Weekend Update – September 27, 2015

Subscribers to Option to Profit received preliminary notification of this week’s stock selections on Friday, September 25th, 8:00 AM EDT and updated at 10:20 AM. The full article was distributed on Saturday, at 11:25 AM)

I doubt that Johnny Cash was thinking about that thin line that distinguishes a market in correction from one that is not.

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For him, walking the line” was probably a reference to maintaining the correct behavior so that he could ensure holding onto something of great personal value.

Sometimes that line is as clear as the difference between black and white and other times the difference can be fairly arbitrary.

Lately our markets have been walking a line, not necessarily borne out of a clear distinction between right and wrong, but rather dancing around the definition of exactly what constitutes a market correction, going in and out without much regard.

The back and forth dance has, to some degree, been in response to mixed messages coming from the FOMC that have left the impression of a divergence between words and actions.

Regardless, what is at stake can hold some real tangible value, despite a stock portfolio not being known for its ability to keep you warm at night. Indirectly, however, the more healthy that portfolio the less you have to think about cranking up the thermostat on those cold and lonely nights.

It had been a long, long time since being challenged by that arbitrary 10% definition, but ever since having crossed that line a month ago there’s been lots of indecision about which direction we were heading.

This week was another good example of that, just as the final day of the week was its own good example of the back and forth that has characterized markets.

Depending on your perspective our recent indecision about which side of the line we want to be on is either creating support for a launching pad higher or future resistance to that move higher.

When you think about the quote attributed to Jim Rogers, “I have never met a rich technician,” you can understand, regardless of how ludicrous that may be, just how true it may also be.

While flipping a coin may have predictable odds in the long term, another saying has some real merit when considering the difficulty in trying to interpret charts and chart patterns,

That is “the market can stay irrational far longer than you can stay liquid.” Just a few wrong bets in succession on the direction can have devastating effects.

The single positive from the past 10 days of trading, however, is that the market has started behaving in a rational manner. It finally demonstrated that it understood the true meaning of a potential interest rate hike and then it reacted as a sane person might when their rational expectation was dashed.

Part of the indecision that we’ve been displaying has to be related to what has seemed as a lot of muddled messages coming from the FOMC and from Federal Reserve Governors. One minute there are hawkish sentiments being expressed, yet it’s the doves that seem to be still holding court, leading onlookers to wonder whether the FOMC is capable of making the decision that many believe is increasingly overdue.

In a week where there was little economic news we were all focused on personalities, instead and still stewing over the previous week’s unexpected turn of events.

It was a week when Pope Francis took center stage, then Chinese President Xi trying to cozy up to American business leaders before his less welcoming White House meeting, and then there was finally John Boehner.

The news of John Boehner’s early departure may be the most significant of all news for the week as it probably reduces the chance of another government shutdown and associated headaches for all.

It also marked something rare in Washington politics; a promise kept.

That promise of strict term limits was included in the “Contract with America” and John Boehner was a member of that incoming freshman Congressional Class of 1995 running on that platform, who has now indicated that he will be keeping that promise after only 11 terms in office.

None of that mattered for markets, but what did matter was Janet Yellen’s comments after Thursday’s market close when she said that a rate hike was likely this year and that overseas events were not likely to influence US policy.

That was something that had a semblance of a definitive nature to it and was to the market’s liking, particularly as the coming week may supply new economic information to justify the interest rate hawks gaining control.

Friday’s revised GDP data indicating a 3.9% growth rate for the year is a start, as the coming week also bring Jobless Claims, the Employment Situation Report and lots of Federal Reserve officials making speeches, including more from Janet Yellen, who had been reclusive for a while prior to the September meeting and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.

As a prelude to the next earnings season that begins in just 2 weeks, the stage could be set for an FOMC affirmation that the economy is growing sufficiently to begin thinking about inflation for the first time in a long time.

After being on the other side of the inflation line for a long time and seeing a lost generation in Japan, it will feel good to cross over even as old codgers still dread the notion.

Both sides of the line can be the right side, but not at the same time. Now is the time to get on the right side and let rising interest rates reflect a market poised to move higher, just as low interest rates subsidized the market for the past 6 years. However, as someone who likes to sell options and take advantage of this increased volatility, I welcome continued trading in large bursts of movement up and down, as long as that line is adhered to.

Since the mean can always be re-calculated based on where you want to start your observations, this reversion to the new mean, that just happens to be 10% below the peaks of the summer, can be a great neighborhood to dance around.

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

Last week I was a little busier than has been the usual case of late with regard to opening new positions. Following the sharp sell offs to end the previous week I had a reasonably good feeling about the upcoming week, but now feel fortunate to have emerged without any damage.

