Weekend Update – December 15, 2013

People tend to have very strong feelings about entitlements.

Prior to this week there were so many people waiting for the so-called “Santa Claus Rally” that you would have thought that it was considered to be an entitlement.

After the week we’ve just had you can probably add it to the other market axioms that haven’t really worked out this year. If anything, so far it appears that you should have taken your vacation right now along with Santa Claus, who must have not realized that his vacation conflicted with the scheduled rally. You also should probably not taken the wizened advice to vacation months ago when the traditional prevailing attitude implored you to “sell in May and go away.”

The past week saw the S&P 500 drop 1.7% to a closing level not seen in a 22 trading sessions. This week’s drop places us a full 1.8% below the recent record high. Yet, like during a number of other smallish declines in 2013, this one is also being warily eyed as being the precursor to the long overdue, but healthy, 10% decline. We have simply become so accustomed to advances that even what would ordinarily be viewed as downward blips are hard to accept.

For those that have a hard time dealing with conflict, these are not good times, as the Santa Claus Rally is being threatened by the specter of a correction in the waiting. While there’s still time for the traditional rally it’s hard to know whether Santa Claus factored the thought of an outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman presiding over his final FOMC meeting and holding his final press conference.

Oh, and then there’s also the little matter of possibly announcing the beginning of the taper to Quantitative Easing. Just a week earlier the idea that such an announcement would come in December was considered highly unlikely. Now it seems like a real possibility and not the kind that the markets were altogether comfortable with, even as they expressed comfort with the previous week’s Employment Situation Report.

While I admire Ben Bernanke and believe that he helped to rescue the world’s financial markets, it may not be far fetched to cast him as the “Grinch” who stole the Santa Claus Rally if the markets are taken off guard. Personally, I don’t believe that he will make the decision to begin the tapering, in deference to Janet Yellen, his expected successor, privilege to decide on timing, magnitude and speed.

However, I’m not really willing to commit very much to that belief and will likely exercise the same caution as I did last week.

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

Last week was one of my slowest trading weeks in a long time. Even with cash to spend there never seemed to be a signal that price stability would temper downward risk. Moving forward to this week comes the challenge of trying to distinguish between value and value trap, as many of the stocks that I regularly follow are at more appealing prices but may be at at continued risk.

With lots of positions set to expire this week, the greatest likelihood is that whatever new positions I do establish this week will be with the concomitant use of expanded weekly options or even the January 18, 2014 option, rather than options expiring this coming Friday. The options market is certainly expecting some additional fireworks this coming week as option premiums are generally considerably higher than in recent months.

Microsoft (MSFT) is one of those stocks that has come down in the past week, but like so many still has some downside potential. Of its own weight it can easily go down another 3%, but under the burden of a market in correction its next support level is approximately 8% lower. Since the market’s recent high just a few weeks ago, Microsoft has slightly under-performed the market, but it does trade with a low beta, perhaps offering some relative down side protection. As with many other stocks this week its option premium is far more generous than in the recent past making it perhaps more difficult to resist, but with that reward comes the risk.

There’s probably not much reason or value in re-telling the story of Blackberry (BBRY). Most already have an idea of how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t quiet those who dream of a better future. For some, the future is defined by a weekly option contract and Blackberry reports earnings this week. The options market is implying about a 12% move and for the really adventurous the sale of a put with a strike level almost 17% below Friday’s close could yield a weekly ROI of 1.4%. On a note that shouldn’t be construed as being positive, as the market itself appears a bit more tenuous, Blackberry’s own beta has taken a large drop in the past 3 months. The risk, still remains, however.

Although I discussed the possibility of purchasing shares of Joy Global (JOY) in last week’s article after they reported earnings, I didn’t do so, as it fell hostage to my inactivity even after a relatively large price drop. Despite a recovery from the low point of the week, Joy Global, which has been very much a range bound trading stock of late is still in the range that has worked well for covered call sales. The same is a little less so for Caterpillar (CAT) which is approaching the upper end of its range as it has worked its way toward the $87.50 level. However, with even a mild retreat I would consider once again adding shares buoyed a little bit with the knowledge that shares do also go ex-dividend near the end of the January 2014 option cycle.

