Weekend Update – October 18, 2015

You have to be impressed with the way the market has rallied back from the morning of the most recent Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks earlier.

At the low point of that morning when the market seemed appropriately disappointed by the very disappointing numbers and the lowered revisions the S&P 500 had sunk to a point more than 11% below its recent high.

At its peak point of return since that low the S&P 500 was only 4.9% below its summer time high.

The difficulty in sustaining a large move in a short period of time is no different from the limitations we see in ourselves after expending a burst of energy and even those who are finally tuned to deliver high levels of performance.

When you think about a sprinter who’s asked to run a longer distance or bringing in a baseball relief pitcher who’s considered to be a “closer” with more than an inning to go, you see how difficult it can be to reach deep down when there’s nothing left to reach for.

Sometimes you feel as if there’s no choice and hope for the best.

You also can see just how long the recovery period can be after you’ve been asked to deliver more than you’ve been capable of delivering in the past. It seems that reaching deep down to do your best borrows heavily from the future.

While humans can often take a break and recharge a little markets are now world wide, inter-connected and plugged into a 24/7 news cycle.

While it may be boring when the market takes a rest by simply not moving anywhere, it can actually expend a lot of energy if it moves nowhere, but does so by virtue of large movements in off-setting directions.

We need a market that can now take a real rest and give up some of the histrionics, even though I like the volatility that it creates so that I can get larger premiums for the sale of options.

The seminal Jackson Browne song puts a different spin on the concept of “running on empty,” but the stock market doesn’t have the problems of a soulless wanderer, even though, as much as it’s subject to anthropomorphism, it has no soul of its own.

Nor does it have a body, but both body and soul can get tired. This market is just tired and sometimes there’s no real rest for the weary.

After having moved up so much in such a short period of time, it’s only natural to wonder just what’s left.

The market may have been digging deep down but its fuel cells were beginning to hit the empty mark.

This week was one that was very hard to read, as the financial sector began delivering its earnings and the best news that could come from those reports was that significantly decreased legal costs resulted in improved earnings, while core business activities were less than robust.

If that’s going to be the basis for an ongoing strategy, that’s not a very good strategy. Somehow, though, the market consistently reversed early disappointment and drove those financials reporting lackluster top and bottom lines higher and higher.

You can’t help but wonder what’s left to give.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) may be on very different ends of the scale, but they’ve both known some very bad days this year.

For American Express it came with the news that it was no longer going to be accepted as the sole credit card at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores around the nation. While that was bad enough, the really bad news came with the realization of just how many American Express card holders were actually holders of the Costco co-branded card.

There was a great Bloomberg article this week on some of the back story behind the American Express and Costco relationship and looks at their respective cultures and the article does raise questions about American Express’ ability to continue commanding a premium transaction payment from retailers, as well as continuing to keep their current Costco cardholders without the lure of Costco.

What American Express has been of late is a steady performer and the expectation should be that the impact of its loss of business in 2016 has already been discounted.

American Express reports earnings this week, but it’s option premiums aren’t really significantly enhanced by uncertainty.

Normally, I look to the sale of puts to potentially take advantage of earnings, but with American Express I might also consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of calls and then strapping on for what could be a bumpy ride.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand only recently starting accepting American Express cards and that relationship was seen as a cheapening of the elite American Express brand, but we can all agree that money is money and that may trump everything else.

Apparently, however, investors didn’t seem to realize that Wal-Mart’s well known plan to increase employee salaries was actually going to cost money and they were really taken by surprise this week when they learned just how much.

What’s really shocking is that some very simple math could have spelled it out with some very reasonable accuracy since the number of workers eligible to receive the raise and the size of the raise have been known for months.

It reminds me of the shock expressed by Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca” as he says “I’m shocked to find gambling is going on in here,” as he swoops up his winnings.

Following the decline and with a month still to go until earnings are reported, this new bit of uncertainty has enhanced the option premiums and a reasonable premium can possibly be found even when also trying to secure some capital gains from shares by using an out of the money strike price.

The Wal-Mart news hit retail hard, although to be fair, Target’s (NYSE:TGT) decline started as a plunge the prior day, when it fell 5% in the aftermath of an unusually large purchase of short term put options.

While I would look at Target as a short term trade, selling a weekly call option on shares, in the hope that there would be some recovery in the coming week, there may also be some longer term opportunities. That’s because Target goes ex-dividend and then reports earnings 2 days later during the final week of the November 2015 option cycle.

DuPont (NYSE:DD), Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) don’t have very much in common, other than some really large share plunges lately, something they all share with American Express and Wal-Mart.

But that’s exactly the kind of market it has been. There have been lots of large plunges and very slow recoveries. It’s often been very difficult to reconcile an overall market that was hitting all time highs at the same time that so many stocks were in correction mode.

DuPont’s plunge came after defeating an activist in pursuit of Board seats, but the announcement of the upcoming resignation of its embattled CEO has put some life back into shares, even as they face the continuing marketplace challenges.

Dupont will report earnings the following week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the November 2015 option cycle.

While normally considering entering a new position with a short term option sale, I may consider the use of a monthly option in this case in an effort to get a premium reflecting its increased volatility and possibly also capturing its dividend, while hoping for some share appreciation, as well.

Seagate Technology is simply a mess at a time that hardware companies shouldn’t be and it may become attractive to others as its price plunges.

Storage, memory and chips have been an active neighborhood, but Seagate’s recent performance shows you the risks involved when you think that a stock has become value priced.

I thought that any number of times about Seagate Technology over the course of the past 6 months, but clearly what goes low, can go much lower.

Seagate reports earnings on October 30th, so my initial approach would likely be to consider the sale of weekly, out of the money puts and hope for the best. If in jeopardy of being assigned due to a price decline, I would consider rolling the contract over. The choice of time frame for that possible rollover will depend upon Seagate’s announcement of their next ex-dividend date, which should be sometime in early November 2015.