I don’t feel the same level of optimism as the new week is set to begin, but there really is no reason to have much conviction one way or another, although there appears to be a more hawkish tone in the air as Janet Yellen is attempting to give the impression that actions will be aligned with words.

With the good fortune of getting some assignments as the week came to its close and having some cash in hand, I would like to build on those cash reserves but still find lots of temptations that seek to separate me from the cash.

The temptations aren’t just the greatly diminished prices, but also the enhanced premiums that accompany the uncertainty that’s characterizing the market.

That uncertainty is still low by most standards other than for the past couple of years, but taking individual stocks that are either hovering around correction or even bear market declines and adding relatively high premiums, especially if a dividend is also involved, is a difficult combination to walk away from.

The stocks going ex-dividend in the upcoming week that may warrant some attention are EMC Corporation (EMC) and Cisco (CSCO).

I own shares of both and both have recently been disappointing, Cisco, after its most recent earnings report looked as if it was surely going to be assigned away from me, but as so many others got caught up in the sudden downdraft and has fallen 14% since earnings, without any particularly bad news. EMC for its part has dropped nearly 13% in that same time period.

As is also so frequently the case as option premiums are rising, those going ex-dividend may become even more attractive as an increasing portion of the share’s price drop due to the dividend gets subsidized by the option premium.

That is the case for both Cisco and EMC. In the case of EMC, when the ex-dividend is early in the week you could even be excused for writing an in the money call with the hope that the newly purchased shares get assigned, as you could still potentially derive a 1% ROI on such a trade, yet for only a single day of holding.

Cisco, which goes ex-dividend later in the week may be a situation where it is warranted to sell an expanded weekly option for the following week that is also in the money by greater than the amount of the dividend, again in an effort to prompt an early assignment.

Doing so trades off the dividend for additional premium and fewer days of holding so that the cash may potentially be recycled into other income generating positions.

On such position is Comcast (CMCSA) which is ex-dividend the following Monday and if assigned early would have to be done so at the conclusion of this week.

While the entire media landscape in undergoing rapid change and while Comcast has positioned itself as best as it can to withstand the quantum changes, a trade this week is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the shares for the income that it may be able to produce and isn’t a vote of confidence in its strategic initiatives and certainly not of its services.

The intention with Comcast is considering the sale of an in the money October 9 or October 16, 2015 call and as with Cisco or EMC, consider forgoing the dividend.

However, for any of those three dividend related trades, I believe that their prices alone are attractive enough and their option premiums enhanced enough, that even if not assigned early, they are in good position to be candidates for serial sale of call options or even repurchases, if assigned.

As long as considering a Comcast purchase, one of my favorites in the sector is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). I currently own shares and most often consider initiating a new position as an ex-dividend date is approaching.

That won’t be for a while, however, the second criteria that I look at is where its price is relative to its historical trading range and it is currently below the average of my seven previous purchases in the past 16 months.

While little known, it is a major player in the ancient area of terrestrial television broadcasting and has significant family ownership. While owners of Cablevision (CVC) can argue the merits or liabilities of a closely held public company, the only real risk is that of a proposal to take the company private as a result of shares having sunk to ridiculously low levels.

I don’t see that on the horizon, although the old set of rabbit ears may be to blame for any fuzzy forecasting. Instead of relying on high technology and still being available the old fashioned way for free viewing, Sinclair Broadcasting has simply been amassing outlets all over the county and making money the old fashioned way.

As I had done with my current lot of shares, I sold some slightly longer term call options, as Sinclair offers only the monthly variety. Since it reports earnings very early in November and will likely go ex-dividend late that month, I would consider selling out of the money calls, perhaps using the December 2015 options in an effort to capture the dividend, the option premium and some capital gains on shares.

While religious and political luminaries were getting most of the attention this past week, it’s hard to overlook what has unfolded before our eyes at Volkswagen (VLKAY). Regulatory agencies and the courts may be of the belief that you can’t spell “Fahrvergnügen,” Volkswagen’s onetime advertising slogan buzzword, without “Revenge.” Unfortunately, for those owning shares in the major auto manufacturer’s, such as General Motors (GM), last week’s news painted with a very broad brush.

General Motors hasn’t been immune to its own bad news and you do have to wonder if society places greater onus and personal responsibility on the slow deaths that may be promoted by Volkswagen’s falsified diesel emissions testing than by the instantaneous deaths caused by faulty lock mechanisms.

For its part, General Motors appears to really be bargain priced and will likely escape the continued plastering by that broad brush. With an exceptional option premium this week, plumped up by the release of some sales data and a global conference call, GM’s biggest worry after having resolved some significant legal issues will continue to be currency exchange and potential weakness in the Chinese market.

