Weekend Update – January 25, 2015

About 2 years after he began trying to convince the world that he was the biggest and baddest central banker around, unafraid to whip out any part of his arsenal to fight a slumping European economy, Mario Draghi finally has decided to let actions speak for themselves.

With only a single mandate as a master, although hampered by many national masters in the European Union, a European version of Quantitative Easing will be introduced a mere 5 years after it was begun in the United States.

While in the past the bravado of Draghi’s words have spurred our markets higher and the lack of action have led to disappointment, this week’s details of the planned intervention were more than the previous day’s rumor had suggested and after a very short period of second guessing the good news delivered, the market decided that the ECB move would be very positive for stocks and had another one of those strong moves higher that you tend to see during bear markets.

We’ve had a lot of those, lately.

Whether an ECB quantitative easing will be good for US stock markets in the longer term may be questionable, much like the FOMC’s period of QE did little to promote European equity markets, but almost certainly gave home markets an advantage.

While US markets greatly out-performed their European counter-parts from the time QE was initially announced, they were virtually identical in performance for the preceding 10 year period.

If you are among those who believe that the great returns seen by the US markets since 2009 were the result of FOMC actions, then you probably should believe that European markets may now be relatively more attractive for investors. Besides, add the current strength of the US dollar into the mix and the thoughts of bringing money back to European shores and putting it to work in local markets may be very enticing if that puts you on the right side of currency headwinds.

The only real argument against that logic is that the FOMC’s actions helped to drive interest rates lower, making equities more appealing, by contrast. However, how much lower can European rates go at this point?

Meanwhile, although there is now a tangible commitment and the initial market action was to embrace the plan with open arms and emptied wallets in a knee jerk buying spree, there’s not too much reason to believe that it will offer anything tangible for markets immediately, or at all.

In the US experience we have seen that the need for and size of the intervention and the need for its continuation or taper begins the process of wondering whether bad news is good or good news is bad and introduces more paradoxical kinds of reactions to events, as professional traders become amateur reverse psychologists.

As markets may now take some time to digest the implications of an ECB intervention for at least the next 18 months, the question at hand is what will propel US markets forward?

Thus far, expectations that the benefit of lower energy prices will be that catalysts hasn’t been validated by earnings or forward guidance, although key reports, especially in the consumer sector are still to come. One one expect that the significant upward revisions of GDP would eventually make their way into at least the top line of earnings reports by the next quarter and might find their way into guidance during this quarter’s releases.

In addition to guidance from the consumer sector, earnings news and guidance from the energy sector, if pointing to bottom lines that aren’t as bad as the stock sell-offs would have indicated, could go a long way toward pushing the broader market higher. Some early results from Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) are encouraging, however, the coming two weeks may supply much more information as a number of major oil companies report earnings.

Of course, next week we could also return to an entirely US-centric news cycle and completely forget about European solutions to European woes. First comes an FOMC Statement release on Wednesday and then GDP statistics on Friday, either of which could cast some doubt on last week’s Retail Sales statistics that took many by surprise by not reflecting the increased consumer spending most believed would be inevitable.

The real test may be whether earnings can continue to meet our expectations as buybacks that had been inflating EPS data may be slowing.

Still, focusing on earnings is so much better than having to think about fiscal cliffs and sequestration.

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.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) reports earnings this week, but I’m not looking at it as an earnings related trade in the manner that I typically do, through the sale of out of the money puts.

In this case, I’m interested in adding shares to my existing holdings in the belief that Dow Chemical shares have been unduly punished as energy prices have plunged. While it does have some oil producing partnerships with Kuwait, as its CEO Andrew Liveris recently pointed out during the quiet period before upcoming earnings, Dow Chemical is a much larger user of oil and energy than it is a producer and it is benefiting greatly from reduced energy costs.

The market, however, hasn’t been seeing it the same way that Liveris does, so there may be some positive surprises coming this week, either for investors or for Liveris, who is already doing battle with activist investors.

While I generally like to sell near the money options on new positions, in this case I’m more interested in the potential of securing some capital gains on shares and would take advantage of the earnings related enhanced option premiums by selling out of the money calls and putting some faith in Liveris’ contention.