With that dividend in mind, a very generous one and seemingly safe, thoughts could turn to taking assignment of shares and then selling calls in an effort to keep the dividend.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn’t really taken the same kind of single day plunge of some of those other companies, but its slow decline is finally making Jim Chanos’ much publicized 2 year short position seem to be genius.

It’s share price connection to Chinese economic activity continues and lately that hasn’t been a good thing. Caterpillar is both ex-dividend this week and reports earnings. That’s generally not a condition that I like to consider, although there are a number of companies that do the same and when they are also attractively priced it may warrant some more attention.

In this case, Caterpillar is ex-dividend on October 22nd and reports earnings that same morning. That means that if someone were to attempt to exercise their option early in order to capture the dividend, they mist do so by October 21st.

Individual stocks have been brutalized for much of 2015 and they’ve been slow in recovering.

Among the more staid selections for consideration this week are Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) and Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

I’ve always liked Fastenal and have always considered it a company that quietly reflects United States economic activity, both commercial and personal. At a time when so much attention has been focused on currency exchange and weakness in China, you would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that it was a perfect time to pick up or add shares of a company that is essentially immune to both, perhaps benefiting from a strong US Dollar.

Well, if you weren’t wrong, I have been and am already sitting on an expensive lot of uncovered shares.

With only monthly option contracts and earnings already having been reported, I would select a slightly out of the money option strike or when the December 2015 contracts are released possibly consider the slightly longer term and at a higher strike price, in the belief that Fastenal has been resting long enough at its current level and is ready for another run.

Colgate-Palmolive is a company that I very infrequently own, but always consider doing so when its ex-dividend date looms.

I should probably own it on a regular basis just to show solidarity with its oral health care products, but that’s never crossed my mind.

Not too surprisingly, given its business and sector, even from peak to trough, Colgate-Palmolive has fared far better than many and will likely continue to do so in the event of market weakness. While it may not keep up with an advancing market, that’s something that I long ago reconciled myself to, when deciding to pursue a covered option strategy.

As a result of it being perceived as having less uncertainty it’s combined option premium and dividend, if captured, isn’t as exciting as for some others, but there’s also a certain personal premium to be paid for the lack of excitement.

The excitement may creep back in the following week as Colgate reports earnings and in the event that a weekly contract has to be rolled over I would considered rolling over to a date that would allow some time for price recovery in the event of an adverse price move.

Reporting earnings this week are Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Other than the controversy surrounding its high technology swim suits at the last summer Olympics, Under Armour hasn’t faced much in the way of bad news. Even then, it proved to have skin every bit as repellent as its swim suits.

The news of the resignation of its COO, who also happened to serve as CFO, sent shares lower ahead of earnings.

The departure of such an important person is always consequential, although perhaps somewhat less so when the founder and CEO is still an active and positive influence in the company, as is most definitely the case with under Armour.

However, the cynic sees the timing of such a departure before earnings are released, as foretelling something awry.

The option market is implying a price move of about 7.5%, while a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained through the sale of puts 9% below Friday’s closing price.

For me, the cynic wins out, however. Under Armour then becomes another situation that I would consider the sale of puts contracts after earnings if shares drop strongly after the report, or possible before earnings if there is a sharp decline in its advance.

I’m of the beli
ef that Google’s new corporate name, “Alphabet” will be no different from so many other projects in beta that were quietly or not so quietly dropped.

There was a time that I very actively traded Google and sold calls on the positions.

That seems like an eternity ago, as Google has settled into a fairly stodgy kind of stock for much of the past few years. Even its reaction to earnings reports have become relatively muted, whereas they once were things to behold.

That is if you ignore its most recent earnings report which resulted in the largest market capitalization gain in a single day in the history of the world.

Now, Alphabet is sitting near its all time highs and has become a target in a way that it hasn’t faced before. While it has repeatedly faced down challenges to its supremacy in the world of search, the new challenge that it is facing comes from Cupertino and other places, as ad blockers may begin to show some impact on Alphabet’s bread and butter product, Google.

Here too, the reward offered for the risk of selling puts isn’t very great, as the option market is implying a 6% move. That $40 move in either direction could bring shares down to the $620 level, at which a barely acceptable 1% ROI for a weekly put sale may be achieved.

With no cushion between what the market is implying and where a 1% ROI can be had, I would continue to consider the sale of puts if a large decline precedes the report or occurs after the report, but I don’t think that I would otherwise proactively trade prior to earnings.

Finally, VMWare (NYSE:VMW) also reports earnings this week.

If you’re looking for another stock that has plunged in the past week or so, you don’t have to go much further than VMWare, unless your definition requires a drop of more than 15%.

While it has always been a volatile name, VMWare is now at the center of the disputed valuation of the proposed buyout of EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC), which itself has continued to be the major owner of VMWare.

I generally like stocks about to report earnings when they have already suffered a large loss and this one seems right.

The option market is implying about a 5.2% move next week, yet there’s no real enhancement of the put premium, in that a 1% ROI could be obtained, but only at the lower border of the implied move.

The structure of the current buyout proposal may be a factor in limiting the price move that option buyers and sellers are expecting and may be responsible for the anticipated sedate response to any news.

While that may be the case, I think that the downside may be under-stated, as has been the case for many stocks over the past few months, so the return is not enough to get me to take the risk. But, as also has been the case for the past few months, it may be worthy considering to pile on if VMWare disappoints further and shares continue their drop after earnings are released.

That should plump up the put premium as there might be concern regarding the buyout offer on the table, which is already suspect.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, DuPont, Target, Wal-Mart

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, YUM Brands

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (10/22 $0.71), Colgate-Palmolive (10/21 $0.38), Fastenal (10/23 $0.28),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alphabet (10/22 PM), Under Armour (10/22 AM), VMWare (10/20 PM)

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

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Copyright 2015 TheAcsMan

Weekend Update – April 19, 2015

When I was a kid just about the funniest word any of us had ever heard was “fink.” Way back then that was pretty much the way Mad Magazine felt too, as it used that word with great regularity.

