Weekend Update – July 6, 2014

You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I’ve long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It’s far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.

Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.

So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you’re not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That’s especially so because lately the market hasn’t been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality

In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen re-affirmed he commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.

If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post – FOMC press conference?

That gift didn’t have too much staying power and it’s unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it’s good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.

When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.

Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."

As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.

So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation’s employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn’t a very good time if you were an equity investor.

While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you’re on a roll you go with it.

More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.

However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying  about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?

I’m afraid the answer is that "you don’t," other than perhaps in hindsight.

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

Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.

I don’t say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer’s face.

That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I’m always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.

Most recently Coach (COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven’t found myself displaying a similar emotion. I’ve usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.

However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn’t end with earnings this time around.

As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares  or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.

While not  in retail, Mosaic (MOS) is another company that I’ve spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it’s time to  make some money. 

Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to continually rollover option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.

Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (DRI). There’s probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend. 

While Darden’s payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn’t much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.

Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.

As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have  are-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.

Microsoft (MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.

Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it’s clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.

Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.

The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn’t quite fulfill my objective of tring to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen is a good friend to have on your side.

Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.

While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs’ illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook’s second seat at the helm of the company.

JP Morgan’s shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon’s health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JP Morgan’s credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon’s health or unexpected change of leadership.

In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JP Morgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected form its own self than in past years. WHether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.

Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we’ll need.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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 – June 15, 2014

It’s hard to believe that there was ever a period of a few hundred years with relative peace and little military expansion.

It’s not too hard to believe that almost 2000 years have passed, but given that the Pax Romana was followed by the Middle Ages we may want to re-think the idyllic and beneficial nature of peace.

The “Pax Romana” sounds so quaint in an era when even a week without new conflict seems like a gift from the heavens, but the markets need some kind of conflict, physical or otherwise, to keep it functioning in a rationale manner. Otherwise it gets left to its own self and that could have consequences.

This past week was one in which there was no real scheduled news and very little was expected to be happening to shake markets. It was a week when I thought the real challenge would be balancing new market highs achieved in very tentative fashion with the vacuum that can generate largely uncatalyzed moves.

In that vacuum too much quietude can lead to lots of introspection, and over-analysis, not to mention those voices that start telling you what you really should be doing. In that vacuum it’s not too unusual to see over-exaggerated responses to otherwise benign factors.

Who knew that the vacuum could be so easily magnify the results of a primary election in a small congressional district?

For some reason that was the conventional wisdom explaining the first of two triple digit losses mid-week, despite little rationale reason to believe that the political landscape could get any less accommodating. Why in the world a roadblock toward achieving immigration reform could jeopardize stock health is a difficult thesis to weave, but that was the story and everyone stuck to it, while ignoring the fact that the World Bank had cut its forecasts for global growth.

However, the following day there really was something to be concerned about and that was the disruption of a week’s worth of world peace as news came of a mostly unknown army beginning to conquer Iraq and marching toward its capital with Patton-like speed.

Its name “ISIS,” an acronym for “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” is an unfortunate situation for Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS). It reminds me a bit of the early 1980s and the one time popular diet suppressant, AYDS. Hopeful Isis Pharmaceuticals will respond better than the decision to rename a product as “Diet Ayds.”

But with tensions rising as this past week came to its close the market once again did the unexpected, just as it had done through much of 2011, 2012 and 2013.

If the lessons of the Crimean and Ukraine crises have taught us anything it’s that Friday crises tend to be good for whatever it is that’s ailing the markets.

Going into a weekend of uncertainty the market again failed to sell off and abide by the age old wisdom of not staying long going into a weekend of uncertainty.

Lately, it seems that the market thrives most when peace, whether that of political compromise necessary for a budgetary agreement or that of a cease fire, is itself at risk. With all of the recent talk about complacency, while the Volatility Index may reflect the level of past complacent behavior, the decision to ignore the unknown that may come from a marauding army marching into a nation’s capital is a true measure.

While we all want peace in every aspect of our lives there is a sense of “schadenfreude” that may exist when realizing that it is ongoing tension that may serve to keep markets thriving rather than focusing upon itself and realizing that sometimes heights are untenable.