I can’t begin to understand the management genius of Richard Kinder and his various strategic initiatives over the years, nor could I keep track of his various companies. News of his decision to step down as CEO of Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) seems well timed, considering the successful consolidation of the various companies bearing his name. In what may be the last such transaction under his leadership, a very non-distressed Kinder Morgan made an acquisition of a likely more distressed privately held Harold Hamm company with interests in the Bakken Formation.

What I do understand, though, is that shares of Kinder Morgan are ex-dividend this week and despite it being in that portion of the energy sector that has been largely shielded from the price pressures seen in the sector, it is still benefiting from option premiums that reflect risk and uncertainty. Getting more reward than you deserve seems like a good alternative to the more frequently occurring situation.

In a world where “old tech” has regained respect, not many are older than Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN). It, too, goes ex-dividend this week, but does so two days after its earnings are released.

With shares less than 2% below its 52 week high, I’m reluctant to buy shares when the market itself has been so tentative and prone to large and sometimes unforeseen moves in either direction. However, in the event of a sizable decline after Texas Instruments reports earnings I may be interested in purchasing shares prior to the ex-dividend date.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is also ex-dividend this week. While I generally don’t like to add shares at a higher price, having just bought Fastenal immediately before earnings and in replacement of shares assigned the previous month at a higher price, that upcoming dividend makes it hard to resist.

Fastenal, despite everything that may be going on in the world, is very much protected from the issues of the day. Low oil prices and a strong dollar mean little to its business, although low interest rates do have meaning, insofar as they’re conducive to commercial and personal construction projects. As long as those rates remain low, I would expect those Fastenal parking lots to be busy.

While there’s nothing terribly exciting about this company it has become one of my favorite stocks, while trading in a fairly narrow range. Although priced higher than my current lot of shares, it’s priced at the average entry point of my previous 10 positions over the past 18 months

While Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) doesn’t go ex-dividend this week, it does report earnings. In its nearly 3 years as a publicly traded company Facebook hasn’t had many earnings disappointments since it learned very quickly how to monetize its mobile platforms much more quickly than even its greatest protagonists believed possible.

The option market is implying a 6.2% price move, which is low compared to recent quarters, however, that is a theme for this week for a number of other companies reporting earnings this week.

Additionally, the cushion between the lower range strike price determined by the option market and the strike level that would return my desired 1% ROI isn’t as wide as it has been in the past for Facebook. That strike is 6.8% below Friday’s closing price.

For that reason, while I’ve liked Facebook in the past as an earnings related trade and still do, the likelihood is that if executing this trade I would only do so if shares show some weakness in advance of earnings or if they do so after earnings. In those instances I’d consider the sale of out of the money put contracts. Due to the high volume of trading in Facebook options it is a relatively easy position to rollover if necessary due to a larger than expected move lower, although I wouldn’t be adverse to taking possession of shares and then managing the position with the sale of calls.

American Express (NYSE:AXP) was another casualty within the financial services sector following its earnings report this past week, missing on both analyst’s estimates and its own projections for revenue growth. That disappointment added to the decline its shares had started at the end of 2014.

Since that time, while the S&P 500 has fallen 1.5%, American Express shares had dropped nearly 11%, exacerbated by disappointing earnings, with analysts concerned about future costs, despite plans to cut 4000 employees.

The good news is that American Express has recovered from these kind of earnings drops in he past year as they’ve presented buying opportunities. Along with the price drops comes an increase in option premiums as a little bit more uncertainty about share value is introduced. That uncertainty, together with its resiliency in the face of earnings challenges may make this a good time to consider a new position.

Finally, I wasn’t expecting to be holding any shares of MetLife (NYSE:MET) as Friday’s trading came to its close, having purchased shares last week and expecting them to be assigned on Friday, until shares followed the steep decline in interest rates to require that their option contracts be rolled over.

What I did expect, seeing the price head toward $49 in the final hour of trading was to be prepared to buy shares again this week and that expectation hasn’t changed.

What is making MetLife a little more intriguing, in addition to many others in the financial sector, is the wild ride that interest rates have been on over the past 2 weeks, taking MetLife and others along. With those rides comes enhanced option premiums as the near term holds uncertainty with the direction of rates, although in the longer term it seems hard to believe that they will stay so low as more signs of the economy heating up may be revealed this week.