Citibank (C) was another that I considered purchasing last week and following a small price drop it continues to have some appeal, also having slightly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past three weeks. However, despite its beta having fallen considerably, it is still potentially a stock that could respond far more so than the overall market. Its option premium for an at the money weekly strike is approximately 18% higher than last week, suggesting that the week may be somewhat more risky than of late.

While my shares of Halliburton (HAL) haven’t fared well in the past week, I am looking at reuniting my “evil troika” by considering purchases of both British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean (RIG), which are now also down from their recent highs. Following in a week in which Anadarko (APC) plunged after a bankruptcy court ruling from a nearly decade old case, the “evil troika” is proof that there is life after litigation and after jury awards, fines and clean up costs. While oil and oil services have been volatile of late, both British Petroleum and Transocean share with Microsoft the fact that they have already under-performed the S&P 500 during this latest downturn but have low betas, hopefully offering some relative downside protection in a faltering market. Perhaps even better is that they are beyond the point of significant downward movement emanating from judicial decisions.

Coach (COH) hasn’t been able to garner much respect lately, although there has been some insider buying when others have been disparaging the company. Meanwhile it has been trading in a fairly well defined range of late. It is a stock that I’ve owned eight times during 2013 and regret not having owned more frequently, particularly since it began offering weekly and then expanded options. Like a number of stocks that I’m considering this week, it too is still closer to the upper end of the range than I would normally initiate new positions and wouldn’t mind seeing a little more weakness.

Seagate Technology (STX) may have a higher beta than is warranted to consider at a time that the market may be labile, however it has recently traded well at the $47.50 level and offers an attractive reward for those willing to accept the frequent movements its shares make, even on an intraday basis. My expectation is that If I do consider a trade it would either be the sale of puts before Wednesday’s big events or otherwise waiting for the aftermath and looking at expanded option dates.

Finally, and yet again, it seems as if it may be time to consider a purchase of eBay (EBAY). While I’ll never really lose count of how many times I own a specific stock, going in and out of positions as they are assigned, eBay is just becoming the perfect example of a stock trading within a range. For anyone selling options on eBay, perhaps the best news was its recent downgrade that chided it for trading in a range and further expecting that it would continue range bound. Although you can’t necessarily trade on the basis of the absolute value of price movements of a stock, the next best way to do so is through buying shares and selling covered calls and then repeating the process as often as possible.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, Caterpillar, eBay, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Coach, Joy Global, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (12/20 AM)

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

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Weekend Update – December 8, 2013

Sometimes good things can go good.

Anyone who remembers the abysmal state of television during the turn of this century recalls the spate of shows that sought to shock our natural order and expectations by illustrating good things gone bad. There were dogs, girls, police officers and others. They appealed to viewers because human nature had expectations and somehow enjoyed having those expectations upended.

That aspect of human nature can be summed up as “it’s fun when it happens to other people.”

For those that loved that genre of television show, they would have loved the stock markets of the last few years, particularly since the introduction of Quantitative Easing. That’s when good news became bad and bad news became good. Our ways of looking at the world around us and all of our expectations became upended.

Like everyone else, I blame or credit Quantitative Easing for everything that has happened in the past few years, maybe even the continued death of Disco. Who knew that pumping so much money into anything could possibly be looked at in a negative way despite having possibly saved the free world’s economies? While many decried the policy, they loved the result, in a reflection of the purest of all human qualities – the ability to hate the sinner, but love the sin.

Then again, I suppose that stopping such a thing could only subsequently be considered to be good, but rational thought isn’t a hallmark of event and data driven investing.

With so many believing that all of the most recent gains in the market could only have occurred with Federal Reserve intervention, anything that threatens to reduce that intervention has been considered as adverse to the market’s short term performance. That means good news, such as job growth, has been interpreted as having negative consequences for markets, because it would slow the flow. Bad news simply meant that the punch bowl would continue to be replenished.