I was stunned the very first time I actually met someone whose last name was “Fink,” but that came only after some giggles. I think the only thing funnier was when I met Morris Lipschitz.

Sadly, I thought that was funny even though it was after college, as it reminded me of the prank phone calls we used to make as kids.

I think “fink” has since fallen out of common parlance. Back then hearing the word “Fink” word evoked the same reactions as today’s kids may experience when hearing a sentence such as “but I do do what you tell me to do.”

I don’t think that’s very funny after the first 20 or so times, but I’ve gained a certain level of maturity over the years.

I don’t know very much with any degree of certainty, but I do know that I’m never likely to meet Larry Fink, the CEO and Chairman of BlackRock (NYSE:BLK).

With more than $4 trillion under management people at least give the courtesy of listening when Larry Fink speaks, even if they may not agree with the message or the opinion. The only giggles that he may get are when people may feel the need to laugh when they’re not certain if he’s joking.

This week, he wasn’t joking, although there were certainly some, at whom his message was directed, that won’t take it seriously or to heart.

I never really thought about Larry Fink very much until this week whenhe said something that needed to be said.

While investors seem to love buybacks and dividend hikes Fink politely said that CEOs were being “too nice to shareholders.”

The most conventional interpretation is that buybacks and dividends may be coming at the expense of future growth, research and investment in the business. It also calls into question whether you really need a CEO and a board to do any long range strategic planning if companies are going to become something on the order of a REIT and just return earnings to shareholders in one form or another while effectively mortgaging the future.

Of course, that also calls into question the role
or responsibility of activists, who now take great pains to distinguish themselves from what used to be called corporate raiders back in the days when I thought the very mention of Lipschitz was hilarious.

They may be more genteel in their ways and they may stick around longer, but so do buzzards as long as there’s still something left on the carcass.

What Fink didn’t directly say was that CEOs and their Board of Directors were being far too nice to themselves at the expense of the future health of their company. Their paydays, both direct and indirect, benefit far more from short term strategies than do shareholders, especially those who are truly investors and not traders.

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric (NYSE:GE) which has certainly been in the news lately for its own buybacks, may, in hindsight begin to seem like an Emperor without much of a wardrobe. The haze from hot air may have obscured the view, but to his never ending credit, Welch has long criticized incompetent board directors and the roles they may play in the diminution of once great American companies.

Sooner or later the cash needed for buybacks is going to start to dry up, especially when the predominant buying of shares may be at price far removed from bargain share prices.

What then?

It’s difficult to argue that fundamentals have been altered through intervention in the form of buybacks, but that fuel may have peaked with the recent General Electric announcement. It’s hard to imagine, but we may soon get to that point that quarter to quarter comparisons will actually have to depend on real earnings and not simply benefiting from having fewer and fewer shares in the float from one quarter to the next.

The prevailing question, at least in my mind, is where will the next real catalyst come from to drive markets higher. As currency exchange issues have been making themselves tangible as earnings are forthcoming, the impact has, thus far been minimal as we’ve been expecting the drag on earnings.

Prior to Friday’s sell off, the limited earnings reports received where currency was a detrimental factor in earnings and forward guidance was greeted positively, as the news wasn’t as bad as expected.

Fortunately, the market reacted to the expected bad news in a more mature manner than I’ve been known to react to names.

But going higher on less disappointing than expected results is not a good strategy to keep banking on. There has to be something more tangible than things not being as bad as we thought, especially as energy prices may be stabilizing and interest rates moving higher.

Larry Fink has the perfect solution, although it’s a little old fashioned.

Invest in yourself.

That’s sound advice for individuals, just as it is for businesses that care about growth and prosperity.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) has not had a very good ride since Costco (NASDAQ:COST) announced that it was terminating its co-branding agreement with them, that allowed it to be the exclusive card accepted at its shopping warehouses. While that may not have been a huge surprise, what was a surprise was just how important of a player Costco may have been in American Express revenues. As a result, those shares have fallen more than 10% in the 2 months since the announcement of the split, which will occur in the first quarter of 2016.

American Express reported earnings this past week and dropped heavily on Friday, having done so before the overall market turned very sour. But buried in the bad news of decreased revenue, that supposedly stemmed from decreased gas sales, was the fact that they don’t anticipate further revenue declines this year.

Based on my perception of recent degradation in customer service, I think that they may have already become cost cutting through workforce reductions prior to the end of their agreement with Costco. SO while revenue may not be growing any time in 2015, the bottom line may end up better than expected.

While there may not be much in the way of growth prospects this year a rising interest rate environment will still help American Express and it is now offering a better option premium than it has in quite some time as uncertainty has taken hold.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) both report earnings this week and both will likely report the adverse impact of a stronger US dollar and provide guarded guidance, but if the past week is any guide the market will be understanding.

Despite the bump received from their new CEO and the bump received from having an activist pushing eBay’s Board’s buttons, Microsoft and eBay respectively have trailed the S&P 500 over the past year.

Microsoft still hasn’t recovered from its last earnings decline, although eBay has, but in the past month has been making its way back toward those near term lows as it may be getting closer to spinning off its profitable PayPal unit having just completed a 5 year non-compete contract with PayPal.

As eBay approaches that lower price level it has returned within the range that I’m comfortable buying shares. While I u
sually consider the sale of puts as the primary way to engage with a stock getting ready to report earnings, I wouldn’t mind owning shares and the enhanced premium offsets some of the added risk of entering a position at this point.

As with eBay, I prefer considering an earnings related trade when shares have already had some downside pressure on shares. While eBay is a better candidate in that regard, Microsoft also has a premium that will also offset some of the earnings related risk. Like eBay, the options market is anticipating a relatively sedate price move, that if correct in magnitude, even if an adverse direction, could be relatively easily managed while awaiting some recovery.