With earnings due to be reported on October 21st, if considering a purchase of General Motors shares, I would think about a weekly or expanded weekly option sale, or simply bypassing the events and going straight to December, in an effort to also collect the generous dividend and possibly some capital gains while having some additional time to recover from any bad news at earnings.

MetLife (MET) is a stock that is beautifully reflective of its dependency on interest rates. As rates were moving higher and the crowd believed that would go even higher, MetLife followed suit.

Of course, the same happened when those interest rate expectations weren’t met.

Now, however, it appears that those rates will be getting a boost sooner, rather than later, as the FOMC seems to be publicly acknowledging its interests in a broad range of matters, including global events and perhaps even stock market events.

With a recently announced share buyback, those shares are now very attractively priced, even after Friday’s nearly 2% gain.

With earnings expected at the end of the month, I would consider the purchase of shares coupled with the sale of some out of the money calls, hoping to capitalize on both capital gains and bigger than usual option premiums. In the event that shares aren’t assigned prior to earnings, I would consider then selling a November 20 call in an effort to bypass earnings risk and perhaps also capture the next dividend.

Finally, I’ve been anxious to once again own eBay (EBAY) and have waited patiently for its price to decline to a more appealing level. While most acknowledge that eBay gave away its growth prospects when it completed the PayPal (PYPL) spin-off, it has actually out-performed the latter since that spin-off, despite being down  nearly 12%.

While eBay isn’t expected to be a very exciting stock performer, it hadn’t been one for years, yet was still a very attractive covered option trading vehicle, as it’s share price was punctuated by large moves, usually earnings related. Those moves gave option buyers a reason to demand and a reason for sellers to acquiesce.

That hasn’t changed and the volatility induced premiums are as healthy as they have been in years. As that volatility rises in the stock and in the overall market, there’s more and more benefit to be gained from selling in the money options both for enhanced premium and for downside protection.

It would be good to welcome eBay back into my portfolio. Even if it won’t keep me warm, I could likely buy someone else’s flea bitten blanket at a great price, using its wonderful services.

 

Traditional Stocks:  eBay, General Motors, MetLife, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (10/5 $0.25), Cisco (10/1 $0.21), EMC Corp (9/29 $0.12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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 – August 16, 2015

Most everyone understands the meaning of “a bull in a China shop.”

Even I, who always had problems with idiomatic expressions, could understand that the combination of bull and china wasn’t very good. You simply did not want a bull any where near fragile china, especially if it was precariously placed so that everyone could enjoy its sight.

At the very least you had to keep a close eye on the bull in an effort to avoid or minimize damage. Even better would be to keep it on a tight leash.

Now, it’s China that you have to keep an eye upon lest your bull gets damaged as China continues to tighten its leashes.

Lately China has become a threat to the bull that everyone’s been enjoying. The bull market itself has already been precariously positioned for a while and its tentativeness has been accentuated by some of the recent unpredicted and unpredictable actions by the Chinese government and the Peoples Bank of China (“PBOC”), which are essentially the same thing.

Just to confuse things a bit, in the midst of a series of 3 moves to devalue the Chinese Yuan, came an interruption by the PBOC in the currency markets to support the currency.

That sort of thing, trying to fight the tide of the currency market doesn’t typically work out as planned, but you can’t blame the PBOC for trying, given how the government’s actions in the stock markets have seemed to stop the hemorrhaging these past few weeks.

The theory at play may be that the tighter the leash the easier it is to control things when oxygen is no longer fueling natural existence.

While many suspect that China is looking to jump start its economy with a 10% currency devaluation, that is being denied, at least in terms of the size of the devaluation. What isn’t being denied is that the Chinese economy isn’t growing by the same leaps and bounds as it had been, if those leaps and bounds were real in the first place.

It should come as no surprise that China is using bully measures to try and bring things under control, because while they may be new at this game we call “capitalism,” the rulers understand the consequences of failure.

In the United States and Europe, we’re accustomed to cycles and the kinds of depths to which we get taken while awaiting the inevitable upward return.

Plus, we can “vote the bums out.”

In China, where personal and societal freedom has been traded for growing prosperity, what does the population have left if the prosperity disappears?

They can’t necessarily exercise their constitutional right to change their government representatives every two, four or 6 years as is often the cry after currency devaluation is felt by citizens as a their standard of living is reduced.

Of course the rulers remember the lesson of popular dissent and how their forefathers came to be in power, so this may be a government especially willing to pull out the stops, including a currency war.

While currency wars aren’t terribly common, when the bull is cornered it typically lashes out.

That’s usually not good for the bull, but now I’m left confused as to which side of the metaphor I’m working.

That may sum up where the new week is set to begin.

With markets successfully steering clear of violating support levels and having done so in a dramatic way mid-week and actually managing to not fritter away the effort, you would believe that there is reason for optimism.