With shares going ex-dividend on February 4, 2015 and earnings the following week, I may consider a longer term option contract to attempt to capture the dividend, some enhanced premiums, while offering some protection from earnings
surprises through the luxury of additional time for shares to recover, if necessary.

Somewhere along the line a decision will be made regarding the designation of MetLife as a “systemically important” financial institution that is “too big to fail.” While re-affirming that designation, despite MetLife’s protests that has negative consequences, I think that has already been factored into its share price, although it may result in some more dour guidance at some point that will still come as a surprise to some.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Dow Chemical, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (1/28), Kinder Morgan (1/29), Texas Instruments (1/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Facebook (1/28 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.

Weekend Update – January 4, 2015

If you follow the various winning themes for the past year, any past year for that matter, the one thing that seems fairly consistent is that the following year is often less than kind to the notion that good things can just keep happening unchanged.

Often the crowd has a way of ruining good things, whether it’s a pristine and previously unknown hidden corner of a national park or an obscure trend or pattern in markets.

Back in the days when people used to invest in mutual funds the sum total of many people’s “research” was to pick up a copy of Money Magazine and see which was the top performing fund or sector for the year and shift money to that fund for the following year.

That rarely worked out well.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember such things as “The January Effect” or “Dogs of the Dow.” The more they were written about and discussed, and the more widely they were embraced, the less effective they were.

The “Santa Claus Rally” wasn’t very different, at least this year, even as the final day of that period for a brief while looked as if it might end with an upward flourish, but that too disappointed.

Remember “Sell in May and then go away”?

Like most things, the more you anticipate joining in on all of the fun that others have been having, the more likely you’re going to be disappointed.

The latest patterns getting attention are the “years ending in 5” and “Presidential election cycles in years ending in 5.” They may have some history to back up the observations, but seemingly overlooked is the close association between those two events, that are not entirely independent of one another.

Since 2015 happens to be both a year ending in “5” and the year preceding a presidential election, it is clear that the only direction can be higher. What that leaves is the debate over how to get to the promised land. That, of course, is the issue of the merits of active versus passive management of stock portfolios.

For purposes of clarity, the only “merit” that really matters is performance.

Those who have used a simple passive strategy over the past two years, perhaps as simple as being entirely invested in the SPDR S&P 500 Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) to the exclusion of everything else, would have been hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd while hedge fund managers would have been trampled underneath.

The past two years haven’t been especially kind to hedge fund managers, b
ut they have been trampled for very different reasons in that time.

In 2013 who but a super-human kind of investor could have kept up with the S&P 500 while also trying to decrease risk? It’s not terribly easy to match a 30% gain. Hedging has its costs and if markets go only higher those costs simply eat into profits.

In 2014, though, it was a different issue, as the only people who really prospered, in what was still a good year, were those who didn’t try to outsmart markets, as it was almost impossible to even begin classifying the market in 2014. The continual sector rotation either required lots of luck to be continually on the right side of trades or lots of real skill and talent.

Luck runs out. Skill and talents have greater staying power and there’s a reason that only a handful of money managers are well known and regarded for more than a year at a time.

What is fascinating about the market is that even as it ended the year with a very respectable gain those who tried to finesse the market by actively trading don’t have the same kind of elation about its performance.

Just ask them.

So the question is whether the simplicity of a passive strategy is going to again be superior to an active strategy in 2015

As an active trader I’d like to think that passivity will be pass√© as the new year begins. Of course, you do have to wonder how that arbitrary divide that begins after New Years can actually create an environment with a different character, but somehow that arbitrary divide creates a situation where very few years are like the year preceding it.

I have reason to believe that I have neither skill nor luck, so can only count on the observation that a good thing becomes less of a good thing with time.

Popularity is superficial, while history runs deep.

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

I also like to think that I’ve never really had an original thought.

This week’s potential stock selections to begin 2015 may be an excellent example of the lack of originality, as all of the names are either recent selections, purchases or assigned positions. Add to that their general lack of exciting qualities and you have a really impotent one – two punch to start the year.

With earnings season set to begin the week after this coming week there’s plenty of time for excitement. However, with the upcoming week featuring an FOMC Statement release and the Employment Situation Report, there’s already enough excitement in the upcoming week to want to add to it.

The scheduled events of this week also offer more than enough opportunity to add to this past week’s broad weakness, particularly if the FOMC emphasizes strong GDP data or there is unusually large employment growth, either of which could signal interest rate increases ahead.