Colgate (NYSE:CL) goes ex-dividend this week and I continually tell myself that I will be someday be buying shares. As a one time Pediatric Dentist it’s probably the least I could do after a lifetime of being the fifth out of those 5 dentists on the panel. But somehow that’s never happened, to the best of my recollection.

While it does have a low beta and isn’t necessarily shares that you buy in anticipation of excitement, if those shares are not assigned during the upcoming week, there is a need to be prepared for earnings the following week and potentially the need for a longer term commitment if earnings disappoint.

I like considering Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) whenever its shares have gotten to the point of having declined 10%. It has done just that and a little bit more in the past month and does it on a fairly regular basis. But in doing so over the past 14 months the lows have been higher as have the highs along the way.

That has been a good formula for considering either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts. In either case the premium has long reflected the risk, but the risk appears to be definable and at lest there aren’t too many currency exchange concerns to cloud whatever issues Best Buy faces as it is currently once again relevant.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) was on my list last week as a potential candidate to join the portfolio. However, with cash reserves low, it wasn’t a very active week, with only a single new position opened.

This week, despite the sell-off on Friday, I had the good fortune of still being able to see a number of positions get assigned and was able to replenish cash reserves. With a 2.5% decline last week, considerably worse than the S&P 500, Bed Bath and Beyond added to its post-earnings losses from the previous week, as it often does after previous earnings declines. But what it also has done after those declines is to relatively quickly recover.

I think the weakness this week brings us simply one week closer to recovery and while waiting for that recovery the shares do allow you to generate a competitive return for option sales. Because of that anticipated recovery, I might consider using an out of the money option and a time frame longer than a single week, however, particularly as Friday’s market weakness may need its own time for recovery.

Finally, SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) didn’t disappoint when it announced its earnings this past week. It was certainly in line with all of the warnings that it had given over the past month and may make many wonder whether or not they may be Jack Welch’s new poster child for dysfunction at the C-suite and board levels.

With everyone seeming to pile on in their criticism of the company and calling for even more downward price pressure, I’m reminded that SanDisk has been down this path before and arose for the ashes that others had defined for it.

The year to date descent in share price has been impressive and it is only a matter of great luck that I had shares assigned right before another one of its precipitous plunges.

This one is definitely not one for the faint of heart, but I would consider entering a position through the sale of puts, rolling them over, if faced with assignment. However, with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I’d be more inclined to take assignment if faced with it, collect the dividend and work the call sale side of share ownership.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Bed Bath and Beyond

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate (4/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (4/22 PM), Microsoft (4/23 PM)

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

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Copyright 2015 TheAcsMan

Weekend Update – January 18, 2015

This was really a wild week and somehow, with all of the negative movement, and despite futures that were again down triple digits in the previous evening’s futures trading, the stock market somehow managed to move to higher ground to bring a tumultuous week to its end.

Actually, the reason it did so is probably no mystery as the market seems to have re-coupled with oil prices, for good or for bad.

Still it was a week when stocks, interest rates, precious and non-precious metals, oil and currencies were all bouncing around wildly, as thus far, is befitting for 2015.

The tonic, one would have thought could have come from the initiation of another earnings season, traditionally led by the major banks. However “the big boys” suffered on top and bottom lines, citing disappointing results in fixed income and currency trading, as well as simply being held hostage by a low interest rate environment for their more mundane activities, like pumping money into the economy through loans.

Even worse, the unofficial spokesperson for the interest of those “too big to fail,” Jamie Dimon, seemed passively resigned to the reality that the Federal government was in charge and could do with systemically important institutions whatever it deemed appropriate, such as breaking them up.

The first sign of troubles came weeks ago as trader bonus cuts were announced. While declines in trader revenue were expected, the bonus cuts suggested that the declines were steeper than expected, particularly when the bonus cuts were greater than had only recently been announced.

Of course, that leads to the question: “If a banker can’t make money, then who can?”

That’s a reasonable question and has some basis in earnings seasons past and may provide some insight into the future.

For those who follow such things, the past few years have seen a large number of such earnings seasons start off with good news from the financial sector, only to have lackluster or disappointing results from the rest of the S&P 500, propped up by rampant buybacks.

What is rare, however, is to have the financials disappoint , yet then seeing the remainder of the market report good or better than expected earnings, particularly as the rate of increase of buybacks may be decreasing.

That is now where we stand with the second week of earnings season ready to begin when the market re-opens on Tuesday.

While there was already some clue that the major money center banks were not doing as well as perhaps expected, as bonuses were cut for many, the expectation has been that the broader economy, especially that reflecting consumer spending, would do well in an environment created by sharply falling energy prices.

Among gyrations this week were interest rates which only went lower on the week, much to the chagrin of those whose fortunes are tied to the certainty of higher rates and in face of expectations for increases, given growing employment, wage growth and the anticipated increase in consumer demand.

Funny thing about those expectations, though, as we got off to a bad start on the surprising news that retail sales for December 2014 didn’t seem to reflect any increased consumer spending, as most of us had expected, as the first dividend to come from falling energy prices.

While faith in the integrity and well being of our banking system is a cardinal tenet of our economy, it is just another representation of the certainty that investors need. That certainty was missing all of this past week as events, such as the action by the Swiss National Bank were unexpected, oil prices bounced by large leaps and falls without ob
vious provocation, copper prices plunged and gold seemed to be heating up.

How many of those did anyone expect to all be happening in a single week? Yet, on Friday, in a reversal of the futures, markets surged adding yet another of those large gains that are typically seen in bearish cycles.

Still, the coming week has its possible antidotes to what has been ailing us all through 2015. There are more earnings reports, including some more from the oil services sector, which could put some pessimism to rest with anything resembling better than expected news, such as was offered by Schlumberger (SLB) this past Friday, which also included a very unexpected dividend increase.