However, despite revisions to previous month’s government Retail Sales Reports, the actual earnings reports coming from national retailers isn’t necessarily painting a picture of a spending consumer. That’s even as the JOLTS report indicates increasing job turnover, presumably leading to higher wages for more workers and more job openings for incoming workforce members.

The coming week has more retail sales reports and hopefully will give the market a fundamental reason to begin a test of resistance levels, while we await the next stutter step from China.

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

With all of the concern about what happens next in China, it seems odd to begin the week thinking about adding another position in Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS).

I have 2 much more expensively priced share lots and have been awaiting an opportunity to add another. With all of the bad news focusing around gaming p
rospects in Macau, one of only two special administrative areas within China, Las Vegas Sands has seen its share price plummet and then go into regular paroxysms of pronounced movements higher and lower, as the news runs sweet and sour.

However, its current price now represents the downward paroxysm that has taken shares below the mid-point of a reasonably stable price channel over the past 8 months. That seems like a reasonable entry point.

While the trading range has been fairly well defined, which would seem to limit uncertainty, the option premium seems to respect the continuing uncertainty of doing business in Macau, during a period of time that market volatility is otherwise so low. Whereas uncertainty has been very much under-estimated for many stocks, especially as they were in the throes of earnings releases, Las Vegas Sands seems to be getting its fair due in terms of option pricing.

While i still own those more expensive shares and while the dividend has made it minimally more palatable, my hope for a new position, if added, would be to have it assigned before its next ex-dividend date at the end of the September option cycle.

On a positive note, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) may not have the same worries about China as do some other companies. I suppose that having so much of your intellectual property getting pirated within China makes you a little more resistant to the effects of currency devaluation.

So there’s always that.

Microsoft hopefully has some other good things going for it, as reviews for its new operating system, Windows 10, have been generally favorable. However, one has to remember that we often tend to be less picky about things when they’re free.

Microsoft is ex-dividend this week and one thing that isn’t free is a dividend. You know that when you look at your stock’s share price on its ex-dividend date. Although studies show long term out-performance by stocks offering dividends, that’s not very different from saying people who run marathons live longer.

Both may be true, but the underlying reason a company can afford to pay a dividend or the underlying reason that someone can run a marathon may be related to pre-existing financial health or physical health, respectively.

However, when the option premium tends to subsidize some of that decline in a stock’s share price, part of that dividend really may be free, thanks to the buyer of the option premium.

In this case, Microsoft is offering a relatively large option premium for a weekly at the money option helping to offset some of the obligatory price decline as shares go ex-dividend.

Also going ex-dividend this week are Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) and Dunkin Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN). While watching television and eating donuts may not be the formula necessary to be able to run those marathons, there’s more to life than just good health.

A broad selection of television offerings, fast internet speed, hot coffee and a jelly donut can be its own kind of health.

You have to enjoy yourself, as well, and a combination of price appreciation, a satisfactory dividend and an option premium can create an enjoyable atmosphere.

Both companies offer only monthly option contracts, but this being the final week of the August 2015 cycle, there is a potential opportunity for them to effectively offer a weekly option during their ex-dividend week.

Cablevision is a company firmly in the grip of a single family and one that is perennially rumored to be for sale. Back in May, the last time I owned shares, not coincidentally just prior to its ex-dividend date, shares surged upon news of a foreign buyer for a privately owned cable company. That rumor took Cablevision along for a ride as well, especially since Cablevision indicated that it was now willing to sell itself.

While recent activity in the sector is focused on the changing landscape for product distribution and introducing the phrase “skinny bundle” into common parlance, Cablevision has fared better than the rest during recent sector weakness. In fact, after years of lagging behind, it has finally been an out-performer, at least as long as rumors and deep pockets or willing lenders are available.

When thinking about stocks that should have relatively little to be concerned about when China is considered, Dunkin Donuts comes to mind, but perhaps not for long. Earlier this year it announced plans for a major expansion in China, but it will hopefully shelve any thoughts of emulating its New England model.

I still am amazed after years of living and working in and around Boston how so many locations could exist so close to one another.

I don’t know whether it was Dunkin Donuts or its more upscale competitor that discovered that cannibalization doesn’t seem to extend to coffee purveyors, but there is still plenty of room around the rest of the nation for more and more of their outlets and maybe reason to slow down some overseas expansio
n.

While I would prefer a single week’s holding in order to capture the dividend, I would also consider the use of a longer term call option sale to try for capital appreciation of shares while other companies may have significant currency exchange concerns.

On that same day that it was revealed that activist Nelson Peltz took a large position in a food services company, DuPont (NYSE:DD) received an analyst upgrade and shares did something that they haven’t really done ever since Peltz was rebuffed when seeking a seat on the Board.