In that kind of environment, even if widely expected, the immediate reaction would likely be a shock to the system and I would prefer my exposure to be offset by the security of size and quality. Characteristics that coincidentally may be found in components of the S&P 500, so favored by passivists.

Among those are three members of the DJIA.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) are among this week’s list.

Intel is a little bit of an anomaly to be included in the list, as it was the best performing of the DJIA stocks in 2014 and might, therefore, be reasonably expected to lag in 2015. However, I think that those who would have been prone to pile into the stock because of its performance in the past year would have already done so, as its most recent performance has trailed the S&P 500.

What appeals to me about Intel’s shares for a very short term trade is that the crowd turned very suddenly on them on Friday, giving up nearly all of an almost 3% gain earlier in the trading session. With that arbitrary divide creating its own unique trading dynamics, Intel may not receive quite the same attention as General Electric and Verizon, as those may garner notice because they are among those “dogs” that still have faithful adherents.

But beyond that, Intel still has a fundamentally positive story behind its climb in 2014 and may again be well aligned with the fortunes of a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as it continues on its return to relevance. For a short term trade in advance of its upcoming earnings report on January 15, 2015, I wouldn’t mind it trading listlessly in return for the option premium.

General Electric is simply at a price point that I find attractive, having recently had shares assigned. It certainly hasn’t been a very attractive stock over the years for much of anything other than a covered option strategy, but it has been well suited for that, as long as it can continue to trade in a relatively narrow range.

Verizon will be ex-dividend this week and is down nearly 9% from its high in November. Bruised a little due to increasing competition among mobile providers and sustaining the expenses of subsidizing the iPhone, it will report earnings in less than 3 weeks and I might want to either be out of any position prior to then, or if not, use an extended weekly option if having to rollover a position to acquire some additional premium in protection, in the event of an adverse response to earnings.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has had its fortunes most recently closely aligned to the energy sector. WHile owning a more expensive lot, I’ve traded other lots as shares have fallen in an effort to generate quick returns from option premiums and share appreciation.

As those shares again approach $45.50 I would like to do so again, but recognizing that oil is at a precarious level, as it gets closer to the $50 level, which if breached, could pull Dow Chemical even lower.

That increased volatility due to the uncertainty in the energy sector has made the option premiums much more appealing. However, even with that challenge, Dow Chemical has the advantage of a highly competent and long serving CEO who is increasingly responsive to the marketplace as he has activists breathing down his neck.

The Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) story isn’t one of being held hostage by an energy cartel and falling prices, as is the case with Dow Chemical, but rather it fell prey to the collapse of the much less well known potash cartel.

Hopefully, the time frame will be far shorter for Dow Chemical than it has been for Mosaic, as I’ve been sitting on some much more expensive shares for quite a while. In the interim, however, Mosaic has offered many opportunities for entering into new positions in the hopes of quick assignment and capturing option premiums, dividends and some occasional capital gains on shares.

While its next dividend is till some months away, it is now quickly again in the price range at which I like to consider adding shares again, although it could still go even lower. However, as long as it does continue trading in this relatively narrow range, it is capable of generating serial option premiums and even if its performance may seem mediocre on a yearly basis, its ROI can be very attractive.

I don’t get terribly excited about food stocks, but when looking for some relative calm, both Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) and Kelloggs (NYSE:K) may offer some respite from any tumult that may confront the market next week.

Both were recently assigned and at these levels I wouldn’t mind owning them again. In the case of Campbell Soup, that means the opportunity to capture its dividend and not be concerned about its next earnings until the March 2015 option cycle.

Kellogg is a stock that I would consider buying more often, however, the decision is related to how closely its price is to one of the strike levels on its monthly options.

Unlike Campbell Soup which has strikes at $1 intervals and many weekly options have $0.50 intervals, Kellogg options utilize $2.50 intervals, which can make the premiums relatively unattractive if the share price is at a distance from the strike at the time of the proposed sale of option contracts.

Finally, my plan to add shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) a couple of weeks agowent unrequited. The fact that its shares are now 2% lower doesn’t necessarily make me salivate over the prospects about adding shares now, as the past two weeks could have represented lost opportunities to generate option premiums and in a position to do so again in the coming week, as shares seem to be settling in at this higher level.