Also, this may finally be the week that Mario Draghi belatedly brings the European Central Bank into the previous decade and begins a much anticipated version of “quantitative easing.”

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. Additional earnings related trades may be seen in an accompanying article.

Among those big boys with disappointing stories to tell was JP Morgan Chase (JPM). In a very uncharacteristic manner, CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon didn’t exude optimism and confidence, instead seemingly accepting whatever fate would be assigned by regulators. Of course, some of that resignation comes in the face of likely new assaults on Dodd-Frank, which could only be expected to benefit Dimon and others.

Whether banks and large financial institutions are under assault or not may be subject to debate, but the assault on JP Morgan’s share price is not, as it has fallen about 11% over the past two weeks, despite a nice gain on Friday.

While still above its 52 week low, unless interest rates continue their surprising descent and go lower than 1.8% for a while, this appears to be a long sought after entry point for shares. The volatility in the financial sector is so high that even with an upcoming 4 day trading week the option premium is very rich, reflecting the continuing uncertainty.

More importantly, may be the distinction that Dimon made between good and bad volatility, with JP Morgan having been subject to the bad kind of late.

The bad kind is when you have sustained moves higher or lower and the good kind is when you see a back and forth, often with little net change. The latter is a trader’s dream and it are the traders that make it rain at JP Morgan and others. That good kind of volatility is also what option writers hope will be coming their way.

So far, 2015 is sending a signal that it may be time to take the umbrellas out of storage.

MetLife (MET), with its 30 day period to challenge its designation as a “systemically important” financial institution, decided to make that challenge. As interest rates went even lower this week, momentarily breaching the 1.8% level, MetLife’s shares continued its decline.

If Dimon is correct in his resignation that nothing can really be done when regulators want to express their whims, then we should have already factored that certainty into MetLife’s share price. It too, like JP Morgan, had a nice advance on Friday, but is still about 11% lower in the past 2 weeks and has an upcoming dividend to consider, in addition to earnings a week afterward.

Intel (INTC), a stellar performer in 2014, joined the financials in reporting disappointing earnings this past week. While it did get swept along with just about everything else higher in the final hour of trading, it had already begun its share recovery after hitting its day’s low in the first 30 minutes of trading.

After 2 very well received earnings reports the past quarters, it may have been too much to expect a third successive upside surprise. However, the giant that slid into somnolence as the world was changing around it has clearly reawakened and could make a very good covered option trade once again if it repeatedly faces upside resistance a
t $37.50.

I’m not quite certain how to characterize The Gap (GPS). I don’t know whether it’s fashionable, just offers value or is a default shopping location for families.

What I do know is that among my frequent holdings it has a longer average holding period than most others, despite having the availability of weekly options. That’s because it consistently jumps up and down in price, partially due to its habit of still reporting same store sales each month and partially for reasons that escape my ability to grasp.

Yet, it still trades in a fairly narrow range and for that reason it is a stock that I always like to consider on a decline. Because of its same store sales reports it offers an enhanced option premium on a monthly basis in addition to its otherwise average premium returns, but it also has an acceptable dividend for your troubles of holding it for any extended period of time.

As a Pediatric Dentist, you would think that I would own Colgate-Palmolive (CL) on a regular basis. However, I tend to put option premium above any sense of professional obligation. In that regard, during a sustained period of low volatility, Colgate-Palmolive hasn’t been a very appealing alternative investment. However, with volatility creeping higher, and with shares going ex-dividend this week, the premium is getting my attention.

Together with its recent 6% price decline and its relative immunity from oil prices, the time may have arrived to align professional and premium interests. However, if shares go unassigned, consideration has to be given to selecting an option expiration for a rollover trade that offers some protection in the event of an adverse price move after earnings, which are scheduled for the following week.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Cree (CREE), eBay (EBAY) and SanDisk (SNDK).

Cree is an example of a company that regularly has an explosive move at earnings and may present some opportunity if considering the sale of puts before, or even after earnings, in the event of a large decline.

I have experience with both in the past year and the process, as well as the result can be taxing. My most recent exploit having sold puts after a large decline and eventually closing that position at a loss, and both the process and the result were less than enjoyable.

That’s not something that I’d like to do again, but seeing the ubiquity of its products and the successive earnings disappointments in the past year, I’m encouraged by the fact that Cree hasn’t altered its guidance, as it has in the past in advance of earnings.

I generally prefer selling puts into a price decline, however Cree advanced by nearly 4% on Friday and reports earnings following Tuesday’s close. In the event of a meaningful decline in price before that announcement I would consider the sale of puts. The option market believes that there can be a move of 10.1% upon earnings release, however a 1% ROI can potentially be achieved even when selling a put contract at a strike that is 14.2% below Friday’s close.

Alternatively, in the event of a large drop after earnings, consideration can be given toward selling calls in the aftermath, although if past history is a guide, when it comes to Cree, what has plunged can plunge further.

SanDisk recently altered its guidance and saw its share price plunge nearly 20%. For some reason, so often after such profit warnings are provided before earnings, the market still seems surprised after earnings are released and send shares even lower.

While I’m interested in establishing a position in SanDisk, I’m not likely to do so before earnings are announced, as the option market is implying a price move of 7% and in order to achieve a 1% ROI the strike level required is only 7.5% below Friday’s closing price. That offers inadequate cushion between risk and reward. Because I expect a further decline, I would want a greater cushion, so would prefer to wait until earnings are released.

While Cree and SanDisk are volatile and, perhaps speculative, eBay is a very different breed. However, it is still prone to decisive moves at earnings and it has recently diffused disappointing earnings reports with announcements, such as the existence of an Icahn position or comments regarding a PayPal spin-off.

As opposed to most put sale, where I usually have no interest in taking ownership of shares, eBay is one that, if I sell puts and see an adverse move, would consider taking assignments, as it has been a very reliable covered call stock for the past few years, as its shares have traded in a very narrow range.

