I always use those things as contrary indicators.


Worked.


While I was in the neighborhood, in a middle fingered salute to diversification, I also picked up shares in Halliburton. Sold options and then watched shares fall.


No worries, though. That’s what the options are for, and Halliburtion is volatile enough that the options premium is always especially nice.


Then, as planned, I also picked up shares in Home Depot, whch goes ex-dividend tomorrow. Double dipping. Dividend and options premium. Maybe even capital gains on the shares, all by this Friday.


What I hadn’t planned on was buying back shares of JP Morgan, which initially dipped belwo the assigned price and later in the day had a nice surge. I bought those in two pieces and sold options at $41 and $42, for this Friday’s expiration.


Those shares were a much better deal than picking up XLF shares. Besides, in the tax-deferred account that those shares were being held, the wash rule doesn’t apply. So no loss on the previous assignment, in fact, now a lowered cost basis and even more options premiums.


Mission?


Accomplished.


Now, what I really hadn’t planned on doing was picking up shares of Google. I haven’t owned shares in about 4 months or so, but found the price irresistable at $506.


Unfortunately, the market didn’t find it that way and Google just meandered lower.


If any company hasn’t earned the “mission accomplished” accolade, its been Google, unless you mean “mission accomplishedwhich is “mission accomplished” in the most sarcastic font that I could find.


But as the market went up, then down, then up again, only to end the day flat-lined, I felt that the day’s overall mission had been accomplished.


At the end of the day report and summary to the shareholderd, I had gotten down to a managable and respectable number of people I’m following on Twitter, made some spending money and even sold a few more books.


Then reality hit. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s worst nightmare.


No, not Baathists, “dead enders,” Al-Qaeda sympathizers or crazed Shiites being attacked by sedate Sunni’s.


No, nothing like that at all.


Sugar Momma returned from work and did a once around, taking note of the unfinished chores she had left for me.


Laundry room a mess, didn’t sweep in the kitchen and recycling not cleared.


Oh well, you can’t please everyone, right Brownie?


There’s always tomorrow.


 

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Pangs of Guilt

I never really thought of myself as a “user”, but obviously I’ve been in deep denial.


Years ago, I saw an obscure movie on HBO. It probably had a very short theatrical release. Up until 5 minutes ago, I thought the name of the movie was “Dutch Treat”, but a check of IMDB finds a different movie by the same name.


For me, the most memorable line of the movie that I seem to have forgotten was “You car is your dick. RIght now, you have a really small dick”. That was the life lesson taught to a mid-west kind of innocent guy who moved to California.


Well, Twitter is the same.


I think you measured by your number of followers and your “Klout”.


FacebookYesterday, I decided to take some drastic actions to increase my number of followers and “Klout”, since both had stalled out in the past week after some nice and steady growth. Like most men, I wanted bigger Klout.


I wanted to cast a Klout shadow that would make Anthony Weiner envious.


First, I opened a Facebook account.


I actually had one, that was closed to everyone. I used it only to be able to place Facebook ads. I was proud to have no Facebook friends. I actually worked that fact into nearly every converstaion that I had with real people.


But since I now want to sell books, I was told that I need a Facebook presence and a page for Option to Profit.


Okay. The page went up and I was immediately stunned to see how many suggested friends were out there for me. Some names sounded slightly familiar, most not at all. Was I getting Alzheimers? Was there a reason I wasn’t remembering my “friends”? WHo were these people?


But before I get back to Facebook, I also decided to start following all of my Twitter followers. Previously, I had about a 4 to 1 ratio. I followed relatively few people and maybe, as a result, I had relatively few followers.


Maybe, the reason for that was my content was “drek”, but I’ll choose to ignore that possibility.


So follow I did and lo and behold, I increased my number of followers by about 20%.


I’m a user. No doubt about it. Facebook, Twitter. It’s all about getting people and then getting their people and their people’s people. All to buy books.


That’s when the reality hit.


If I thought that my Tweets were tripe, that all changed when I saw what was now pouring into my Twitter stream.


Holy tripe.


Here comes the guilt.


I need to unfollow most of those new people. I feel badly about that.


I do, because when someone no longer follows me, I feel just a little bit sad, although I often wonder why they were following in the first place. Was there anything in my Tweets or blogs that indicated I would be a good place for learning a daily Russian word?