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

In  addition to the certainty of conflict that seems to occur on a very predictable basis, so too is there certainty lately that General Motors (GM) will be in the news and not for a good reason. With even more recalls announced last week there really hasn’t been much good news for quite a while, but as we saw last week, that didn’t seem to have any impact on sales.

To its credit despite all of the adverse news General Motors has defended the $35 level very nicely, as long as you’ve had a little bit of faith and patience while others either took profits or panicked.

Following a little bit of weakness and demonstrating that shares can absorb incredible amounts of bad news, General Motors offers some good opportunities for use in a covered option strategy, as it offers an attractive dividend that results from its frequent price gyrations. With it’s equally attractive dividend it is easier to be patient while watching shares move up and down. The availability of expanded weekly options adds considerable latitude in how shares are managed while awaiting those price movements.

With the recent revision to GDP there may not be much reason to be optimistic about near term economic growth. However with continuing and steady growth in employment and perhaps bolstered by news from one time leader Intel (INTC), of increasing fortunes, I again took to my proxy for economic growth, Fastenal (FAST). 

I already own shares that may be assigned this coming week, but would not be adverse to rolling them over as they approach the purchase price after some recent weakness. I would also consider either replacing those shares, if assigned, or even adding additional shares and would further consider using some longer term options, such as the July or August 2014 contracts. The latter also adds the possibility of capturing a dividend payment.

Nike (NKE) isn’t a company that I’ve owned very often, although it is one that I look at each week when thinking of possible replacements for assigned shares. Unfortunately, this week I didn’t have any assignments and that makes me a little more guarded about adding new positions and eroding my cash position. However, it’s hard to formulate a thesis whereby Nike is disproportionately damaged by any breach of peace in the world. I also look at shares of Nike as currently being on sale after some recent losses. 

Lowes (LOW) on the other hand, is a company that I’ve owned with some frequency, as recently as a week ago. It, too, is on sale after last week’s market movements and without any real reason for its price drop.

Lowes fits the profile of companies that have been especially kind to me, in that it tends to move within a defined range, deals with an easily understandable product and happens to offer reasonable option premiums and a fair dividend.

While there’s nothing terribly exciting about the company that sits in the shadow of a larger competitor and isn’t too likely to gain from future growth nor suffer from growth disappointments, there is something exciting about booking profits at a tolerable level of risk.

With some recent concerns about its future in the Russian marketplace having been put at ease, MasterCard (MA) has rebounded from its recent lows. It is among those stocks that has seen me hoping for a drop in value and did so a bit over the past week. My comfort level with purchasing new shares is in the $76 range and it is currently just below that level, inviting some consideration. However, I may be inclined to sell puts on shares as my preference is a lower entry price. If doing so and the shares dropped below the strike I would assess whether to attempt to rollover the puts in an effort to get an even lower entry price or whether to accept assignment and position myself to sell calls and perhaps collect the trivial dividend early next month.

The week’s two potential dividend plays are very much at extremes of the spectrum. General Electric (GE) is fairly staid, moves in small doses, while Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is quite the opposite.

General Electric is a company that I don’t own often enough and am never quite certain why that is the case. It too tends to trade in a definable range, is not terribly volatile, offers a reasonable option premium and an excellent dividend. All of that sounds compelling to me, with perhaps this being the week, as the dividend serves as a lure.

Las Vegas Sands, which I purchased last week and may lose to early assignment, is still at the lower end of its recent trading range, despite the good showing last week. While I don’t particularly like chasing stocks that have risen, regardless of how much higher they may still need to go to get to recent highs, here too, the dividend may be a potent lure. While the premium is always attractive, I think that the near term lower boundary on the trading range may have been defined at about $72.

Finally, everyone who loves dysfunction would certainly be attracted to Darden Restaurants (DRI).

Not too long ago its CEO, Clarence Otis, was hailed as a genius and in touch with the casual dining needs of the nation. Now, he is castigated as caring only about his own fate and selling Darden’s assets at ridiculously low valuation in an effort to fend off activists.

Whatever.