Despite a gain on Friday that trailed the market’s advance, it is about 6% below where I last had shares assigned and would be interested in initiating another new position before it becomes a less interesting and less predictable company upon its planned PayPal spin-off.

I tend to like Best Buy (BBY) when it is down or has had a large decline in shares. It has done so on a regular basis since January 2014 and did so again this past week, almost a year to the day of its nearly 33% drop.

This time it was a pin being forced into the bubble that its shares had recently been experiencing as the reality behind its sales figures indicated that margins weren’t really in the equation. Undertaking a “sales without profits” strategy like its brickless and mortarless counterpart isn’t a formula for long term success unless you have very, very deep pockets or a surprisingly disarming and infectious laugh, such as Jeff Bezos possesses.

While possibly selling all of those GoPro (GPRO) devices and other items over the holidays at little to no profit may not have been in Best Buy’s best interests, it may have helped others, for at least as long as that strategy can be maintained.

However, Best Buy has repeatedly been an acceptable buy after gaps down in its share price, although consideration can also be given to the sale of put contracts, as its price is still a bit higher than I would like to see for a re-entry.

Finally, there are probably a large number of reasons to dislike GoPro. For me, it may begin with the fact that I’m neither young, photogenic nor athletic. For others it may have to do with secondary offerings or the bent rules around its lock-up expiration. Certainly there will be those that aren’t happy about a 50% drop from its high just 3 months ago, which includes the 31% decline occurring in the days after the lock-up expiration.

While it has been on a downtrend after the most recent lock-up expiration, despite having traded higher in the days before and immediately afterward, the impetus for this week’s large decline appears to be the filing of a number of patents by Apple (AAPL) which many have construed as potentially offering competition to GoPro in the hardware space, all while GoPro is already seeking to re-invent itself or at least shift from a hardware company to a media company.

I don’t know too much about Apple and I know even less about GoPro, but Apple’s long history has shown that it doesn’t necessarily pounce into markets where there already seems to be a product that is being well received by consumers.

It prefers to pick on the weak and defenseless, albeit the ones with good ideas.

Apple has done incredibly well for itself in recognizing new technologies that might be in much greater demand if the existing products didn’t suffer from horrid design and engineering. Having a fractured manufacturer base with no predominant player has also been an open invitation to Apple to meld its design and marketing prowess and capture markets.

Whatever GoPro may suffer from, I don’t think that anyone has accused the GoPro product line of either of those shortcomings. so this most recent and pronounced decline may be unwarranted. However, GoPro does report earnings in the following week, so I would consider the potential risk associated with a position unlikely to be assigned this week. For that reason I would consider either the purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or the sale of deep out of the money puts, utilizing a weekly contract and keeping fingers crossed and strapping on for the action ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, GoPro

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate-Palmolive (1/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/20 PM), eBay (1/21 PM), SanDisk (1/21 PM)

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

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Weekend Update – January 19, 2014

As you get older you realize certain truths and realities and they aren’t always warm and fuzzy.

One of those realities is that often many years of marriage come to an end once the children have left the household. Without the diversion of children always in need comes the realization that there is nothing of substance to hold together a failing foundation. Sometimes the realization is there, but swept under the rug as other events take precedence, but you always know that someday reality can no longer be delayed.

With my youngest child having graduated college that appears to be the story that we’ve heard on multiple occasions from like aged acquaintances and friends. Like most everything else in life there are parallels to the stock market.

We now find ourselves in a market faced with certain realities but without the diversions offered by European monetary crises, sequestration, fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, quantitative easing, credit downgrades and budgetary deadlines. Those diversions conveniently removed focus from the very foundation upon which stocks find their fair price and to which markets have traditionally responded.

All that is now left behind is earnings and it’s not a pretty prospect.

Perhaps in a manner similar to those in long standing unions who suddenly suffer from improved judgment following a youth blinded by the superficial, the market went through a period of not being terribly discerning and always finding reason to go higher. Interpreting economic news to be something other than what it is has its counterpart in idealizing the idea more than the hard facts.

The reality that is being faced is that of earnings and the failing of earnings to support an ongoing rise in the stock market.

Early suggestions that this earnings season would result in a 6% increase could only be the result of optics as publicly held shares have diminished through massive stock buybacks. However, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that the abysmal state of retail earnings has to have some meaning with regard to the ability of individuals to find discretionary spending within their reality.

As with the past two quarters with the big money financial centers reporting positive earnings, there is little reason to believe that will extend to the other members of the S&P 500 as they begin their reporting in earnest this week.

I’m prepared for the reality, but I still like the fantasy, so I expect to continue playing along this week, just a little more mindful of the obstacles that have a lot of catching up to do.

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).

Among those reporting earnings this week is Coach (COH) which had fallen 6.2% last week, in preparation for what has become a near regular occurrence in the past 18 months upon earnings. While its most recent past has been to shed significant value when all is bared the option market is expecting an implied move of nearly 10%, in addition to the recent weakness. While Coach has had its competitive challenges it has somehow been able to find a fairly well defined trading range, punctuated with some significant moves and periods of recovery or occasionally, decline. In 2013, I traded Coach for all earnings reports, three of which were through the sale of puts. Despite the dramatic moves following all of last year’s earnings reports, predominantly lower, Coach has been and may continue to be an erratic position that offers acceptable reward for defined risk.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) also reports earnings this week. Just a few months ago, prior to its last report, it did what many have been doing of late and offered some earnings warnings and saw shares plummet more than 20%, leaving virtually nothing more to fall. Like Coach, Cypress Semiconductor has a habit of seeing its share price gravitate back toward a set level with some regularity. Having already fallen approximately 4% in the past two weeks. While the option market is implying a 9% move this week as earnings are announced, I think that it will be much less pronounced and more likely to have some upside potential. After having shares assigned this past Friday, rather than selling puts,as I often do when earnings are at hand, I am considering the purchase of shares and sale of calls on only a portion of shares or at both the $10 and $11 levels to potentially capitalize on share appreciation.