The coming year may be a fascinating one for eBay as the speculation grows about the planned spin off of PayPal, which may never make it to an IPO as it may be coveted by another company.

Of course, who might benefit from that detour is also open to question as eBay itself may be in the crosshairs of an acquiring behemoth.

For now, I still like owning eBay shares and usually selling near or in the money calls, but I would increasingly consider setting aside a portion of those shares for the kind of capital gains that so many have moaned about not having seen over the years as slings and arrows have consistently been thrown in eBay’s direction.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, General Electric, Intel, Kellogg, Mosaic

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Campbell Soup (1/8), Verizon (1/7)

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.

Weekend Update – November 30, 2014

An incredibly quiet and uneventful week, cut short by the Thanksgiving Day holiday, saw the calm interrupted as a group of oil ministers from around the world came to an agreement.

They agreed that couldn’t agree, mostly because one couldn’t trust the other to partner in concerted actions what would turn out to be in everyone’s best interests.

If you’ve played the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game you know that you can’t always trust a colleague to do the right thing or to even do the logical thing. The essence of the game is that your outcome is determined not only by your choice, but also by the choice of someone else who may or may not think rationally or who may or may not believe that you think rationally.

The real challenge is figuring out what to do yourself knowing that your fate may be, to some degree, controlled by an irrational partner, a dishonest one or one who simply doesn’t understand the concept of risk – reward. That and the fact that they may actually enjoy stabbing you in the back, even if it means they pay a price, too.

Given the disparate considerations among the member OPEC nations looking out for their national interests, in addition to the growing influence of non-OPEC nations, the only reasonable course of action was to reduce oil production. But no single nation was willing to trust that the other nations would have done the right thing to maintain oil prices at higher levels, while still obeying basic laws of supply and demand, so the resulting action was no action. The stabbing in the back was probably in the minds of some member nations, as well.

If the stock market was somehow the partner in a separate room being forced to make a buying or selling decision based on what it thought the OPEC members would do, a reasonable stock market would have expected a reduction in supply by OPEC members in support of oil prices. After all, reasonable people don’t stab others in the back.

That decision would have resulted in either buying, or at least holding energy shares in advance of the meeting and then being faced with the reality that those OPEC members, hidden away, whose interests may not have been aligned with those of investors, made a decision that made no economic sense, other than perhaps to pressure higher cost producers.

And so came the punishment the following day, as waves of selling hit at the opening of trading. Not quite a capitulation, despite the large falls, because panic was really absent and there was no crescendo-like progression, but still, the selling was intense as many headed for the exits.

While fleeing, the question of whether this decision or lack of decision marked the death of the OPEC cartel, meaning that oil would start trading more on those basic laws and not being manipulated by nations always seeking the highest reward.

The more religious and national tensions existing between member nations and the more influence of non-member nations the less likely the cartel can act as a cartel.

The poor UAE oil minister at a press conference complained that it wasn’t fair for OPEC to be blamed for low oil prices, forgetting that once you form a cartel the concept of fairness is already taken off of the table, as for more than 40 years the cartel has unfairly squeezed the world for every penny it could get.

With the belief that the death of OPEC may be at hand comes the logical, but mistaken belief that the ensuing low oil prices would be a boon for the stock market. That supposition isn’t necessarily backed up by reality, although logic would take your mind in that direction.

As it happens, rising oil prices, especially when due to demand outstripping supply makes for a good stock market, as it reflects accelerating economic growth. Falling oil prices, if due to decreased demand is certainly not a sign of future economic activity. However, we are now in some uncharted territory, as falling prices are due to supply that is greater than demand and without indication that those falling prices are going to result in a near term virtuous cycle that would send markets higher.

What we do know is that creates its own virtuous cycle as consumers will be left with more money to spend and federal and state governments will see gas taxes revenues increase as people drive more and pay less.

The dilemma now facing investors is whether there are better choices than energy stocks at the moment, despite what seems to be irrationally low pricing. The problem is that those irrational people in the other room are still in control of the destinies of others and may only begin to respond in a rational manner after having experienced maximum pain.

As much as I am tempted to add even more energy stocks, despite already suffering from a disproportionately high position, the lesson is clear.

When in doubt, don’t trust the next guy to do the right thing.