I rarely want to consider an earnings related trade unless there are weekly and preferably expanded weekly contracts available and then usually consider the sale of puts. Sadly, in Darden’s case there are only monthly contracts, but this happens to be the final week of the monthly cycle, so in a perfectly executed strategy this could be a weekly trade.

However, despite that, I look at a potential share purchase of Darden and looking at a longer term commitment, with consideration of selling July 2014 calls in the hope of also capturing its very healthy dividend.

Dysfunction can sometimes play the same role as conflict. Sure, normalcy is far easier to deal with, but as with peace, where’s the excitement in that?

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Lowes, MasterCard, Nike

Momentum:  General Motors

Double Dip Dividend:  General Electric (6/19), Las Vegas Sands (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Darden Restaurants (6/20)

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

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Weekend Update – January 5, 2014

There’s a lot to be said in support of those who practice a strategy of surrounding themselves with those that suffer by comparison of whatever attribute is under consideration.

Most of us intuitively know what needs to be done if we want to make ourselves or our actions look good when under scrutiny.

The mutual fund industry had done it for years. It’s all about what you compare yourself to, although looking good raises expectations for even more of the same and most of us also know how that often works out.

As observers it’s only natural that we make our assessments on the basis of comparison to whatever standard is available. Among our many human foibles is that we often tend to be superficial and are just as likely to forego deeper analyses when faced with pleasing circumstances. We also want to go with the perceived winners in the belief that they will always be winners. Certainly the investing experience doesn’t bear out that strategy. Yesterday’s winner isn’t necessarily tomorrow’s champion.

Fresh on the heels of a 31% gain in the S&P 500, 2014 is going to have a difficult time in comparison. While maybe hoping that 2015 is going to be an abysmal year in the meantime 2014 has to contend with the obvious stress of the obligatory comparisons.

For the individual investor 2013 has ended with so many stocks at or near their highs that it’s actually very difficult to find that lesser entity for comparison purposes. Everything just looks so good that nothing really looks good, especially going forward, which is the only direction that counts. Looking at chart after chart brings up strikingly similar patterns with very little able to stand out on the basis of its own beauty. Comparing onesupermodelto the next is likely to be an empty exercise for many reasons, but ultimately it becomes clear that there are no distinguishing factors to make anyone stand out.

Without comparisons our own minds get numb. We need differences to appreciate the reality of any situation. When so many stock charts begin to look so similar it becomes difficult to discern where to start when looking for new positions.

While another human tendency is the desire to go with winners this time of the year introduces a traditional concept that looks in the opposite direction for its rewards. This is the time of the year when theDogs of the Dow Theorygets so much attention. In a year that so many stocks are higher the comparison to those that have truly underperformed is really heightened.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum andPEEcategories this week (see details). With earnings season beginning once again this week attention must also be diverted into the consideration of those reports when adding new positions and when selecting the time frame for hedging options. For that reason I’m looking increasingly at option time frames that offer some buffer in time between expiration dates and earnings dates, perhaps making greater use of expanded options and forward month expirations, as well.

This week’s potential selections varied widely in performance compared to the S&P 500 during 2013. While noDogs of the Dowcandidates are offered, some were dogs in their own right regardless of what they were being compared to at the time. But as always, since I like to hedge my bets and play on both sides of prevailing sentiment, there may be room for both outperformers and underperformers as 2014 gets underway.

While General Electric’s (GE) 33.5% gain for 2013 was laudable it essentially mirrored the S&P 500 for the year. An analyst downgrade on Friday had virtually no impact, although shares did fall nearly 2% the previous day to start the New Year. Increasingly shedding its dependence on financial divisions that helped to bring it to $6 just 5 years ago, GE may now be wondering if this wouldn’t be a good time to emphasize that division, as interest rates are beginning to rise. But even a stagnant GE in 2014 when considered in the context of its dividend and option premiums offers a good place to invest if the aim is to outperform the S&P 500.