For the very briefest of periods, basically lasting during the time that it wasn’t clear who would be the successor to Ben Bernanke, the market treated news on its face value, perhaps believing that in a state of leadership limbo nothing would change to upset the party.

It had been a long time since good news resulted in a market responding appropriately and celebrating the good fortune by creating more fortunes. This past week started with that annoying habit of taking news and believing that only a child’s version of reverse psychology was appropriate in interpreting information, but the week ended with a more adult-like response, perhaps a signal that the market has come to peace with idea that tapering is going to occur and is ready to move forward on the merits of news rather than conjecture of mass behavior.

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

Coming off a nearly 200 point advance on Friday what had initially looked like relative bargains were now pricey in comparison and at risk to retrace their advances.

While last week was one in which dividends were a primary source of my happiness, unfortunately this week is not likely to be the same. As in life where I just have to get by on my looks, this week I’ll have to get by on new purchases that hopefully don’t do anything stupid and have a reasonable likelihood of being assigned or having their calls rolled over to another point in the near future. The principle reason for that is that most of the stocks going ex-dividend this week that have some appeal for me only have monthly options available. Since I’m already overloaded on options expiring at the end of the this monthly cycle my interests are limited to those that have weekly options. With volatility and subsequently premiums so low, as much as I’d like to diversify by using expanded options, they don’t offer much solace in their forward week premiums.

While the energy sector may be a little bit of a mine field these days, particularly with Iran coming back on line, Williams Companies (WMB) fits the profile that I’ve been looking for and is especially appealing this week as it goes ex-dividend. Williams has been able to trade in a range, but takes regular visits to the limits of the range and often enough to keep its option premium respectable. With no real interest in longer term or macro-economic issues, I see Williams for what it has reliably been over the course of the past 16 months and 9 trades. Despite its current price being barely 6% higher than my average cost of shares, it has generated about 35% in premiums, dividends and share appreciation.

Another ex-dividend stock this week is Macys (M). Retail is another minefield of late, but Macys has not only been faring better than most of the rest, it has also just hit its year’s high this past week. Ordinarily that would send me in the opposite direction, particularly given the recent rise. With the critical holiday shopping season in full gear, some will have their hopes crushed, but someone has to be a winner. Macys has the generic appeal and non-descript vibe to welcome all comers. While I wouldn’t mind a quick dividend and option premium and then exit, it is a stock that I could live with for a longer time, if necessary.

Citibank (C) is no longer quite the minefield that it had been. It may be an example of a good stock, gone bad, now gone good again. When I look at its $50 price it reminds me of well known banking analysts Dick Bove, who called for Citibank to hold onto the $50 price as the financial meltdown was just heating up. Fast forward five years and Bove was absolutely correct, give or take a 1 to 10 reverse split.

But these days Citibank is back, albeit trading with more volatility than back in the old days. I’m under-invested in the financial sector, which didn’t fare well last week. If the contention that this is a market that corrects itself through its sector rotation, then this may be a time to consider loading up on financials, particularly as there are hints of interest rate rises. Citibank’s beta inserts some more excitement into the proposition, however.

Like many others, Dow Chemical (DOW) took its knocks last week before recovering much of its loss. Also like many that I am attracted toward, it has been trading in a price range and has been thwarted by attempts to break out of that range. Mindful of a market that is pushing against its highs, this is a stock that I don’t mind owning for longer than most other holdings, if necessary. The generous dividend helps the patient investor wait on the event of a price reversal. For those a little longer term oriented, Dow Chemical may also be a good addition for a portfolio that sells LEAPs.

Like all but one of this week’s selections, I have owned shares of International Paper (IP) on a number of occasions in the past year. While shares are now well off of their undeserved recent lows there is still ample upside opportunity and shares seemed to have created support at the $45 level. My preference, as with some other stocks on this week’s list is that a little of the past week’s late gains be retraced, but that’s not a necessary condition for re-purchasing International Paper.

Baxter International (BAX) has been also in a trading range of late having been boxed in by worries related to competition in its hemophilia product lines to concerns over the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. Also having recovered some of its past week’s losses it, too, is trading at the mid-point of its recent range and doesn’t appear to have any near term catalysts to see it break below its trading range. The availability of expanded options provide some greater flexibility when holding shares.

