Weekend Update – September 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

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Weekend Update – July 7, 2013

Much has been made of the recent increase in volatility.

As someone who sells options I like volatility because it typically results in higher option premiums. Since selling an option provides a time defined period I don’t get particularly excited when seeing large movements in a share’s price. With volatility comes greater probability that “this too shall pass” and selling that option allows you to sit back a bit and watch to see the story unwind.

It also gives you an opportunity to watch “the smart money” at play and wonder “just how smart is that “smart money”?

But being a observer doesn’t stop me from wondering sometimes what is behind a sudden and large movement in a stock’s price, particularly since so often they seem to occur in the absence of news. They can’t all be “fat finger ” related. I also sit and marvel about entire market reversals and wildly alternating interpretations of data.

I’m certain that for a sub-set there is some sort of technical barrier that’s been breached and the computer algorithms go into high gear. but for others the cause may be less clear, but no doubt, it is “The Smart Money,” that’s behind the gyrations so often seen.

Certainly for a large cap stock and one trading with considerable volume, you can’t credit or blame the individual investor for price swings, especially in the absence of news. Since for those shares the majority are owned by institutions, which hopefully are managed by those that comprise the “smart money” community, the large movements certainly most result in detriment to at least some in that community.

But what especially intrigues me is how the smart money so often over-reacts to news, yet still can retain their moniker.

This week’s announcement that there would be a one year delay in implementing a specific component of the Affordable Care Act , the Employer mandate, resulted in a swift drop among health care stocks, including pharmaceutical companies.

Presumably, since the markets are said to discount events 6 months into the future, the timing may have been just right, as a July 3, 2013 announcement falls within that 6 month time frame, as the changes were due to begin January 1, 2014.

By some kind of logic the news of the delay, which reflects a piece of legislation that has regularly alternated between being considered good and bad for health care stocks, was now again considered bad.

But only for a short time.

As so often is seen, such as when major economic data is released, there is an immediate reaction that is frequently reversed. Why in the world would smart people have knee jerk reactions? That doesn’t seem so smart. This morning’s reaction to the Employment Situation report is yet another example of an outsized initial reaction in the futures market that saw its follow through in the stock market severely eroded. Of course, the reaction to the over-reaction was itself then eroded as the market was entering into its final hour, as if involved in a game of volleyball piting two team of smart money against one another.

Some smart money must have lost some money during that brief period of time as they mis-read the market’s assessment of the meaning of a nearly 200,000 monthly increase in employment.

After having gone to my high school’s 25th Reunion a number of years ago, it seemed that the ones who thought they were the most cool turned out to be the least. Maybe smart money isn’t much different. Definitely be wary of anyone that refers to themselves as being part of the smart money crowd.

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

As a caveat, with Earnings Season beginning this week some of the selections may also be reporting their own earnings shortly, perhaps even during the July 2013 option cycle. That knowledge should be factored into any decision process, particularly since if you select a shorter term option sale that doesn’t get assigned, since yo may be left with a position that is subject to earnings related risk. By the same token, some of those positions will have their premiums enhanced by the uncertainty associated with earnings.

Both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) were on my list of prospective purchases last week. Besides being a trading shortened week in celebration of the FOurth of July, it was also a trade shortened week, as I initiated the fewest new weekly positions in a few years. Both shares were among those that took swift hits from fears that a delay in the ACA would adversely impact companies in the sector. In hindsight, that was a good opportunity to buy shares, particularly as they recovered significantly later in the day. Lilly is well off of its recent highs and Abbott Labs goes ex-dividend this week. However, it does report earnings during the final week of the July 2013 option cycle. I think that healthcare stocks have further to run.

AIG (AIG) is probably the stock that I’ve most often thought of buying over the past two years but have too infrequently gone that path. While at one time I thought of it only as a speculative position it is about as mainstream as they come, these days. Under the leadership of Robert Ben Mosche it has accomplished what no one believe was possible with regard to paying back the Treasury. While its option premiums aren’t as exciting as they once were it still offers a good risk-reward proposition.

Despite having given up on “buy and hold,” I’ve almost always had shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) over the past 5 years. They just haven’t been the same shares for very long. It’s CEO, Andrew Liveris was once the darling of cable finance news and then fell out of favor, while being roundly criticized as Dow shares plummeted in 2008. His star is pretty shiny once again and he has been a consistent force in leading the company to maintain shares trading in a fairly defined channel. That is an ideal kind of stock for a covered call strategy.

The recent rise in oil prices and the worries regarding oil transport through the Suez Canal, hasn’t pushed British Petroleum (BP) shares higher, perhaps due to some soon to be completed North Sea pipeline maintenance. British Petroleum is also a company that I almost always own, currently owning two higher priced lots. Generally, three lots is my maximum for any single stock, but at this level I think that shares are a worthy purchase. With a dividend yield currently in excess of 5% it does make it easier to make the purchase or to add shares to existing lots.

General Electric (GE) is one of those stocks that I only like to purchase right after a large price drop or right before its ex-dividend date. Even if either of those are present, I also like to see it trading right near its strike price. Its big price drop actually came 3 weeks ago, as did its ex-dividend date. Although it is currently trading near a strike price, that may be sufficient for me to consider making the purchase, hopeful of very quick assignment, as earnings are reported July 19, 2013.

Oracle (ORCL) has had its share of disappointments since the past two earnings releases. Its problems appear to have been company specific as competitors didn’t share in sales woes. The recent announcement of collaborations with Microsoft (MSFT and Salesforce.com (CRM) says that a fiercely competitive Larry Ellison puts performance and profits ahead of personal feelings. That’s probably a good thing if you believe that emotion can sometimes not be very helpful. It too was a recent selection that went unrequited. Going ex-dividend this week helps to make a purchase decision easier.

This coming week and next have lots of earnings coming from the financial sector. Having recently owned JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) I think I will stay away from those this week. While I’ve been looking for new entry points for Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), I think that they’re may be a bit too volatile at the moment. One that has gotten my attention is Bank of New York Mellon (BK). While it does report earnings on July 17, 2013 it isn’t quite as volatile as the latter two banks and hasn’t risen as much as Wells Fargo (WFC), another position that I would like to re-establish.

YUM Brands (YUM) reports earnings this week and as an added enticement also goes ex-dividend on the same day. People have been talking about the risk in its shares for the past year, as it’s said to be closely tied to the Chinese economy and then also subject to health scare rumors and realities. Shares do often move significantly, especially when they are stoked by fears, but YUM has shown incredible resilience, as perhaps some of the 80% institutional ownership second guess their initial urge to head for the exits, while the “not so smart money” just keeps the faith.

Finally, one place that the “smart money” has me intrigued is JC Penney (JCP). With a large vote of confidence from George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, it’s hard to not wonder what it is that he sees in the company, after all, he was smart enough to have fled Hungary. The fact that I already own shares, but at a higher price, is conveniently irrelevant in thinking that Soros is smart to like JC Penney. In hindsight it may turn out that ex-CEO Ron Johnson’s strategy was well conceived and under the guidance of a CEO with operational experience will blossom. I think that by the time earnings are reported just prior to the end of the August 2013 option cycle, there will be some upward surprises.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, General Electric,

Momentum Stocks: AIG, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 7/11), Oracle (ex-div)7/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/10 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

   

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