DuPont isn’t alone in seeming to be bargain priced, but it has actually accounted for 17% of the DJIA decline since coming off of its highs in the aftermath of Peltz being sent packing. So it has had more than its fair share of angst of late.

The option market doesn’t appear to expect any continued unduly large moves in share price and this is also a position that I would consider purchasing and using a longer term option in order to capitalize on share gains and a competitive dividend.

Finally salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) reports earnings this week. Its share price has been the beneficiary of two successively well received earnings reports and rumors about a buyout from Microsoft.

In the nearly 4 months that have passed since those rumors the stock has given up very little of what was gained when the speculation began.

The option market is predicting up to 9.2% price movement, but as has been the case on a number of occasions this earnings season, the option market has been under-estimating some of the risk associated with earnings, particularly when they are disappointing.

While selling puts prior to earnings can be rewarding when shares either move higher or fall less than the implied move, I generally like to consider doing so when the stock is already showing some weakness heading into earnings.

salesforce.com hasn’t been doing that, although it is about 3% below its closing high for the year. What makes a put sale tempting is that a 1% ROI for the week may be obtained even if the shares fall 11%.

However, considering just how often the option market has missed the risk associated with earnings this quarter, salesforce.com is another in a series of earnings related put sales that I would only seriously consider after earnings and in the event of a precipitous fall in the market’s response.

While salesforce.com may have the expertise to know how to most efficiently utilize a herd of bulls to exact the greatest amount of damage its own recent rise carries significant risk in this market if there is the slightest disappointment in its earnings report and guidance. If that report does disappoint, there may still be reward to be found in selling put contracts as sellers pile on to depress the price, while helping to maintain a relatively high option premium even after the carnage.

Traditional Stocks: DuPont

Momentum Stocks: Las Vegas Sands

Double-Dip Dividend: Microsoft (8/18 $0.31), Cablevision (8/19 $0.15), DNKN (8/20 $0.26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: salesforce.com (8/20 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 – May 17, 2015

The nice thing about the stock and bond markets is that anything that happens can be rationalized.

That’s probably a good thing if your job includes the need to make plausible excuses, but unless you work in the finance industry or are an elected official, the chances are that particular set of skills isn’t in high demand.

However, when you hear a master in the art of spin ply his craft, it’s really a thing of beauty and you wonder why neither you nor anyone else seemed to see things so clearly in a prospective manner.

Sometimes rationalization is also referred to as self-deception. It is a defense mechanism and occasionally it becomes part of a personality disorder. Psychoanalysts are divided between a positive view of rationalization as a stepping-stone on the way to maturity and a more destructive view of it as divorcing feeling from thought and undermining powers of reason.

In other words, sometimes rationalization itself is good news and sometimes it’s bad news.

But when it comes to stock and bond markets any interpretation of events is acceptable as long as great efforts are taken to not overtly make anyone look like an idiot for either having made a decision to act or having made a decision to be passive.

That doesn’t preclude those on the receiving end of market rationalizations to wonder how they could have been so stupid as to have missed such an obvious connection and telegraphed market reaction.

That’s strange, because when coming to real life personal and professional events, being on the receiving end of rationalization can be fairly annoying. However, for some reason in the investing world it is entirely welcomed and embraced.

In hindsight, anything and everything that we’ve observed can be explained, although ironically, rationalization sometimes removes rational thought from the process.

The real challenge, or so it seems, in the market, is knowing when to believe that good news is good and when it is bad, just like you need to know what the real meaning of bad news is going to be.

Of course different constituencies may also interpret the very same bits of data very differently, as was the case this past week as bond and stock markets collided, as they so often do in competition for investor’s confidence.

We often find ourselves in a position when we wonder just how news will be received. Will it be received on its face value or will markets respond paradoxically?

This week any wonder came to an end as it became clear that we were back to a world of rationalizing bad news as actually being something good for us.

In this case it was all about how markets viewed the flow of earnings reports coming from national retailers and official government Retail Sales statistics.

In a nutshell, the news wasn’t good, but that was good for markets. At least it was good for stock markets. Bond markets are another story and that’s where there may be lots of need for some quick rationalizations, but perhaps not of the healthy variety.

In the case of stock markets the rationalization was that disappointing retail sales and diminished guidance painted a picture of decreased inflationary pressures. In turn, that would make it more difficult for an avowed data driven Federal Reserve to increase interest rates in response. So bad news was interpreted as good news.

If you owned stocks that’s a rationalization that seems perfectly healthy, at least until that point that the same process no longer seems to be applicable.

As the S&P 500 closed at another all time high to end the week this might be a good time to prepare thoughts about whether what happens next is because we hit resistance or whether it was because of technical support levels.