At first I thought that I just couldn’t do that sort of thing, because I really wasn’t that kind of person, but then came the realization.


I stopped being a guilt ridden person that day that I gave up on buy and hold stock strategies. It has to all be about the outcome, not the process.


These days, I’m in and out. Not quite a day trader, but one whose trading pattern more befits my attention span. I also have way too much regard for my mental well being to be a day trader, although I do make about 4 trades a day.


For example, I expect that today, I’ll be buying shares of Home Depot, Transocean and the Financial Sector SPDR, with the cash that will come pouring in from assignment of my shares in AIG, GS and JP Morgan.


I plan to write in the call options immediately on all three, with expiration this Friday.


Home Depot, in fact, goes ex-dividend on Wednesday and if it gets exercised, I’ll be happy and just buy something else and again sell call options.


No guilt there. Just want to wring every cent out of those shares as quickly as possible. Sort of like Jack the Ripper.


So I started the Twitter pruning this morning with a newly discovered guilt free feeling. Sorry “Great Deals in Southern Florida” peddler. Sorry “Job Bank in Sacramento” guy.


And so it went.


But being a cautious kind of guy and still wanting to retain my followers, I hedged my bets. Not much of a surprise, considering how I trade.


I decided to start by dumping those people that had lots of followers. Looking through their Tweets, I couldn’t understand why they had so many, but I figured they would never miss me and would be less likely to reciprocate.


If that works, then it’s time to prune down those that seem to have a strong evangelistic tone. I’m all for religiousity, but I want mine in spasms of more than 140 spaces.


As the soon to be old saying goes “You lost me at Lord”.


Now, back to Facebook.


My sister immediately found my presence. I had long resisted her suggestions to join and become a part of “communities” of our past.


Her response was “OMG” and then posting a photo of us taken in a photobooth, probably about 45 years ago, back in the days when we had such things as booths.


My oldest son, posted this one Twitter: “Just received a #facebook friend request from @theacsman #sellout”


I’ll have to agree with both of them.


Not being one of great diplomatic talents, Sugar Momma and I went out for dinner last night with two friends. Interestingly, they had also found me on Facebook and sent in their “friend requests” an hour before our dinner.


 I accepted. What else could I do?


Then at dinner we spoke about many things.


I only wanted to know how to go about “de-friending” people. Not them, of course, just people.


Forget the guilt.


As I was starting to look at the “wall”, that monstrosity that I had somehow created, all of these obscure friends of friends were now appearing. There was no “greater plan” and my Option to Profit book theme was getting buried.


Remember, all I want to do is sell books. I really didn’t need to know about little Moishe’s bris and how scrumptious the whitefish was.


It’s not becasue I’m anti-social, I just don’t care.


And that too, extends to stocks. I really don’t care about all of the details. I don’t even necessarily want to know wehat a company makes or what services it provides.


I’m a user. I just want it to make money for me.


Is that so bad?


Now, if it turns out that the Facebook page gets my “friends” to read this blog, I’ll have some explaining to do, but then at least I’ll know that the advice to start a Facebook page was a good one. Better yet, increasing book sales would really make the point.


My new friend, Adam Pflantzer, at Shmish.com (a nice financial news aggregator site),  has told me that I need to put my facebook address out into the ether, so here it is: http://www.facebook.com/TheAcsMan


There’s nothing like profits to ease the guilt pangs.


So here’s to friends and followers. Especially the ones that buy books, post on their walls and the walls of their friends and their friend’s friends.


And so on and so on.


 

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When will the Barking Stop?

Laszlo the DachsundWe have a 15 month old long haired miniature Dachshund, named Laszlo.


When we got him, my Sugar Momma very specifically told me that I couldn’t refer to him as a “replacement” for our dearly departed Golden Retriever, Murray. We had to love him for his own self and respect his own identity.


Well, Laszlo has this bad habit and he certainly has an identity all his own


He howls incessantly. Perched on an easy chair top and peering out the window of our cul-de-sac, whenever he sees a jogger or any casual stroller, he goes beserk. If you don’t immediately let him out, he starts a pitiful whining noise.


MurrayMurray, bless his soul. was as dumb as a door knob, but he was incredibly sweet. Don’t let the mortarboard on his head fool you. He wasn’t even GED material. But the personality more than offset the lack of intellect. Sure, he barked as well, but only because he wanted to play with people.