Joy Global (JOY) had been on an upswing of late but has subsequently given back about 5% from its recent high. It reports earnings this week and its implied price move is nearly 6%. However, its option pricing doesn’t offer premiums enhanced by earnings for any strike levels beyond that are beyond the implied move. While a frequent position, including having had shares assigned this past week, the risk/reward is not sufficient to purchase shares or sell puts prior to the earnings release. However, in the event hat shares do drop, I would consider purchasing shares if it trades below $52.50, as that has been a very comfortable place to initiate positions and sell calls.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) on the other hand, has an implied move of about 8% and can potentially return 1.1% even if the stock falls nearly 9%. In this jittery market a 9% drop isn’t even attention getting, but a 20% drop , such as LuLuLemon experienced in June 2013 does get noticed. Its shares are certainly able to have out-sized moves, but it has already weathered quite a few challenges, ranging from product recalls, the announced resignation of its CEO and comments from its founder that may have insulted current and potential customers. I don’t expect a drop similar to that seen in December 2012, but can justify owning shares in the event of an earnings related drop.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD), long a favorite of mine, is generally a fairly staid company, as far as staying out of the news for items not related to its core business. It can often trade with some volatility, especially as it has a habit of providing less than sanguine guidance and the street hasn’t yet learned to ignore the pessimistic outlook, as RIverbed tends to report very much in line with expectations. Recently the world of activist investors knocked on Riverbed’s doors and they responded by enacting a “poison pill.” While I wouldn’t suggest considering adding shares solely on the basis of the prompting from activist investors, Riverbed has long offered a very enticing risk/reward proposition when selling covered calls or puts. It is one of the few positions that I sometimes consider a longer term option sale when purchasing shares or rolling over option contracts.

Finally, and this is certainly getting to be a broken record, but eBay (EBAY) has once again fulfilled prophecy by trading within the range that was used as an indictment of owning shares. For yet another week I had two differently priced lots of eBay shares assigned and am anxious to have the opportunity to re-purchase if they approach $52, or don’t get higher than $52.50. While there may be many reasons to not have much confidence in eBay to lead the market or to believe that its long term strategy is destined to crumble, sometimes it’s worthwhile having your vision restricted to the tip of your nose.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Macys (ex-div 12/11), Williams Co (ex-div 12/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/11 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (12/12 AM)

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

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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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Weekend Update – March 10, 2013

It only seems fitting that one of the final big stories of the week that saw the Dow Jones eclipse its nearly 6 year old record high would be the latest reports of how individual banks performed on the lmost recent round of “stress tests.” After all, it was the very same banks that created significant national stress through their equivalent of bad diet, lack of exercise and other behavioral actions.

Just as I know that certain foods are bad for me and that exercise is good, I’m certain that the banks knew that sooner or later their risky behavior would catch up with them. The difference is that when I had my heart attack the effects were restricted to a relatively small group of people and I didn’t throw any one out of their homes.

Having had a few stress tests over the years myself, I know that sometimes the anticipation of the results is its own stress test. But for some reason, I don’t believe that the banks that were awaiting the results are facing the same concerns. Although I’m only grudgingly modifying my behavior, it’s not clear to me that the banks are or at least can be counted to stay out of the potato chip bag when no one is looking.

Over the past year I’ve held shares in Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Morgan Stanley (MS), still currently holding the latter two. They have been, perhaps, the least stressful of my holdings the past year or so, but I must admit I was hoping that some among that group would just go and fail so that they could become a bit more reasonably priced and perhaps even drag the market down a bit. But in what was, instead, a perfect example of “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” success led to most stressed bank shares falling.

The other story is simply that of the market. Now that its surpassed the 2007 highs it just seems to go higher in a nonchalant manner, not giving any indication of what’s really in the works. I’ve been convinced for the past 2 or three weeks that the market was headed lower and I’ve taken steps for a very mild Armageddon. Raising cash and using longer term calls to cover positions seemed like a good idea, but the only thing missing was being correct in predicting the direction of the market. For what it’s worth, I was much closer on the magnitude.