^TNX Chart

On the other hand, if you were among those thought to be a member of the smartest trading class, the bond traders, you do have to find a way to explain how in the face of no evidence you sent rates sharply higher twice over the past 2 weeks. Yet then presided over rates ending up exactly where they started after the ride came to its end.

The nice thing about that, though, is that the bond traders could just dust off the same rationalization they used for surging rates in mid-March 2015.

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

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has had a big two past weeks, not necessarily reflected in its share price, but in the news it delivered. The impending departure of John Chambers as CEO and the announcement of his successor, along with reporting earnings did nothing to move the stock despite better than expected revenues and profits. In fact, unlike so many others that reported adverse currency impacts, Cisco, which does approximately 40% of its revenues overseas was a comparative shining star in reporting its results.

However, unlike so many others that essentially received a free pass on currency issues, because it was expected and who further received a free pass on providing lowered guidance, Cisco’s lowered guidance was thought to muzzle shares.

However, as the expected Euro – USD parity is somehow failing to materialize, Cisco may be in a good position to over-deliver on its lowered expectations. In return for making that commitment to its shares with the chance of a longer term price move higher, Cisco offers a reasonable option premium and an attractive dividend.

Both reporting earnings this week, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ), have fortunes that are, to a small degree, related to one another.

In two weeks I will try to position myself next to the husband of the Hewlett Packard CEO at an alumni reunion group photo. By then it will be too late to get any earnings insights, not that it would be on my agenda, since I’m much more interested in the photo.

No one really knows how the market will finally react to the upcoming split of the company, which coincidentally will also be occurring this year at the previous employer of the Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman.

The options market isn’t anticipating a modest reaction to Hewlett Packard’s earnings, with an implied move of 5.2%. However, the option premiums for put sales outside the lower boundary of that range aren’t very appealing from a risk – reward perspective.

However, if the lower end of that boundary is breached after earnings are released and approach the 52 week lows, I would consider either buying shares or selling puts. If selling puts, however and faced with the prospects of rolling them over, I would be mindful of an upcoming ex-dividend event and would likely want to take ownership of shares in advance of that date.

I currently own shares of Best Buy and was hopeful that they would have been assigned last week so as to avoid them being faced with the potential challenge of earnings. Instead, I rolled those shares over to the June 2015 expiration, possibly putting it in line for a dividend and allowing some recovery time in the event of an earnings related price decline.

However, with an implied move of 6.6% and a history of some very large earnings moves in the past, the option premiums at and beyond the lower boundary of the range are somewhat more appealing than is the case with Hewlett Packard.

As with Hewlett Packard, however, I would consider waiting until after earnings and then consider the sale of puts in the event of a downward move. Additionally, because of an upcoming ex-dividend date in June, I would consider taking ownership of shares if puts are at risk of being exercised.

It’s pretty easy to rationalize why MetLife (NYSE:MET) is such an attractive stock based on where interest rates are expected to be going.

The only issue, as we’ve seen on more than one recent occasion is that there may be some disagreement over the timing of those interest rate hikes. Since MetLife responds to those interest rate movements, as you might expect from a company that may be added to the list of “systemically important financial institutions,” there can be some downside if bonds begin trading more in line with prevailing economic softness.

In the interim, while awaiting the inevitable, MetLife does offer a reasonable option premium, particularly as it has traded range-bound for the past 3 months.

A number of years ago the controlling family of Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) thought it had a perfectly rationalized explanation for why public shareholders would embrace the idea of taking the company private.

The shareholding public didn’t agree, but Cablevision hasn’t sulked or let the world pass it by as the world of cable providers is in constant flux. Although a relatively small company it seems to get embroiled in its share of controversy, always keeping the company name in the headlines.

With a shareholder meeting later this month and shares going ex-dividend this week, the monthly option, which is all that is offered, is very attractive, particularly since there is little of controversy expected at the upcoming shareholder meeting.

Also going ex-dividend this week, and also with strong historical family ties, is Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). What appeals to me about shares right now, in addition to the dividend, is that while they have been trailing the S&P 500 and the Health Care SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLV) since early 2009, those very same shares tend to fare very well by comparison during periods of overall market weakness.

In the process of waiting for that weakness the dividend and option premium can make the wait more tolerable and even close the performance gap if the market decides that 2022 on the S&P 500 is only a way station toward something higher.

Finally, there are probably lots of ways one can rationalize the share price of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM). Profits, though, may not be high on that list.

salesforce.com has certainly been the focus of lots of speculation lately regarding a sale of the company. However, of the two suitors, I find it inconceivable that one of them would invite the CEO, Marc Benioff back into a company that already has a power sharing situation at the CEO level and still has Larry Ellison serving as Chairman.