Laszlo just wants to bark.


When he gets near people, he just does more of the same.


There’s another important difference. Murray only breached the electric fence once in 12 years. He may have been stupid, but he wasn’t dumb. We’d let him out into our substantially sized yard and never have to worry whether he would chase some innocent passerby.


Laszlo seems to care less if he gets zapped. He spits in the eye of the invisible enemy. He never seems to get tired of barking sheerly for barking’s sake.But he’ll also then lunge past the boundaries when someone passes by. Occasionally, he’ll do that with a car, as well.


I have long thought Laszlo to be very smart, but still he is the Spawn of Satan.


He’s also seemed to learn how to communicate. We can tell the difference between his barks for people, other dogs and birds.


A lot of good that does us.


But, the really annoying habit is that at about 3:30 or so each morning, and the time has gotten consistently earlier as we approach the summer solstice, Laszlo has been catapaulting out of our bed and howling, while he runs downstairs to the front door.


Laszlo is smarter than we are. He knows that we won’t be consistent with him in our approach to his behaviors. Our kids had us figured out like that, as well. When she was just my wife and not my Sugar Momma we would argue over issues like that with the kids. Now that we are empty nesters and she is, in fact, my Sugar Momma, I defer to her on all issues of behavior management.


We’ve tried just letting him bark, figuring that he would poop out, but that has yet to be the case. He goes on and on, howling over some unseen critter in the yard. Since we’re surrounded by sheep, cows, horses, deer and Lord know what else, I assume he hears soem rustling and wants to fetch us a varmint.


Although we still haven’t figured out at what point Laszlo will give up, even a brief moment of silence would be incredibly welcome .


That was precisley the atmosphere in the markets today.


Six straight losing days. It just went on and on and on. There really wasn’t any end in sight. Despite the typical onslaught of economic data and political events, there really was nothing out of the ordinary.


At this point, how are we going to be surprised by disappointing jobs numbers? But dispite the release of the ADP numbers last Wednesday and the absolute conviction with which the official government numbers would be dreadful as well the following Friday, the market dumped yet again.


How long have we known about the Greek crisis? Did it take a genius to realize that the Japanese disaster would also wreak havoc on the earnings of a number of American companies?


Even more maddening, almost like a momentary stop in the spine tingling barking, there were a few days in the past couple of weeks that it appeared as if the markets were going to eke out a gain.


I’ve lost track of how many days in that time period I saw five digit gains turn into losses. I was actually ecstatic for the one day that a five digit gain remained that way, just as long as you counted the decimal points at he the end of the trading day.


Even when all of those nice kind hearted buyers just wanted to pick up some shares, the market just barked at them.


But you just don’t know what to do. Just like with Laszlo, I know that yelling won’t help anything. Giving in, selling shares at a loss only reinforces bad behavior.


Sometimes all you can hope for is that the evil beast poops out and just has to take a breather.


That’s what happened today.


By 3 PM, the market had reached a gain of about 130 points. I squeezed out a few trades to capture a couple of more pennies from those weekly call options.


I bought back some $42 JP Morgan options and quickly resold them at $41. I also sold some AIG calls on my remaining shares. Both closed the day in the money.


I also sold some weekly $135 Goldman Sachs, which briefy went over the mark, but settled the day below $134.


I’m not sure what statment I was sending with those trades, other than my desperation to bring in a few more dollars of income, which is how I treat the options premiums.


In reality, I was saying that I didn’t believe that there would be follow through on the upward climb on Friday, the expiration date of many of my call options.


I was betting that the barking would start all over again.


Playing to script, by the time the final bell rang, the market closed up a respectable 76 points, but still, that was a sizeable drop from its intra-day high.


Was today just a Satan like breather or are we going somewhere far better?


It felt so good to see that everyone of my holdings stayed in the green. In all, only 4 of the 60 or so stocks that I follow lost money today.


Even RIMM and Goldman Sachs closed higher today. When was the last time that happened?


Even though I’m usually an optimist, I don’t think Laszlo will mellow out in the near future. I think that he’s going to continue getting up at ungodly hours until the frost comes. I think that whatever sounds of silence that we hear will just be momentary spells of silence, when he’s just a bit too tired and needs to actually breathe.


As far as the market goes, even though I made a few  bearish kind of trades today, I’m still hopeful. Hopeful that todays gain, despite the breather at the end of the day, is part of the market returning to a more acceptible behavior.