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

When Blackstone (NYSE:BX) went public a number of years ago, just prior to the financial meltdown, imagine yourself being held an a room and being given the option of investing your money in the market, without knowing whether the privately held company would decide to IPO. On the surface that might have sounded like a great idea, as the market was heading higher and higher. But the quandary was that you were being asked to make your decision without knowing that Blackstone was perhaps preparing an exit strategy for a perceived market top and was looking to cash out, rather than re-invest for growth.

Had you known that the money being raised in the IPO was going toward buying out one of the founders rather than being plowed back into the company your decision might have been different. Or had you known that the IPO was an attempt to escape the risks of a precariously priced market you may have reacted differently.

So here we are in 2014 and Blackstone, which is the business of buying struggling or undervalued businesses, nurturing them and then re-selling them, often through public markets, is again selling assets.

Are they doing so because
they perceive a market peak and are securing profits or are they preparing to re-invest the assets for further growth? The dilemma faced is across the entire market and not just Blackstone, which in the short term may be a beneficiary of its actions trying to balance risk and reward by reducing its own risk.

The question of rational behavior may be raised when looking at the share price response to Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) on Friday. In a classic case of counting chickens before they were hatched I was expecting my shares to be assigned on Friday.

While I usually wait until Thursday or Friday to try to make rollovers, this past shortened week I actually made a number of rollovers on Tuesday, which were serendipitous, not having expected Friday’s weakness. The rollover trade that didn’t get made was for Dow Chemcal, which seemed so likely to be assigned and would have offered very little reward for the rollover.

Who knew that it would be caught up in the energy sell-off, well out of proportion to its risk in the sector, predominantly related to its Kuwaiti business alliances? The question of whether that irrational behavior will continue to punish Dow Chemical shares is at hand, but this drop just seems like a very good opportunity to add shares, both as part of corporate buybacks as well as for a personal portfolio. With my shares now not having been assigned, trading opportunities look beyond the one week horizon with an eye on holding onto shares in order to capture the dividend in late December.

The one person that I probably wouldn’t want to be in the room next to me when I was being asked to make a decision and having to rely on his mutual cooperation, would be John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS). He hasn’t given too much indication that he would be reluctant to throw anyone under the bus.

However, with some of the fuss about a potential buyout now on hiatus and perhaps the disappointment of no action in that regard now also on hiatus, shares may be settling back to its more sedate trading range.

That would be fine for me, still holding a single share lot and having owned shares on 5 occasions in the past year. Its option volume trading is unusually thin at times, however, and with larger bid – ask spreads than I would normally like to see. At its current price and now having withstood the pressures of its very aggressive pricing campaigns for about a year, I’m less concerned about a very bad earnings release and see upside potential as it has battled back from lower levels.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) may also have had some of the takeover excitement die down, particularly as its most likely purchaser has announced its own plans to split itself into two new companies. Yet it has been able to continue trading at its upper range for the year.

EMC isn’t a terribly exciting company, but it has enough movement from buyout speculation, earnings and speculation over the future of its large VMWare (NYSE:VMW) holding to support an attractive option premium, in addition to an acceptable dividend.

I currently own sh
ares of both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS). They both are ex-dividend this coming week. Beyond that they also have in common the fact that I’ve been buying shares and selling calls on them for years, but most recently they have been mired at a very low price level and have been having difficulty breaking resistance at $38 and $51, respectively.

While they have been having difficulty breaking through those resistance levels they have also been finding strength at the $35 and $45 levels, respectively. Narrowing the range between support and resistance begins to make them increasingly attractive for a covered option trade, especially with the dividend at hand.

I’ve been sitting on some shares of General Motors (NYSE:GM) for a while and they are currently uncovered. I don’t particularly like adding shares after a nice rise higher, as General Motors had on Friday, but at its current price I think that it is well positioned to get back to the $35 level and while making that journey, perhaps buoyed by lower fuel prices, there is a nice dividend next week and some decent option premiums, as well. What is absolutely fascinating about the recent General Motors saga is that it has been hit with an ongoing deluge of bad news, day in and day out, yet somehow has been able to retain a reasonably respectable stock price.

Finally, it’s another week to give some thought to Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). That incredibly dysfunctional company that has made a habit of large price moves up and down as it tries to break away from the consumer irrelevancy that many have assigned it.