I share price was significantly buoyed by the start of those rumors a few weeks ago and provide a high enough level that any disappointment from earnings, even on the order of those seen with Linkedin (NYSE:LNKD), Yelp (NYSE:YELP) and others would return shares to levels last seen just prior to the previous earnings report.

The options market is implying a 7.3% earnings related move next week. After a recent 8% climb as rumors were swirling, there is plenty of room for some or even all of that to be given back, so as with both Best Buy and Hewlett Packard, I wouldn’t be overly aggressive in this trade prior to earnings, but would be very interested in joining in if sellers take charge on an earnings disappointment. However, since there is no dividend in the picture, if having sold puts and subject to possible exercise, I would likely attempt to rollover the puts rather than take assignment.

But either way, I can rationalize the outcome.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (5/20), Johnson and Johnson (5/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (5/21 AM), Hewlett Packard (5/21 PM), salesforce.com (5/20 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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Weekend Update – November 17, 2013

Things aren’t always as they seem.

As I listened to Janet Yellen face her Senate inquisitors as the hearing process began for her nomination as our next Federal Reserve Chairman, the inquisitors themselves were reserved. In fact they were completely unrecognizable as they demonstrated behavior that could be described as courteous, demur and respectful. They didn’t act like the partisan megalomaniacs they usually are when the cameras are rolling and sound bites are beckoning.

That can’t last. Genteel or not, we all know that the reality is very different. At some point the true colors bleed through and reality has to take precedence.

Closing my eyes I thought it was Woody Allen’s sister answering softball economic questions. Opening my eyes I thought I was having a flashback to a curiously popular situational comedy from the 1990s, “Suddenly Susan,” co-starring a Janet Yellen look-alike, known as “Nana.” No one could possibly sling arrows at Nana.

These days we seem to go back and forth between trying to decide whether good news is bad news and bad news is good news. Little seems to be interpreted in a consistent fashion or as it really is and as a result reactions aren’t very predictable.

Without much in the way of meaningful news during the course of the week it was easy to draw a conclusion that the genteel hearings and their content was associated with the market’s move to the upside. In this case the news was that the economy wasn’t yet ready to stand on its own without Treasury infusions and that was good for the markets. Bad news, or what would normally be considered bad news was still being considered as good news until some arbitrary point that it is decided that things should return to being as they really seem, or perhaps the other way around..

While there’s no reason to believe that Janet Yellen will do anything other than to follow the accommodative actions of the Federal Reserve led by Ben Bernanke, political appointments and nominations have a long history of holding surprises and didn’t always result in the kind of comfortable predictability envisioned. As it would turn out even Woody Allen wasn’t always what he had seemed to be.

Certainly investing is like that and very little can be taken for granted. With two days left to go until the end of the just ended monthly option cycle and having a very large number of positions poised for assignment or rollover, I had learned the hard way in recent months that you can’t count on anything. In those recent cases it was the release of FOMC minutes two days before monthly expiration that precipitated market slides that snatched assignments away. Everything seemed to be just fine and then it wasn’t suddenly so.

As the markets continue to make new closing highs there is division over whether what we are seeing is real or can be sustained. I’m tired of having been wrong for so long and wonder where I would be had I not grown cash reserves over the past 6 months in the belief that the rising market wasn’t what it really seemed to be.

What gives me comfort is knowing that I would rather be wondering that than wondering why I didn’t have cash in hand to grab the goodies when reality finally came along.

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).

Sometimes the most appealing purchases are the very stocks that you already own or recently owned. Since I almost exclusively employ a covered option strategy I see lots of rotation of stocks in and out of my portfolio. That’s especially true at the end of a monthly option cycle, particularly if ending in a flourish of rising prices, as was the case this week.

Among shares assigned this past week were Dow Chemical (DOW), International Paper (IP), eBay (EBAY) and Seagate Technology (STX).

eBay just continues to be a model of price mediocrity. It seems stuck in a range but seems to hold out enough of a promise of breaking out of that range that its option premiums continue to be healthy. At a time when good premiums are increasingly difficult to attain because of historically low volatility, eBay has consistently been able to deliver a 1% ROI for its near the money weekly options. I don’t mind wallowing in its mediocrity, I just wonder why Carl Icahn hasn’t placed this one on his radar screen.

International Paper is well down from its recent highs and I’ve now owned and lost it to assignment three times in the past month. While that may seem an inefficient way to own a stock, it has also been a good example of how the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole when tallying the profits that can arise from punctuated ownership versus buy and hold. Having comfortably under-performed the broad market in 2013 it doesn’t appear to have froth built into its current price

Although Dow Chemical is getting near the high end of the range that I would like to own shares it continues to solidify its base at these levels. What gives me some comfort in considering adding shares at this level is that Dow Chemical has still under-performed the S&P 500 YTD and may be more likely to withstand any market downturn, especially when buoyed by dividends, option premiums and some patience, if required.