What really bothers me about this bearish beast of a dog is that he is also very hard to catch. Good old Murray would walk right up to you and never tried to run away. Laszlo plays this game and scampers away whenever you get close. Tantalizingly close, but not close enough. Just like market profits these days, he’s very elusive.


But at least I went to bed last night a little less nervous and at the very least, I can still dream about Murray while Satan is at my back.


As I do so, I think what we need is just a big capitulation. I think I need to let the dog out, just get it out of his system.


Maybe that’s what all of the barking is about. Once he realizes that he can’t catch the critters grabbing his attention, maybe Laszlo will throw it in and exorcise his demons.


Hmm. Maybe the market needs to do the same.


 

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It Could Have Been Worse

Just when you think things are really bad, some people prepare themselves for even worse to come, while others are grateful that things didn’t turn out even worse.


IMussolini the Trainmagine if Mussolini wasn’t able to make the trains run on time.


I like to think in terms of how bad things could have been, but weren’t.


Today was another of those kind of days. Bad things happened, but we’re all still here, unless you recently got a margin call.


I don’t really take great delight in seeing the fall of someone in power.


Let me qualify that, unless they deserved it, or unless they didn’t deserve to be in power in the first place.


There’s a good chance that some of the deposed leaders in the Middle East deserved to go and perhaps an even better chance that the currently embattled leaders of Lybia, Syria and Yemen deserve some hastened fall from grace.


In fact, they probably deserve to be on the express departing from Grace, non-stop to Hell.


With those obvious kind of exceptions out of the way, I should also add that I do take some delight in seeing the downfall of those that were quickest to sling the first stone, only to have their own peccaddilloes turn out to be major character flaws.


Think Newt Gingrich. How about the late Henry Hyde? Jimmy Swaggart anyone? They didn’t believe in virtual genital transmission. They went for the real thing.


I feel a little vomit working its way upward as I begin to type John Edwards’ name.


There’s a long list of hypocrites who so loudly decry the behavior of others only to cower in the reality that is their lives.


When news came out that there were additional photos, including the same kind of shirtless ones that resulted in Chris Lee’s resignation, it prompted me to Tweet the obvious joke, that perhaps Anthony Weiner should go by the name Chester Weiner.


But then the truth surfaced at this afternoon’s press conference.


So today came the admission by Anthony Weiner that not only were the released shirtless and pantless images of him, but that he was the one who sent them.


He lied.


What a shocker. He’s a politician. You almost can’t spell “politician” without “L-I-A-R”.


On a positive note, Weiner is now the most sought after “member” in Congress.


Now if you follow politics, Weiner is a pretty voluble guy. He’s no shrinking violet, unless he’s just come out of the water. Based on his underwear photo and the shadow cast, he’s no shrinking “member” of congress, either.


Now that the truth has come out, I’m certain that Weiner will backtrack on that “Photoshop” line of defense.


But at least he’s not been a hypocrite. He hasn’t lead the drum beats to jump over other members of congress that have auditioned to appear on “Dateline”.


One theory is that Democrat Weiner’s “six pack” wasn’t quite up to Republican Lee’s standard.


Just to be clear, political hypocrites come in all parties and not just related to sexually inappropriate actions.


Take Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, now being mentioned as another Republican candidate for the Presidency. Forget about the fact hat he was pushing Texas seccession. How about the way he decried the TARP, loudly condemning it at every possible venue and then taking credit for jobs created in Texas having used TARP funds.


Palin and RevereAs I watched yesterday’s evening news, I wonder what’s worse. Lying to save a bit of whatever self-respect you have left and perhaps give yourself some time to work out issues with your family, or trying to re-write history to make you look like less of an idiot than you already are well known to be.


I say that as I sit watching Sarah Palin trying to convince us that Paul Revere rode through the Massachusetts countryside in an effort to warn the British that the Colonists were going to whoop their buttocks.


Even Chris Wallace wasn’t buying it.


Really, what’s worse? Weiner lying, when we all knew he was lying, or Palin, thinking that we’re all idiots and could be snowed by some two century old revisionist history.


You know, I understand historical revisionism. It’s done all the time in order to promote or denigrate a particular agenda.


I can respect that. It’s one of the benefits of having power.


But revisionism for the sake of convincing people that you have a double digit IQ is a new low.