Abercrombie and Fitch recently gave some earnings warnings in anticipation of this week’s release and shares tumbled at that time. If you’ve been keeping a score card, lately the majority of those companies offering warnings or revising guidance downward, have continued to suffer once the earnings are actually released.

The options market is anticipating a 9.1% price move this week in response to earnings. However, it would still take an 11.8% decline to trigger assignment at a strike level that would offer a 1% ROI for the week of holding angst.

That kind of cushion between the implied move and the 1% ROI strike gives me reason to consider the risk of selling puts and crossing my fingers that some surprise, such as the departure of its always embattled CEO is announced, as a means of softening any further earnings disappointments.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Dow Chemical, EMC Corp, General Motors

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Coach (12/3), Mosaic (12/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (12/3 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.

Weekend Update – November 16, 2014

The past week was one of the quietest ones that could have been imagined.

The biggest stories of the week were the broken scaffolding that left two window washers dangling on the edge of the new “One World Trade Center” and the successful landing of Rosetta on a faraway comet after a 10 year mission.

With the exception of a late in the week rumor of a buyout of one oilfield services company by another, there really was nothing to propel markets as it was an extraordinarily quiet week on the economic news front, only slightly punctuated by a relatively obscure statistic that suddenly may be an important one in the coming months.

Years ago the single most important economic report came on a weekly basis. If anyone remembers all the way back to the 1980s you may recall how everyone waited for Thursdays and the release of the “M2 Money Supply” statistic.

If you do remember that you may also remember the inflation in the 1980s and can understand why M2 was watched so closely. Inflation was “Enemy #1” and the M2 Supply was linked to that evil. At one time M2 was used by the Federal Reserve to steer the economy in attempting to avoid a renewed bout of inflation.

You don’t hear much talk about M2 anymore as it was replaced by a more direct reliance on interest rates, especially the “Fed Funds Rate.” We still care about interest rates, but sometimes a little too much. Right now we seem overly concerned about when the Federal Reserve will begin to finally increase interest rates forgetting how that which helps to bring about inflation is exactly what we’ve been pining for a sign of the economy finally getting some footing.

This week we finally heard about something that wasn’t really new but got lots of comments and focus. Just a few months ago Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen suggested that we should start paying more attention to the “quit rate” that was included in the “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary” also known as the “JOLT” Summary.

That acronym may be very unintentionally appropriate, as sometimes a jolt is exactly what’s needed to get things back into gear.

While many fight over whether the monthly Employment Situation Report should be looked at through the lens of the “U-6” measure of employment, Yellen is suggesting that the decision of people to quit their jobs in the belief that they can now land another, presumably better paying job, is telling of an economy that is heading in the right path and that will introduce some wage inflation.

That’s the kind of jolt this economy has needed. Not just more jobs, but better paying jobs that allow consumers to begin consuming again. Instead of fearing inflation, there should be some realization that a degree of inflation is exactly what this economy has needed for a long time.

One of my sons will likely be included in the next “JOLT” Summary, as he quit a job in which he was more of a low priced commodity and started on a new and much better paying job. He also bought a new car that week.

See how it works? It’s all about the discretionary spending. That’s what really fuels everything, as part of a virtuous cycle of jobs and consumerism.

Given the mixed results reported by some major retailers this week there definitely needs to be some enhancements to the top line and the only thing that can bring that about is an energized consumer jolted back to life.

For anyone that has been either on the receiving end or delivery end of paddles that are meant to jolt you back to life you know just how important that kick start is, but you also know that too much of a good thing brings its own problems.

Having been witness to the late 1970s and early 1980s there is certainly a degree of hesitance when inflation enters into the equation, but somewhere there may be a person in a position to steer the economy who understands that the extremes of the continuum aren’t the only possible outcomes.

Janet Yellen gives all indications of being the person who can jolt and withdraw jolt as signs of economic life warrant.

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

Another company bound to benefit from any improvement in employment, especially the kind that results in increased ability to engage in discretionary spending is Fastenal (FAST). This is a company that I’ve come to look at as a reflection of the real economy and while it has traded in a very narrow range it has been an excellent covered call trade.

It simply sells those things that are measures of economic development and expansion to both other business, middlemen and do it yourself kind of people. What they sell reflects a wide and varied kind of activity. They sometimes have q habit of providing revised guidance a few weeks before earnings and those occasional surprises help to create a reasonable option premium in advance of earnings, in addition to the enhancement that may come with earnings.

Dow Chemical (DOW) had a few false starts this week, jumping significantly higher and then giving back much of the gains on successive days. Those moves came before and after the announcements of additional share buybacks and an increased dividend. Shares closed up nicely on Friday continuing the hesitant optimism of earlier in the week, after having fallen from its highs of the day, only to rally back in an otherwise mediocre tape.

Add into the mix the presence of an activist investor and a long tenured CEO that is as tough as he can be charming and you have the makings of a company that will continue seeing pressures from both sides in support of shares, even though that may be a by-product of a more personal kind of battle. However, as a shareholder, you don’t necessarily care how you get to your objective, as long as you get there. Having some entertainment accompany the journey can just be an added bonus.

Joy Global (JOY) is another of these companies that trades with quite a bit volatility and is highly levered to activity in China, as well as to the veracity of reports from China. None of those are particularly endearing qualities, but Joy Global has been a company that routinely bounces back from disappointment over prospects of slowdowns in Chinese construction and infrastructure activity. It will report earnings in just a few weeks and will also be ex-dividend prior to that, so there are some events that have to be considered if entering into a new position, particularly if hoping for a quick exit.

While the majority of the systemically important companies have already reported earnings, there are quite a few of the more highly volatile companies reporting earnings this week. Among those that have caught my attention for this week are Best Buy (BBY), GameStop (GME), Green Mountain Keurig (GMCR) and salesforce.com (CRM).

Rather than considering any of them on the basis of their fundamental businesses, strengths or challenges awaiting them, I see them as potential opportunities based only on their recent price behaviors.

One thing that they all have in common is that they’ve all had recent runs higher in price. Another thing that they have in common, befitting the level of risk associated with their upcoming earnings is very high option premiums.

In order to achieve a 1% ROI on the sale of put contracts Best Buy, GameStop, Green Mountain Keurig and salesforce.com could still fall by approximately 9.2%, 21.3%, 10.5%, and 7%, respectively without assignments of puts sold. Meanwhile, their respective implied volatilities are 7.5%, 12%, 8.8% and 6.2%.

However, another thing that they share in common, at least from my perspective is that due to their recent runs higher, they may be prone to even harder falls than those implied moves might indicate. For that reason, I’m more inclined to consider the sale of puts after earnings for any of those companies that may in fact fall hard upon their releases, especially for salesforce.com, which offers the least amount of cushion between the implied move and the strike at which the ROI objective is attained.

On the other hand, GameStop offers the greatest cushion, so may be one to consider the sale of put options prior to earnings. As always, the sale of puts may require some additional attention, especially if hoping to avoid assignment if share price goes below the strike level selected.

Finally, it may be yet another week to think about Twitter (TWTR). Whether using the service or not, there’s no denying that it is a company whose stock is in search of direction, very much as many believe its company is in need of direction.

While no one has been criticizing the company on the basis of its earnings there is certainly lots of confusion about what Twitter plans to be and how it will get there, especially if it can’t decide on how to measure its activities and relate those to revenues.

This past week put the Twitter story into focus. Shares soared at its first analysts day meeting, up about 10% until Standard and Poor’s delivered an unsolicited credit report on the company, placing it at a “junk” level designation.

Granted, that S&P, by virtue of having performed an unsolicited analysis didn’t have access to the same company records as it ordinarily does when assessing a company’s credit worthiness, but the market immediately reversed course and sent shares sharply lower.

As was the case last week, I already had sold Twitter puts. I rolled those over on Thursday as Twitter was falling sharply and mat sell even more puts this week, particularly if there is some opening weakness to begin the week.

For anyone following this trade, it is one that may see lots of ups and downs and may require more maintenance, particularly in deciding whether to roil over puts to a forward week or take assignment in the event of adverse movement, but it can be a serially satisfying trade. Friday’s bounce again higher, perhaps after the realization that the S&P rating may have been based on incomplete information, may simply be one of many bounces ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Fastenal

Momentum: Joy Global, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/20 AM), GameStop (11/20 AM), Green Mountain Keurig (11/19 PM), salesforce.com (11/19 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.