The employment numbers on Friday morning were simply good news icing on the cake and just added to my personal stress, which reflected a combination of over-exposure to stocks reacting to speculation on the Chinese economy and covered call positions in a climbing market.

Fortunately, the news of successful stress test results serves to reduce some of my stress and angst. With news that the major banking centers have enough capital to withstand severe stresses, you do have to wonder whether they will now loosen up a bit and start using that capital to heat up the economy. Not to beat a contrarian horse to death, but since it seems inevitable that lending has to resume as banking portfolios are reaching maturity, it also seems inevitable that the Federal Reserve’s exit strategy is now in place.

For those that believe the Federal Reserve was the prime sponsor of the market’s appreciation and for those who believe the market discounts into the future, that should only spell a market that has seen its highs. Sooner or later my theory has to be right.

I’m fine with that outcome and would think it wonderfully ironic if that reversal started on the anniversary of the market bottom on March 10, 2009.

But in the meantime, individual investment money still has to be put to work. Although I continue to have a negative outlook and ordinarily hedge my positions by selling options, the move into cash needs to be hedged as well – and what better way to hedge than with stocks?

Not just any stocks, but the boring kind, preferably dividend paying kind, while limiting exposure to more controversial positions. People have their own unique approaches to different markets. There’s a time for small caps, a time for consumer defensive and a time for dividend paying companies. The real challenge is knowing what time it is.

As usual, this week’s selections are categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum or Double Dip DIvidend (see details). As earnings season is winding down there appear to be no compelling earnings related trades in the coming week.

Although my preference would be for shares of Caterpillar (CAT) to approach $85, I’m heartened that it didn’t follow Deere’s (DE) path last week. I purchased Deere and subsequently had it assigned, as it left Caterpillar behind, for the first time in 2013, as they had tracked one another fairly closely. With the latest “news du jour” about a Chinese government commitment to maintaining economic growth, there may be enough positive news to last a week, at which point I would be happy to see the shares assigned and cash redeployed elsewhere.

Along with assigned shares of Deere were shares of McGraw Hill (MHP). It’s price spiked a bit early in the week and then returned close enough to the strike price that a re-purchase, perhaps using the same strike price may be a reasonable and relatively low risk trade, if the market can maintain some stability.

There’s barely a day that goes by that you don’t hear some debate over the relative merits of Home Depot (HD) and Lowes (LOW). Home Depot happens to be ex-dividend this week and, unless it causes havoc with you need to be diversified, there’s no reason that both companies can’t be own concurrently. Now tat Lowes offers weekly options I’ve begun looking more frequently at its movement, not just during the final week of a monthly option cycle, which coincidentally we enter on Monday.

I rarely find good opportunity to purchase shares of Merck (MRK). It’s option premium is typically below the level that seems to offer a fair ROI. That’s especially true when shares are about to go ex-dividend. However, this week looks more appealing and after a quick look at the chart there doesn’t appear to be much more than a 5% downside relative to the overall market.

Macys (M) is another company that I’ve enjoyed purchasing to capture its dividend and then hold until shares are assigned. It’s trading about 6% higher than when I last held shares three weeks ago and is currently in a high profile legal battle with JC Penney (JCP). There is certainly downside in the event of an adverse decision, however, it now appears as if the judge presiding over the case may hold some sway as he has suggested that the sides find a resolution. That would be far less likely to be draconian for any of the parties. The added bonuses are that Macys is ex-dividend this week and it too has been added to the list of those companies offering weekly option contracts.

Cablevision (CVC) is one of New York’s least favorite companies. The distaste that people have for the company goes well beyond that which is normally directed at utilities and cable companies. There is animus director at the controlling family, the Dolans, that is unlike that seen elsewhere, as they have not always appeared to have shareholder interests on the list of things to consider. But, as long as they are paying a healthy dividend that is not known to be at risk, I can put aside any personal feelings.