Unitedhealth Group (UNH) is in a good position as it’s on both sides of the health care equation. Besides being the single largest health care carrier in the United States, its purchase of Quality Software Services last year now sees the company charged with the responsibility of overhauling and repairing the beleaguered Affordable Care Act’s web site. That’s convenient, because it was also chosen to help set up the web site. It too, is below its recent highs and has been slowly working its way back to that level. Any good news regarding ACA, either programmatically or related to the enrollment process, should translate into good news for Unitedhealth

Seagate Technology simply goes up and down. That’s a perfect recipe for a successful covered option holding. It’s moves, in both directions, can however, be disconcerting and is best suited for the speculative portion of a portfolio. While not too far below its high thanks to a 2% drop on Friday, it does have reasonable support levels and the more conservative approach may be through the sale of out of the money put options.

While I always feel a little glow whenever I’m able to repurchase shares after assignment at a lower price, sometimes it can feel right even at a higher price. That’s the case with Microsoft (MSFT). Unlike many late to the party who had for years disparaged Microsoft, I enjoyed it trading with the same mediocrity as eBay. But even better than eBay, Microsoft offered an increasingly attractive dividend. Shares go ex-dividend this week and I’d like to consider adding shares after a moth’s absence and having missed some of the run higher. With all of the talk of Alan Mullally taking over the reins, there is bound to be some let down in price when the news is finally announced, but I think the near term price future for shares is relatively secure and I look forward to having Microsoft serve as a portfolio annuity drawing on its dividends and option premiums.

I’m always a little reluctant to recommend a possible trade in Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Actually, not always, only since the trades that still have me sitting on much more expensive shares purchased just prior to the dividend cut. Although in the interim I’ve made trades to offset those paper losses, thanks to attractive option premiums reflecting the risk, I believe that the recent sustained increase in this sector is for real and will continue. Despite that, I still wavered about considering the trade again this week, but the dividend pushed me over. Although a fraction of what it had been earlier in the year it still has some allure and increasing iron ore prices may be just the boost needed for a dividend boost which would likely result in a significant rise in shares. I’m not counting on it quite yet, but think that may be a possibility in time for the February 2014 dividend.

While earnings season is winding down there are some potentially interesting trades to consider for those with a little bit of a daring aspect to their investing.

Not too long ago Best Buy (BBY) was derided as simply being Amazon’s (AMZN) showroom and was cited as heralding the death of “brick and mortar.” But, things really aren’t always as they seem, as Best Buy has certainly implemented strategic shifts and has seen its share price surge from its lows under previous management. As with most earnings related trades that I consider undertaking, I’m most likely if earnings are preceded by shares declining in price. Selling puts into price weakness adds to the premium while some of the steam of an earnings related decline may be dissipated by the selling before the actual release.

salesforce.com (CRM) has been a consistent money maker for investors and is at new highs. It is also a company that many like to refer to as a house of cards, yet another way of saying that “things aren’t always as they seem.” As earnings are announced this week there is certainly plenty of room for a fall, even in the face of good news. With a nearly 9% implied volatility, a 1.1% ROI can be attained if less than a 10% price drop occurs, based on Friday’s closing prices through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

Then of course, there’s JC Penney (JCP). What can possibly be added to its story, other than the intrigue that accompanies it relating to the smart money names having taken large positions of late. While the presence of “smart money” isn’t a guarantee of success, it does get people’s attention and JC Penney shares have fared well in the past week in advance of earnings. The real caveat is that the presence of smart money may not be what it seems. With an implied move of 11% the sale of put options has the potential to deliver an ROI of 1.3% even if shares fall nearly 17%.

Finally, even as a one time New York City resident, I don’t fully understand the relationship between its residents and the family that controls Cablevision (CVC), never having used their services. As an occasional share holder, however, I do understand the nature of the feelings that many shareholders have against the Dolan family and the feelings that the publicly traded company has served as a personal fiefdom and that share holders have often been thrown onto the moat in an opportunity to suck assets out for personal gain.

I may be understating some of those feelings, but I harbor none of those, personally. In fact, I learned long ago, thanks to the predominantly short term ownership afforded through the use of covered options, that it should never be personal. It should be about making profits. Cablevision goes ex-dividend this week and is well off of its recent highs. Dividends, option premiums and some upside potential are enough to make even the most hardened of investors get over any personal grudges.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 11/20), Cliffs Natural (ex-div 11/20), Microsoft (ex-div 11/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/19 AM), salesforce.com (11/18 PM), JC Penney (11/20 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 – 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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