Anadarko (APC) had a brief spike in price this past week, nearly three weeks after plummeting upon news that it might be facing a $14 billion judgment in a case involving a company that it had purchased several years ago. The spike came as Anadarko stated that it believed the judge in the case set damages that were punitive, rather than remedial and believed that the appropriate amount was more in the $2 billion range. It will likely take a long time to come to some resolution, but even at $14 billion there is certainty and the ability to move forward. As shares seem to be creating a new base I think this is a good entry point, as well as a good point to add shares to start the process of offsetting the paper losses from older shares.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK), while trading in a range of late, has also been trading with relatively large daily and intra-day moves. As a result shares enjoy generous option premiums that reflect the volatility, despite having traded in a very stable range for the past 5 months. Offering expanded weekly options I would consider selecting an expiration prior to the scheduled February 20, 2014 earnings report date.

Having already announced earnings Unitedhealth Group (UNH) added to its recent losses and is now down approximately 5% since its recent high. It appears to have some price support a dollar lower than its current price, which may be a good thing considering the unknowns that await as more news trickles in regarding registration demographics and utilization among newly enrolled health care policy holders. While I never move into a position with the idea that it will be a long term holding, I don’t hold too much concern for that unwanted possibility as it’s as likely to recover from any price drops as most anything else and could easily be justified as being a core holding.

The potential dividend choices this week share a “household theme” covering aspects of the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom, but represent different ends of the consumer spectrum when defensive investing is foremost.

While Clorox (CLX) and Colgate Palmolive (CL) may be best known for consumer staples and nothing terribly ostentatious, Williams Sonoma (WSM) offers products that are every bit as critical to some. Those who would sacrifice anything to ensure that they can purchase an oversized block of Mediterranean pink salt have money every bit as valuable as those that like bright white shirt collars and bright white teeth.

More importantly, at least for me, they have all recently under-performed the S&P 500 and all trade with a low beta at a time that I want to balance risk and still generate a reasonable income stream from premiums and dividends. While both Clorox and Colgate Palmolive have earnings reports due in the February option cycle, WIlliams Sonoma, which tends to trade with more volatility upon earnings, does not report until the end of the March 2014 cycle.

Finally, for those who really seek reckless adventure, perhaps only frolicking in a landfill brimming with its products offers more excitement than considering shares of LED light bulb maker Cree (CREE) in advance of earnings. The last time I considered an earnings related trade in Cree I didn’t recommend the purchase or sale of puts to my subscribers, but did make the put sale for my personal account. However, I did so only after earnings, believing that the 16% drop offered sufficient protection to make an out of the money put sale with relative impunity.

Like some other stocks this past week that continued to fall even days after earnings plunges, that’s what Cree did. Rolling over the puts on a few occasions, eventually taking assignment and then selling calls until its final assignment at a strike level 5% higher than the original put strike price made it worthwhile, but more thrilling than necessary.

So unnecessary that I may be ready to do so again.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate Palmolive (ex div 1/22), Clorox (ex-div 1/27), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/21 PM), Coach (1/22 AM), Cypress Semiconductor (1/22 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 – October 13, 2013

This week I’m choosing “risk on.”

For about 6 months I’ve been overly cautious, having evolved from a fully invested trader to one starting most weeks at about 40% cash reserves and maintaining about 25-30% by week’s end after initiating new positions.

Despite the belief that something untoward was right around the corner, the desire for current income through the purchase of stocks and the sale of options has been strong enough to temper the heightened caution on an ongoing basis for much of the past half year.

With uncertainty permeating the market’s mood, eased by late last week’s glimmer of hope that perhaps a short term debt ceiling increase may be at hand, “risk on” isn’t the most likely of places to find me playing with my retirement funds, but that’s often where it’s the most interesting, especially if the risk is one of perception more than one of probability.

While we may all have different operational definitions of what constitutes “risk” I consider beta, upcoming known market or stock moving events, the unknown, past price history and relative performance. Tomorrow the formula may be entirely different, as may tolerance for risk or willingness to burn down the cash reserves.

However, trying to dispassionately look at the current market and all of the talk about a correction, one metric that I’ve been using for the past few months reminds me that we’re doing just fine and that risk is still tolerable, even in the context of uncertainty.

Although I continue to believe that we can’t just keep moving higher, I’m not quite as dour when seeing that we are essentially at the same levels the S&P 500 stood on May 21, 2013 and June 18, 2013.

Those dates reflect relative high points, each of which gave way to the FOMC minutes or a press conference by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke.

In fact, we’re actually at a higher level than either of those two previous peaks, now trailing only the all time high of September 18, 2013 by less than 1.5%. So all in all, not too bad, especially since that 50 Day Moving Average that was breached by the S&P 500 earlier in the week was quickly remedied and the 200 Day Moving Average remains relatively distant.

From May 21 to June 5, then from June 18 to June 24, August 2 to 27 and finally September 19 to October 6, we have gone down a combined 16.7% in a cumulative trading period of 13 weeks or the equivalent of a quarter.

What more do you want? Armageddon?

For the past few months I’ve been focusing increasingly on new positions that have been trading below the May and June highs and preferably under-performing the S&P 500 at the same time. However, within that framework I’ve focused increasingly on near term dividend paying stocks and those more likely to fall into the “Traditional” category, typically low beta and attempting to avoid any known short term risk factors.

That has meant fewer “Momentum” positions and fewer earnings related trades. But up until Friday’s continuation of the hope induced rally, I had a number of “Momentum” stocks on my radar, all of which I had already owned and anticipated being assigned, but ripe for re-purchase in the pursuit of risk heightened premiums, but with less risk than readily apparent.