Oh, and let’s not forget the evils of the cover-up. True, Weiner lied in an effort to cover-up his love of all things social media.


On the other hand, Palin’s supporters have been caught trying to re-write the Wikipedia pages regarding Paul Revere’s ride to better reflect Palin’s developmentally disabled view of history.


I’ll give Palin benefit of the doubt on this one. She probably didn’t tell her supporters to put Wikipedia in their “crosshairs”, but how could you not. You just know what Moma Bear would do.


Alright, but where’s the parallel to stocks and investments?


Are you serious? They’re unending. The lies, the distortions, the doublespeak all seek to send you down a path not travelled enough.


Just look at Steve Jobs today, introducing a new Apple operating system and its version of cloud management, the iCloud.


What else would you have called it? I mean, after deciding on iPad, there was no turning back.


Anyway, it was just a few short years ago that questions of Jobs’ health were dismissed, deflected and decried.


I’m still surprised that a class actions uit didn’t arise out of that period when Apple’s stock plunged to about $70 when the truth finally came out.


Clearly, Jobs is an unmatched icon. In my eyes, he will be long remembered after Bill Gates is forgotten. Innovator versus stagnator, even though I’m a PC.


But still, great man, great visionary and he enriched the lives of untold millions, figuratively and literally, but he lied.


How about anyone in the financial sector? I know that’s painting with a broad brush, but look at the statements and actions of  Dick Fuld, Jimmy Cayne and even Lloyd Blankfein of my not quite late, but moribund beloved Goldman Sachs.


In the case of the financial meltdown, it to could have been worse, but probably not by much.


John Chambers, anyone?


That list is endless as well.


What I do know is that like all breaking economic news, regardless of how the market may be whipsawed at the moments surrounding data release, before you know it, all is forgotten.


Weiner will still be a weiner, new scandals will sway our attention and we’ll all choose to believe in the way in which we have been programmed.


I’ll continue to believe that things could have been worse. Goldman Sachs could return to 2008 levels, RIMM could sell itself to Nokia and Weiner could go on to open a string of Goldman’s Gyms and replace Ron Jeremy as the everyday man’s pornography hero.


Thank God for optimism.


Where’s my train?


 

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Death Becomes Us





 


I have an unhealthy pre-occupation with death.


It’s not that I fear it, it’s just that I’m fascinated by other people’s deaths. That’s something that I inherited from my mother. Not to be outdone by this site dedicated to my father, she has a website dedicated to her memory as well, but it’s more serious, befitting her personality.


My mother used to be an inveterate reader of the daily obituaries. One of her favorite comments was something to the effect of ” He’s dead? I never even knew that he was ever alive!”


NY Times ObitsThat really sums up my fascination, as well, as I begin each morning not looking at the pre-opening market numbers, but rather at the New York Times obituaries, with a particular eye toward the lesser known luminaries.


When my mother was nearing her final months of life, I knew she was disconnected when she showed no reaction to the news that Bob Hope had died. A few months earlier, when told of Milton Berle’s passing, even though she was not verbal, you could see the amazement in her eyes, as she processed that information.


Bob Hope? Nothing.


What amazes me is how many relatively unsung and generally unknown people have made such incredible contributions to the world. One of my regrets in having moved away from New York is that I can no longer browse the New York Times Death Notices that detailed even more obscure local passings, not quite important enough for for the on-line edition.


Those local obituary notices contained not only gems among gems, but occasionally unwelcome news of someone I had known.


This weekend was replete with death.


Much of it gleamed from Twitter from posting by comedians. Interestingly, many of their postings are not very funny, at all.


I learned that Wally Boag, Andrew Gold and Omar Shapli had passed away.


Who? Look them up. Do I look like Google to you?


Although Lawrence Eagleburger was probably the most prominent of this weekends’ necrology news, he didn’t make the top of my list. Nor did James Arness and Jack Kevorkian.


I did find it somewhat ironic though that Jack Kevorkian chose to have his body cryo-preserved until that day that modern science comes up with an understanding of what actually kept him alive.


The passing that most caught my eye, though, was that of Dr. Rosalyn Yalow. I certainly won’t try to chronicle her achievements, but suffice it to say, she was a women, Jewish and from the Bronx. Three strikes against her, especially when it came to setting her odds on ever winning a Nobel Prize for Medicine.


My sister, who also shares those characteristics with Dr. Yalow was once told by someone that she could never go forward in life unless she got out of The Bronx.


“Good people aren’t from The Bronx”, was the bottom line.


My sister eventually did leave The Bronx and has not yet won a Nobel Prize, so I wonder how accurate that advice really was.


Being Bronx bred and having worked in the Bronx in my early professional days, Rosalyn Yalow was an institution. Not only an incredibly accomplished researcher and mentor, but also a dedicated mother and wife. More than a triple threat, she was a quadruple threat. She proved that you could have it all, despite the roadblocks.


On top of all that, in her world so strongly influenced by science and data, she was an observant person, one of deep and abiding faith.


As an added bonus, she didn’t go around killing people.


My fascination with death is not entirely paralleled in my fascination for stocks.


For starters, I chose to ignore the lesser known stocks. I tend to gravitate toward the more household names. I rarely look to capitalize on an undiscovered gem. Let someone else get the thrills of discovering one of those. I don’t want to dirty myself.


The stock market mentality in me gravitates much more toward Jack Kevorkian than Rosalyn Yalow.


The stock market mentality in me also looks at death, but in a different way. It doesn’t allow me the fascination with a life well lived. Instead, it wants continued vibrancy. I don’t really care what you did yesterday. I want to know what you’re going to do to line my account tomorrow.


While at am somewhat awed by the lives that the recently departed lived and the impacts made, I have a very different attitude toward stocks that are “dead to me”.


I do, however, distinguish between “dead money” and “dead to me”.


For me, “dead money” is just a question of poor timing or extrinsic factors effecting stock price, that I don’t believe will be corrected in the short term. I don’t mind or totally rule out the possibility of investing in those companies sometime in the future.


Right now, I look at my holdings in British Petroleum as dead money. I’ve made lots investing in shares well before the bad days surrounding the Gulf spill and after. But lately, it’s going nowhere and I don’t see anything on the horizon to prompt it much beyond $48.


Even worse, as its volatility drops, so does its options premium.


When a “dead money” stock starts picking up in volatility, then I start getting interested again.


Then there are the “dead to me” companies. The ones whose intrinsic doings seem to doom any hope for price rebounds in my lifetime. Those stocks often get recharacterized by some as “value stocks” and by others as “value traps”.


Value is great, except when it’s not real.


Take Research in Motion. And I mean that literally. Just take my Research in Motion. No amount of volatility at this point makes it appealing anymore.


Not that we didn’t have good times, but it sometimes becomes time to move on and not look back.


I hate losing money in the market. Although I sometimes rationalize selling in order to take a tax loss, I’m really not kidding myself. I’d rather be in a position to pay more taxes, than looking for losses.


Recently AIG joined the list of “dead to me” stocks. Although, at the moment, it’s one of those hideous “partial death” sort of things, because I still hold shares.


Granted, with its volatility, I was able to repeatedly sell call options on AIG, yet its spiral downward fro $40 to $28 has been too much for even my beloved covered call writing strategy to withstand.


AIG? Dead to me.


Ford Motor. I spit on you.


Don’t even get me started with YRCW. Only a class action suit can do anything for that horror. Once the darling of cable TV, you don’t really see CEO Bill Zollars on anyone’s guest list these days.


In the markets, everyone loves a winner. A high profile homerun hitter.


Zoeller? Dead to me. Not a woman, not from the Bronx and really don’t care about his religion.


Rosalyn Yalow? Always a hero to me and hopefully to a few more now.



 




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Party Like its 1999

I don’t remember much about 1999.


Not that I was in a drug filled haze, or anything like that. If anything, that would have been many years earlier and I still remembered all of those times.


What I do remember is that we spent the most pathetic New Year’s Eve ever welcoming in 2000 at our neighbor’s house.


I can make those statements because they have since moved to Florida and I don’t believe that they were literate.


PrinceFor starters, just about everyone at the party was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers shirt. Mind you , we were in a part of Maryland that was not at all close to the Monongehela River. Most of the men and some of the women, I think they were women, were watching ESPN Classic Pittsburgh Steelers games from the past.


Happy New Year to you, too.


Anyway, the only music playing all night was the ubiquitous song by Prince, at a time when he was known as something else. It amazes me that an entire world had been waiting 17 years for that song to be relevant. But then again, these were the people watching an equally old football game that had at least as much relevance.


What I do remember about 1999 is that I sat on the sidelines when it came to my investments.


If you were a reader of the first incarnation of the Szelhamos Rules blog, you’ll know that I had a wonderful broker, Bob Shapiro. If you read the Option to Profit book you’ll also know that he passed away very unexpectedly.


Back when Bob was managing my account, I still followed the markets daily, even though he had full discretionary trading rights. I never micro-managed.


But on the sidelines I saw the wild amounts of money being made by people who weren’t me. It didn’t really matter that my own portfolio was performing well, because it wasn’t performing dot com well.


The stories of excess were legendary. The money was coming in and was going out even faster. Unfortunately, the money that was coming in wasn’t really from sales.


Long story short, I was spared the roller coaster rides of that era. I don’t have any sock puppet momentos inthe closet, nor reams of class action papers as a reminder of the wild times. Bob stayed on a much more sedate path. Sure we had ups and downs, but I never puked on the way down.


And so yesterday the big news came. No, not the news that Goldman Sachs was served with a subpoena by the Manhattan District Attorney. We all knew that was coming.I’ve got nothing left to puke on that one.


It was the other news that we all knew was coming.


A couple of weeks after the LinkedIn IPO came the much awaited word that Groupon was going to go public.


Within minutes also came word that Pandora, the music service with the artificial intelligence algorithm was also coming public. Since both are Morgan Stanley offerings, you’d think that maybe they would have timed the announcements to let Pandora have at least a little glory that Groupon was gobbling up.


Now, for full disclosure, my son works for Groupon’s biggest competitor, LivingSocial. He is responsible of overseeing the huge hiring spree that LivingSocial is currently engaged in. At least, that’s what a proud father would like to believe. In fact, a silver lining in ADP’s employment numbers was that LivingSocial accounted for 1/3% of all new hires in May. Not bad for a pretty small company.


A pretty small company that keeps company with Steve Case and Jeff Bezos.


Anyway, you remember Groupon. They spurned Google’s $6 Billion offer.


You remember Google, don’t you? They’re starting a Groupon like sevice tomorrow, Google Offers, in San Diego. Interesting, just a couple of days after they announced Google Wallet. 


Have you seen Groupon’s CEO?


‘Nuff said. I’ll let you scour YouTube for some clips, but yesterday’s statement that the money losing Groupon would not measure its performance in the usual fashion, should be sending a bad message. But if you don’t want to go the high tech route and search YouTube, just dust off your Funk and Waganalls and look for the illustration for the words “arrogant” and “obnoxious”.


Remember, I’m biased, but I’m being objective on this one.


The fact that Groupon employs 400 full time staff writers should send another message. How much effort does it take to write the same tripe for every tooth whitening offer in the country?


But there was unbridled enthusiasm yesterday as the announcement came across the news wire at about 3 PM. LinkedIn was the teaser, Groupon just a tasting, with everyone waiting for the 800 pound gorilla.


Facebook, with a current valuation of about $50-80 Billion.


And if this really is 1999 redux, there’ll be lots of drek coming along too, vying for your investment dollars.


What really makes me believe that we’re already nearing a top in social media is that my son, who made his first stock investment about two weeks ago, had already read Groupon’s S-1 filing and he was critiquing it for me, analyzing their dividend payments and compensation packages.


WTF?


Since I have an aversion to speculation, I won’t jump in, even if given the chance.


Which I won’t be.


On the positive side, I’m hopeful that my son’s LivingSocial stake will get the benefit of a wildly bid up valuation on the heels of Groupon and others.


In the meantime, I see a different outcome, at least for LivingSocial.


Granted the Google alliance with AOL didn’t turn out as planned, that alliance was with a Time Warner- AOL and not with a Steve Case led AOL.


Microsoft already has a small piece of the consumer market and no doubt that Google wants to keep Microsoft from gobbling up a big player in the daily coupon business.


After all, wasn’t that why they picked up a stake in AOL in the first place?


So I see Google, Steve Case and Amazon coming together on this one and blowing Groupon out of the water.


The difference between 1999 and 2011 is that all of this froth is based on people to people businesses. No real technology, per se, just a better way to get the non-proprietary tangibles that we all need.


Food, recreation and 50% discounted bikini waxes.


Why didn’t they think of that in 1999 and spare a generation that pain?



 

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