Michael Kors (KORS) isn’t very consistent with the overall theme of staid, dividend paying stocks. After a nice earnings related trade a few weeks ago and rise in share price, Kors ran into a couple of self-made walls. First, it announced a secondary offering and then the founder, Michael Kors, announced a substantial sale of personal shares. It also may have more downside potential if you are one that likes looking at charts. However, from a consumer perspective, as far as retailers go, it is still” hot” and offers weekly options with appealing enough premiums for the risk. This turned out to be one of the few selections for which I couldn’t wait until the following week and sent out a Trading Alert on Friday morning.

Seagate Technology (STX) is another theme breaker. In the past I have had good fortune selling puts after price drops, which are frequent and sudden. The additional downside is that when drops do come, the recoveries are relatively slow, so patience may be required, as well as some tolerance for stress if selling puts and the price starts approaching the strike.

The final theme buster is Transocean (RIG). Is there anything that Carl Icahn is not involved with these days? Transocean has been a frequent trading vehicle for me over the years. Happy when weekly options became available, I was disappointed a few weeks ago when they disappeared. It is part of the “Evil Troika” that I often own concurrently. If purchased, Transocean will once again join British Petroleum (BP) in the portfolio, replacing Halliburton (HAL) which was assigned on Friday. Transocean has re-instituted the dividend, although it will still be a few months until the first such payment. Icahn believes that it is too little and too late. I don’t know how he would have the wherewithal to change the “too late” part, but most people would be happy with the proposed 4+% dividend.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Lowes

Momentum Stocks: McGraw Hill, Michael Kors, Seagate Technology, Transocean

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 3/13), Home Depot (ex-div 3/12), Macys (ex-div 3/13), Merck (ex-div 3/13)

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.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

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Weekend Update – March 3, 2013

Sequester This.

Despite being a reasonably smart guy, I’ve never understood how to play the game of “craps.” It’s too fast, there are too many possible decisions and when you get right down to it, it’s name is probably based on something that aptly describes something you’d rather not touch or taste. A name like that should serve as fair warning to stay away. Sometimes a glance at the people playing the game sends the same message.

Not that a word like “sequester” is any better. The very sound of “sequestration” makes me want to cringe as I think about what my poor dachshund had to endure. It’s probably almost as bad as what the individual investor has to endure on a maddeningly frequent basis as markets whipsaw for no apparent reason, yet there’s never a shortage of reasons to explain the unexplainable. At least the dog never required an explanation and eventually went on his way, fully healed from the experience. I can’t say the same thing about my portfolio.

The events that spurred the past week’s early sell-off was by all accounts equal parts Italy, Federal Reserve and Sequestration. Later in the week, as the market was knocking at the gates of 2007’s record levels it was Italy, the Federal Reserve and the lack of interest in the Sequestration that were responsible for the turn of events.

What’s not to understand?

Just a few months earlier the new year’s gains were said to be due to averting the Fiscal Cliff. You may or may not recall the gyrations the market took as competing elected officials decided to vent and spew as they raised and then dashed hopes of a meaningful resolution and simply played craps with other people’s portfolios. Since we’ve all learned that ethical guidelines regarding investment portfolios of elected officials are rather lax, you had to wonder just how the “house” odds were stacked in their game of craps.

This time around as the Sequestration deadline loomed the market just kept chugging along higher. It’s hard to understand that as it seems that there can only be a downside, regardless of whether a resolution is reached or not, unless it becomes clear that there really is no danger posed by this thing they’ve called “The Sequester.”

It seems odd that many are taking great pains to paint frightening and untenable outcomes if the sequestration becomes reality. Yet no one seems to care. Not the man on the street, who based on his knowledge of geography can’t possibly have any idea of what the sequestration is, nor the markets.

To me, the ultimate game of craps was being played this week, as no one really knows what either outcome to this most recent crisis will bring the economy or the markets. Yet that didn’t stop concerned parties from dueling press conferences and then abandoning Washington, DC prior to the deadline and prior to an agreement. Most of all, it didn’t end money pouring into stocks and pushing them higher and higher.

Couple that uncertainty with the certainty that myriads of people beginning to foam at the corners of their mouths felt as we got tantalizingly closer to the heights of 2007. That’s precisely how storms are created.