As it turned out Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) got caught up in The Gaps’ same stores problem and whip-sawed in trading and I ultimately rolled over the position. Meanwhile, Mosaic (MOS) fell as investors were somehow surprised that Potash (POT) adjusted its guidance downward to reflect lower prices stemming from a collapse of the cartel.

As it would turn out Phillips 66 (PSX) was assigned, but soared, making it too expensive for repurchase, but that can change very quickly.

This week there are two deadlines. One is the end of the October 2013 option cycle, but the other is October 17, 2013, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew proclaimed to be the day after which none of his “tricks” would be able to sustain the Treasury’s count and be able to pay our bills.

In a word? That’s when we would see the United States go into default on its obligations.

Under Senate questioning last week Lew acquitted himself quite well and demonstrated that he wasn’t very patient with regard to suffering fools. Uncharacteristically there appeared to be less self-aggrandizing statements in the form of questions coming from the committee members.

It may not be entirely coincidental that minutes after Lew’s appearance, House Speaker Boehner’s office announced that the Speaker would be making a statement reflecting upcoming meetings with the Administration, reflecting the possibility of some agreement.

For those that remember past such budgetary crises, you’ll recall that the market typically reacted to the hopes and then crashed along with the dashed hopes, in an eerily rhythmic manner.

On Saturday morning, word came from Eric Cantor (R-VA) that President Obama rejected the House offer. Unusually, GOP leadership skipped the opportunity to step up to the microphone to push their version of righteousness.

This week, in anticipation of the possibility of dashed hopes as may come from an appearing setback, my definition of “risk on” includes positions already trading at depressed levels.

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).

For dividend lovers this week offers Footlocker (FL), Colgate (CL) and Caterpillar (CAT). All under-performing the S&P 500 YTD.

Colgate, however, is higher than its June 2013 high and has a surprisingly high beta, despite the perceived sedate nature of being a consumer defensive stock. Perhaps that combination makes it a “risk on” position for me. Coupled with a dividend that is lower than the overall S&P 500 average it may not readily appear to be worth the time, but then again, how much additional downside should accrue from a US default?

I already own two lots of Footlocker and three is generally my limit, as it precluded including Mosaic in this week’s recommendations. Footlocker doesn’t report earnings until the December 2013 option cycle, so a little bit of risk is removed, although in the world of retail you are always at risk for any of your competitors that may still report monthly comparison data, just look at the pall created by The Gap (GPS) and L Brands (LTD) this past week.

While a pall was created by L Brands and it is higher than those referenced high points it is now down a tantalizing 10% in a week’s time. I’ve already owned shares on five separate occasions this year and have been waiting for an opportunity to do so again. It is a generally reliably trading stock that had simply climbed too far and for a month’s time traveled only in a single direction. That’s rarely sustainable. The combination of premium and dividend makes L Brands worthy of consideration in a sector that has been challenged of late. The lack of weekly options makes ownership less stressed by day to day events for those otherwise inclined to like weekly options.

Not to be outdone, Joy Global (JOY) is a stock that’s been worth owning on 7 distinct occasions this year. It has consistently traded in tight range and has been able to find its way home if temporarily wandering. High beta, well underperforming the S&P 500 and lower than both of the two earlier market high points continues to make it an appealing short term selection, especially with earnings still so far off in the future.

I’ve been waiting to add shares of Caterpillar for a while, having owned it only four times in 2013, as compared to nine occasions in 2012. However, the upcoming dividend makes another purchase more likely. Despite the thesis advanced by short seller Jim Chanos against Caterpillar, it has, thus far continued to maintain its existence in a tight trading range, making it an excellent covered option candidate.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) reported its earnings this past Friday and reported a loss for the first time under Jamie Dimon’s watch. Regardless of your position on the merits of the myriad of legal and regulatory cases which have resulted in spectacular legal fees and fines, JP Morgan has acquitted itself nicely on the bottom line. While there is still unknown, but tangible punishment ahead, for which shareholders are doubly brutalized, I think a sixth round of share ownership is warranted at this price level.

Williams Sonoma (WSM) was one of the first stocks that I purchased specifically to attempt to capture its dividend and have it partially underwritten by an option premium. It fell a bit by the wayside as weekly options appeared on the scene. However, as uncertainty creeps into the market there is a certain comfort that comes from a monthly or even longer term option contract. WHile it has come down nearly 15% in the past two months and is now priced lower than during the May and June market highs, Williams Sonoma’s dirty little secret is that it has still outperformed the S&P 500 YTD by a whisker.

SanDisk (SNDK) had its eulogy written many years ago when flash memory was written off as being simply a commodity. Always volatile, especially in response to earnings, which have seen plunges on each of those last two occasions, now may not be the time to believe that “the third time is a charm,” although I do. Despite that, my participation, if any, would be in the sale of out of the money puts, as the options market is implying a move of approximately 7% and that may not be aggressive enough, given past history.

FInally, Align Technology (ALGN) reports earnings this week. In the business of making orthodontic therapy so easy that even a monkey could do it, the company’s prospects have significantly improved as its treatment solutions are increasingly geared toward children. That’s important because their traditional customer base, adults, views orthodontic treatment as discretionary and, therefore, represents an economically sensitive purchase. But most anyone with kids knows that orthodontic treatment isn’t discretionary at all. It can be as close to life and death as you would like to experience. This kind of orthodontic care represents a new profit center for many dental offices and a boon to Align Technology. While I expect good earnings numbers, shares have already had a 13% price decline in the past two weeks. I would most likely consider entering a position by means of selling out of the money puts. In this case for a single week’s position, if unassigned, as much as a 12% price drop could still yield a 1.3% ROI, as the options market is implying a 9% earnings related move.

Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan, L Brands, Williams Sonoma

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (ex-div 10/17), Colgate (ex-div 10/18), Footlocker (ex-div 10/16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Align Technology (10/17 PM), SanDisk (10/16 PM)

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

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