Barclays (BCS) is one of those in the financial sector that had greatly lagged the S&P 500 in 2013. With significant international exposure it shouldn’t be too surprising that it might better reflect the lesser fortunes experienced by the European markets, among others. I already own shares and will consider adding more as it appears that there will be a move higher which I expect will be confirmed by improved earnings when reported during the February 2014 option cycle, which may also see a dividend payment.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) has long been a favorite stock upon which to sell covered calls or enter ownership through the sale of puts. It outperformed the S&P 500 by nearly the amount that Barclays underperformed for the year, but after some recent weakness that reduced shares by 7% its chart has started looking less like the crowd. While certainly not in thelosercategory it’s potential looks better to me than those that haven’t taken the time for the share price to take a breather of late.

As long as in comparison mode, last January Family Dollar Store (FDO) dropped 12% upon earnings release, which followed a 9% drop the previous month. The option market isn’t expecting a repeat of that performance, perhaps because shares are already down 11% since its September high. Instead a 5.9% implied move is priced into option contracts. The sale of out of the money puts at a strike price at the lower end of the implied move could return 0.9% for the effort. That is just below my typical threshold for making such a trade, but if looking for a relativedog,” this may be the one ready for a rebound.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that recently broke out of its reliable trading range. Once that happens I lose interest in reacquiring shares, having already owned it on eight occasions in 2013. What I don’t lose is interest in seeing shares return to that range. Following an earnings related share fall the price rebounded beyond where it started is descent. However, a recent downgrade has started nudging shares back toward the upper edge of the range that has proved to be a good entry point. While no one really has any good idea of what awaits the Chinese economy and by extension, Joy Global’s fortunes, it has proven to be a resilient stock and offers an option premium to go along with its frequent alternations in price direction.

It has been a long time since I had own any communications stocks until a recent TMobile holding. While both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T)were core holdings during the recovery stages in 2009, I haven’t found them very appealing for much of the recovery. However, both do go exdividend this week and the cellphone services sector is certainly livening up a bit. But beyond that, for the first time in a long time there were glimpses of these shares offering meaningful option premiums during their exdividend week that seemed to warrant their consideration once again. In fact, I didn’t wait until Monday and purchased shares of Verizon after weakness on Friday and may elect to accompany those shares with its rival’s shares, as well.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) was a selection just a few weeks ago but went unrequited as news broke regarding activist investor coercion regarding potential spinoff plans for its low growth Red Lobster chain. Shares go exdividend this week and earnings pressure is still two months away. Although a $55 strike would require challenging its 52 week high, this is a potential trade that I would consider using a forward month contract, such as the February 2014, in anticipation of some increasing pressure from the investment community and activists intent on reengineering.

Finally, a study in comparative contrasts are Walter Energy (WLT) and Icahn Enterprises (IEP). While Icahn Enterprises was nearly 145% higher for the year Walter Energy dropped nearly 54%.

While Carl Icahn may get more done on the basis of brute force investing and schoolyard tactics, Walter Energy now relies on the power of redemption and grace, and maybe just a little on business cycles.

A quick look at the comparative charts shows what a difference time can make, as Walter Energy greatly outperformed Icahn Enterprises prior to this year and how Icahn Enterprises had been simply a market performer until the past year.

Interestingly in the past month Walter Energy has risen about 15% while Icahn Enterprises has fallen a similar amount.

IEP Chart

This past year no one has received more attention for his investing and activism than Carl Icahn. This week yet another company Hertz (HTZ) acknowledged that it was in the Icahn crosshairs, as it adopted a poison pill provision to keep him at bay. Icahn Enterprises, a tangled web of holding companies and investment activities shows little sign of slowing down as long as the market remains healthy. With the ability to raise stock prices with a simple Tweet, Carl Icahn may be more in control of his destiny than the market was intended to allow.

With a healthy dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle and an attractive option premium, Icahn Enterprises may be a good choice for someone with a little daring to spare, as the ascent has been steep.

Walter Energy, on the other hand, has been slowly working its way higher, although still having a long way to go to erase its past year’s loss. While there is certainly no guarantee that last year’s loser will be this year’s darling, Walter Energy certainly is the former. It has, however, for the daring, offered excellent option premiums even for deep in the money options, that do mitigate some of the risk inherent in ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Icahn Enterprises, Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (exdiv 1/8), Darden (exdiv 1/8), Verizon (exdiv 1/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Store

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 – September 29, 2013

“There’s always a calm before the storm” is a fairly well known saying that doesn’t always accurately define a sequence of events.

Are all storms preceded by a period of calm? Is calm always followed by a storm?

The predictive capability of a period of calm hasn’t necessarily been validated among meteorological circles.

Being a meteorologist, however, is very similar to being a stock analyst or a market technician. No one really expects you to get it right, because you get it wrong so often. Besides, you would have to be a fool to fully predicate your actions on their prognostications. Neither group tends to publicly sit down and review the signals that had them sending the wrong messages.

Other than that meteorologists often get their wardrobes provided at no cost, while market analysts often get unlimited supplies of antacids. Meteorologists, though often wrong, are still very often beloved by their audience. I’m not certain the same can be said for stock analysts.

This past week was a forgettable one in just about all aspects. It was a week of calm, at least as far as potentially market moving news tend to go. Yet even in the midst of a sea of calm, the market was down over 1% and was unable to hold the 1700 level on the S&P 500, bringing us back to a level last seen about 10 days ago, when all was sunny.

While meteorologists often look to macro events, such as “El Nino,” or even global warming, the macro events that may move our markets are many and varied, but none seem to have paid a call this week. In fact, even factors that in the past sent chills of fear and uncertainty into the hearts of investors, such as a government shutdown or impending default on US obligations, have thus far barely elicited a yawn.

The perfect storm of good news and absence of bad news has simply continued. Aalthough this week was one of relative calm it’s hard to not notice dark clouds on the horizon, most of which are preceded by the fear of “what if.” What if tapering begins? What if the government is shut down? What if there is a government default?

Maybe that’s why Goldman Sachs (GS) just recommended the use of portfolio protective puts and that sentiment was quickly echoed by many that had access to a microphone. Coming in advance of the beginning of the new earnings season it reminds us that the just completed earnings season had few reasons to believe that growth was the trend at hand.

Of course, one could also be of the opinion that with everyone rallying to secure their protective puts this could be the perfect time to prepare for another market move higher.

In an effort to hedge the hedge, I am continuing to keep my cash reserves at relatively high levels but am still confident that with each week there are reasonably attractive trades that have a degree of safety and can create current income streams to help offset any market weakness.

If there is calm ahead, I prefer to look for stocks this week that are somewhat boring and have been trading in a reasonably narrow range. That kind of calm is just the tonic for covered option strategies.

This week the potential stock selections are restricted to the “Traditional” category, as no appealing choices were found in the Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

On an otherwise bad day to end the week, Microsoft (MSFT) danced to its own drummer, as Steve Ballmer, the outgoing CEO performed one of his characteristic morale raising dances at what is likely to be the final annual company wide meeting at which he presides. Reportedly, the day’s bump in share price came as the rumor regarding Ford (F) CEO Alan Mulally made the rounds indicating that his interest in assuming the position at Microsoft was strengthening. While it seems difficult to understand the synergy it may simply be another example of the market’s appetite for an anti-Ballmer. But without regard to immediate stories regarding transition in leadership, Microsoft just continues to offer a good combination of option premiums and dividends at this level, as it further commits itself toward creating its own ecosystem, perhaps not with an eye on increasing marketshare, but rather on retaining the loyalty of customers who might otherwise feel the lure of the competition.

While it was a good day for Microsoft it wasn’t a very good day for Intel (INTC). While the past years have seen close correlation between the fortunes of Intel and Microsoft, they certainly diverged this week. Part of the reason was some concern regarding a delay in the start of “Intel TV,” a web based television service which was thought to be a remedy for its poorly diversified revenue sources. Intel has demonstrated some resilience in the $22.50 range and like Microsoft offers a good combination of option premiums and dividends.

I liked Dow Chemical (DOW) enough to buy it last week in the hopes of capturing its dividend and option premium. However, a late afternoon spike in its share price right before going ex-dividend resulted in early assignment of shares. Following Friday’s sharp price decline, it”s right back to where it started. Still attractive, but without the dividend. It stands in sharp distinction to many of the companies that I’ve been considering over the past two months in that it s current share price is higher than where it stood at a recent market top on May 21, 2013 when the market reacted to FOMC minutes and a Ben Bernanke press conference by embarking on a quick 4% decline.

While I liked Deere (DE) last week and almost always find myself liking it, I didn’t purchase shares last week in an attempt to capture the dividend. Sometimes, especially for stocks above $50 the nearest strike prices are too far away from the current share price to offer a premium that offers sufficient reward for the risk undertaken. That was the case last week. However, if the lower prices to close the week hold at the open of this week and remain near the strike, I think the timing may be just right to add shares of Deere.

As far as boring stocks go, Mondelez (MDLZ) is boring in everything other than its name. Even Nelson Peltz’s self-serving attempts to move share price by discussing why he believed it was an ideal take-over target for Pepsi (PEP) did nothing to stir share price in any meaningful or sustained way. That kind of price stability is ideally suited for a covered option strategy.

Retail has been a difficult sector recently, especially teen retail. However, just as Mondelez can make boring become interesting, so too can The Gap (GPS) make boredom the new chique. Well down from a brief earnings fueled rise, shares appear to have support at the $40 level and won’t face the challenge of earnings until mid-way through the November 2013 option cycle. In the interim, it also goes ex-dividend during the October 2013 cycle.

Following its recent earnings related drop Darden Restaurants (DRI) is trading at a much more appealing level. From a covered option trader’s perspective the strike prices below the $50 level, graduated in single dollars is much more attractive and offers many more opportunities than the sparser ones available above $50. While Darden may also be a boring kind of pick it’s interest level is also enhanced by a very nice dividend that comes during the October cycle.

Finally, Barclays (BCS) may have qualified as a “Momentum” selection based on its recent price movements but once the dust settles it should start trading in a more sedate manner. In addition to various legal worries and the backdrop of lethargic European economies, Barclays recently announced the need to meet increased capital reserve requirements. Doing so through the issuance of stock is never a great way to see shares appreciate. However, the issuance of “rights” to existing shareholders entitling them to purchase shares at approximately a 40% discount helped to drive up share price

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Deere, Darden, Dow Chemical, Intel, Microsoft, Mondelez, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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Weekend Update – June 30, 2013

The hard part about looking for new positions this week is that memories are still fresh of barely a week ago when we got a glimpse of where prices could be.

When it comes to short term memory the part that specializes in stock prices is still functioning and it doesn’t allow me to forget that the concept of lower does still exist.

The salivating that I recall doing a week ago was not related to the maladies that accompany my short term memory deficits. Instead it was due to the significantly lower share prices.

For the briefest of moments the market was down about 6% from its May 2013 high, but just as quickly those bargains disappeared.

I continue to beat a dead horse, that is that the behavior of our current market is eerily reminiscent of 2012. Certainly we saw the same kind of quick recovery from a quick, but relatively small drop last year.

What would be much more eerie is if following the recovery the market replicated the one meaningful correction for that year which came fresh off the hooves of the recovery.

I promise to make no more horse references.

Although, there is always that possibility that we are seeing a market reminiscent of 1982, except that a similar stimulus as seen in 1982 is either lacking or has neigh been identified yet. In that case the market just keeps going higher.

I listened to a trader today or was foaming at the mouth stating how our markets can only go higher from here. He based his opinion on “multiples” saying that our current market multiple is well below the 25 times we saw back when Soviet missiles were being pointed at us.

I’ll bet you that he misses “The Gipper,” but I’ll also bet that he didn’t consider the possibility that perhaps the 25 multiple was the irrational one and that perhaps our current market multiple is appropriate, maybe even over-valued.

But even if I continue to harbor thoughts of a lower moving market, there’s always got to be some life to be found. Maybe it’s just an involuntary twitch, but it doesn’t take much to raise hope.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories. With earnings season set to begin July 8, 0213, there are only a handful of laggards reporting this coming week, none of which appear risk worthy (see details).

I wrote an article last week, Wintel for the Win, focusing on Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT). This week I’m again in a position to add more shares of Intel, as my most recent lots were assigned last week. Despite its price having gone up during the past week, I think that there is still more upside potential and even in a declining market it will continue to out-perform. While I rarely like to repurchase at higher prices, this is one position that warrants a little bit of chasing.

While Intel is finally positioning itself to make a move into mobile and tablets and ready to vanquish an entire new list of competitors, Texas Instruments (TXN) is a consistent performer. My only hesitancy would be related to earnings, which are scheduled to be announced on the first day of the August 2013 cycle. Texas Instruments has a habit of making large downward moves on earnings, as the market always seems to be disappointed. With the return of the availability of weekly options I may be more inclined to consider that route, although I may also consider the August options in order to capitalize somewhat on premiums enhanced by earnings anticipation.

Already owning shares of Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK), I don’t often own more than one pharmaceutical company at a time. However, this week both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) may join the portfolio. Their recent charts are similar, having shown some weakness, particularly in the case of Lilly. While Abbott carries some additional risk during the July 2013 option cycle because it will report earnings, it also will go ex-dividend during the cycle. However, Lilly’s larger share drop makes it more appealing to me if only considering a single purchase, although I might also consider selling an August 2013 option even though weekly contracts are available.

I always seem to find myself somewhat apologetic when considering a purchase of shares like Phillip Morris (PM). I learned to segregate business from personal considerations a long time ago, but I still have occasional qualms. But it is the continued ability of people to disregard that which is harmful that allows companies like Phillip Morris and Lorillard (LO), which I also currently own, to be the cockroaches of the market. They will survive any kind of calamity. It’s recent under-performance makes it an attractive addition to a portfolio, particularly if the market loses some ground, thereby encouraging all of those nervous smokers to sadly rekindle their habits.

The last time I purchased Walgreens (WAG) was one of the very few times in the past year or two that I didn’t immediately sell a call to cover the shares. Then, as now, shares took, what I believed to be an unwarranted large drop following the release of earnings, which I believed offered an opportunity to capture both capital gains and option premiums during a short course of share ownership. It looks as if that kind of opportunity has replicated itself after the most recent earnings release.

Among the sectors that took a little bit of a beating last week were the financials. The opportunity that I had been looking for to re-purchase shares of JP Morgan Chase (JPM) disappeared quickly and did so before I was ready to commit additional cash reserves stored up just for the occasion. While shares have recovered they are still below their recent highs. If JP Morgan was not going ex-dividend this trade shortened week, I don’t believe that I would be considering purchasing shares. However, it may offer an excellent opportunity to take advantage of some option pricing discrepancies.

I rarely use anecdotal experience as a reason to consider purchasing shares, but an upcoming ex-dividend date on Darden Restaurants (DRI) has me taking another look. I was recently in a “Seasons 52” restaurant, which was packed on a Saturday evening. I was surprised when I learned that it was owned by Darden. It was no Red Lobster. It was subsequently packed again on a Sunday evening. WHile clearly a small portion of Darden’s chains the volume of cars in their parking lots near my home is always impressive. While my channel check isn’t terribly scientific it’s recent share drop following earnings gives me reason to believe that much of the excess has already been removed from shares and that the downside risk is minimized enough for an entry at this level.

While I did consider purchasing shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) last week, I didn’t make that purchase. Instead, this week I’ve turned my attention back to its more volatile namesake, Phillips 66 (PSX) which it had spun off just a bit more than a year ago. It has been a stellar performer in that time, despite having fallen nearly 15% since its March high and 10% since the market’s own high. It fulfills my need to find those companies that have fared more poorly than the overall market but that have a demonstrated ability to withstand some short term adverse price movements.

Finally, I haven’t recommended the highly volatile silver ETN products for quite a while, even though I continue to trade them for my personal accounts. However, with the sustained movement of silver downward, I think it is time for the cycle to reverse, much as it had done earlier this year. The divergence between the performance of the two leveraged funds, ProShares UltraShort Silver ETN (ZSL) and the ProShares Ultra Silver ETN (AGQ) are as great as I have seen in recent years. I don’t think that divergence is sustainable an would consider either the sale of puts on AGQ or outright purchase of the shares and the sale of calls, but only for the very adventurous.

Traditional Stocks: Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly, Intel, Mosaic, Phillip Morris, Texas Instruments, Walgreens

Momentum Stocks: Phillips 66, ProShares UltraSilver ETN

Double Dip Dividend: Darden Restaurants (ex-div 7/8), JP Morgan (ex-div 7/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

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