Just as there were dueling certainties, we also had dueling countdown clocks this past week. Nothing good ever comes of those clocks, whether for the sequestration deadline or Dow points until 14164.

Option to Profit subscribers know that I’ve been unusually dour the past week or two out of concern for a repeat of 2012’s market month long 9% drop. The course that we’re following currently seems eerily familiar.

With that personal concern it’s somewhat more difficult to select stock picks for the coming week, particularly while also looking for opportunities to raise cash positions in preparation for bargains ahead.

However, as Jim Cramer has long said, “there’s always a bull market somewhere.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but there’s always a strategic approach to fit every circumstance.

In this case, while I strongly favor weekly options, where they are available, concerns regarding a quick and sharp downturn lead me to look more closely at monthly or even longer option opportunities in an attempt to still put money to work but to not be left empty handed after expiration of a weekly contract, while then holding a greatly devalued position. The longer term contracts, although perhaps offering lower time adjusted ROIs, do offer some opportunity to assure premium flow for more than a single week and do allow for greater time to ride out any storms.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” and include a look at premiums derived from selling weekly, remaining March 2013 options or April 2013 options (see details).

Deere (DE) was on my list last week, as well. But like most items on the list last week, it remained unpurchased as my cautionary outlook was already at work. In the past month Deere has already had a fairly big drop compared to the S&P 500. I don’t see very much sequester related risk with a position right now, but Deere does have a habit of getting dragged along with others reacting to bad industrial news.COF

Citibank (C) was also on the list last week, but was replaced by Morgan Stanley (MS) as one of the few trades of the week. Although I’m expecting some market challenges ahead, I don’t believe that the decline will be lead by financials, which have already been week of late. If the sequestration occurs and some of the forecasted job cuts become reality, in the short term, I would expect the credit side of Capital One’s (COF) business to benefit. I’ve had Capital One on my wish list in the past, but haven’t bought shares for quite a while, as its monthly only options premiums were always off putting. Now that there are weekly options available, it seems strange that I’d be looking more toward the security provided by the longer term contracts.

With all of the dysfunction at JC Penney (JCP) and Sears’ (SHLD) ambivalence about its position in retail, Kohls (KSS) is just a solid performer. Its been in the news lately, including the rumor category. My shares were recently assigned, but as earnings are out of the way and price is returning to the comfort range, Kohls, too, is another of the boring, but reliable stocks that can be especially welcome when all else is languishing.

Although I own Williams Companies (WMB) with some frequency, I’m not certain that I can refer to it as one of my “favorites.” It’s performance while holding it is usually middling, but sometimes it’s alright to be just average. Williams does go ex-dividend this week and is also in my comfort zone with its current price.

YUM Brands (YUM) is one of those stocks that seem to have a revolving door in my portfolio. It is probably as responsive to analysts interpretation of events as any stock that I’ve seen and it typically finds its way back to where it started before the poorly conceived interpretations were unleashed on the investing public. I had wanted to pick up shares last week to replace those assigned the week prior, but simply valued cash more.

Praxair (PX) is just a boring company whose big gas tanks are ubiquitous. Sometimes boring companies are just the right tonic, when the stresses of a falling market are prevailing, at least in my mind. Making a dividend payment this week makes it less boring and perhaps it still has enough helium on hand to resist falling.

Pandora (P) reports earnings this week and it is fully capable of moving 25% on that event. At the moment, the options market is factoring in approximately a 16% move. AT it’s current price, I would strongly consider taking chances of receiving a 1+% ROI in return for seeing a 25% or less price drop.

On a positive note, we can draw a parallel from an astute observation from more than a century ago. Since “everything that can be invented has been invented,” there was clearly no future need for the Patent Office. So too, with the passing of the Sequestration, there can be no other unforeseen man made fiscal crises possible, so it should all be milk and honey going forward. Don’t let the higher volatility fool you into believing otherwise.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Capital One, Kohls

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Williams Company (ex-div 3/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Pandora (3/7 PM)

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

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan