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.
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.
As The Federal Reserve’s policy of “Quantitative Easing” comes to an end the next phase considered should perhaps be one of instituting some form of “Quantitative Muzzling.”
Given comments contained in this past week’s FOMC statement had recognized global economic concerns, perhaps the Federal Reserve should consider expanding its dual mandate and reaching across the ocean to affix, adjust and tighten the right remedy.
As most of us learned sometime in childhood, words have consequences. However, we tend not to mind when the consequences are positive for us or when what we all know is left unsaid and ignored.
In each of the past two weeks words from the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi have had adverse impacts on global markets. While no one is overtly suggesting that ECB President’s should be seen and not heard, undoubtedly at least one person is thinking that, having applied a sloppy test of correlation to the market’s moves and Draghi’s words.
Such sloppy tests may have at least as much validity as the much discussed “key reversal” seen as trading closed on Wednesday and said to presage a bullish turnaround to the downtrend.
How did that work out for most people?
This week Draghi told us what everyone knows to be the truth, but what no one wants to hear. He simply said that there can be no growth in the European economies without economic reform.
That’s not different from what he said the previous week, as he pointed out that political solutions were necessary to deal with economic woes.
We also all know if it we have to rely on politicians to do the right thing, or make the difficult decisions, we’re not going to fare terribly well, hence the sell-offs. Why the Europeans can’t simply kick things down the road and then forget about it is a question that needs to be asked.
Compare the response to Draghi’s comments to the absolutely effusive response to this past week’s FOMC statement that simply said nothing and ignored answering the question that everyone wanted to ignore.
Despite everyone knowing what Draghi has been saying to be true, having had the same scolding take place in the U.S. just two years ago, no one with an investment portfolio wants to hear of such a thing, especially when it’s followed up with downgrades of Finland’s and France’s credit ratings.
Add to the mix the International Monetary Fund’s cut to its global growth forecast and you have spoken volumes to an already wary US market that was now eagerly eying any breach of the 200 day S&P 500 moving average (dma), as that had taken the place of the “key reversal” in the hearts and minds of technicians and foisted upon investors as being the gateway to what awaits.
Unfortunately, the message being sent with that technical indicator is a bearish one. While it has been breached on numerous occasions in the past 5 years, the most pronounced and prolonged stay below the 200 dma came in the latter half of 2011, a period when triple digit daily moves were commonplace and volatility was more than double the now nearly 2 year high level.
I miss those days.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
When I first started thinking about a theme for this week’s article I decided to focus on stocks that had already undergone their own personal 10% correction.
That list grew substantially by the time the week came to its close following a brief FOMC induced rally mid-week and that thesis was abandoned.
As trading in the coming week opens at a DJIA level lower than where it began the year, there’s not much reason to start the week with any sense of confidence.
While the S&P 500 is only 5.2% below its recent high, putting it on par with numerous “mini-corrections” over the past two years, you don’t have to do a quantitative assessment to know that this decline feels differently from the others, as volatility is at a two year high point. The sudden appearance of triple digit moves have now gone from the mundane 100 point variety and have added 200 and 300 point ones into the arsenal.
For me, this week may be a little different. Heading into the week I have less cash reserves than I would like and less confidence than I would ordinarily need to dwindle it down further.
While it appears as if there are so many values to be had I would prefer to see some sign of stability before committing resources in my usual buy/write manner. Instead, I may be more likely to add new positions through the sale of out of the money puts, unless there is a dividend involved.
Additionally, while individual stocks may have compelling reasons to consider their purchases, this week I’m less focused on those specific reasons rather than the nature of their recent price declines and the ability to capitalize on the heightened option premiums associated with their recent volatility.
One of the benefits of this rising volatility environment is that option premiums grow as does the uncertainty. The sale of puts and anticipation of the need to rollover those puts in the event of further price erosion may be better suited to an environment of continuing price declines, rather than utilizing a traditional buy/write strategy.
Furthermore, as the premiums become more and more attractive, I find myself more inclined to attempt to rollover positions that might otherwise be assigned, as the accumulation of premiums can offer significant downside protection and reduces the need to find alternative investment candidates.
If you’re looking for a sector that is screaming “correction” you really don’t have to look beyond the Energy Sector. Hearing so many analysts calling for continued
decline in oil prices may be reason enough to begin considering adding positions.
Over the years I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve owned Halliburton (HAL), but other than during the 2008-2009 market crash, the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and during the tumultuous market of 2011, there haven’t been such precipitous declines in its price, as it has just plunged below its own 200 dma.
Although Halliburton doesn’t report earnings until the following week, next week’s premiums are reflective of the volatility anticipated. For anyone considering this position through a buy/write one factor to keep in mind is that it will be imperative to rollover the contract if expiration looks likely. That is the case because earnings are reported on the following Monday morning before trading opens so there won’t be a chance to create a hedging position unless done the previous week.
I have been waiting for an opportunity to repurchase shares of Anadarko Petroleum (APC) ever since a bankruptcy judge approved a pollution related settlement, that was part of its years earlier purchase of Kerr-McGee. Like Halliburton, it is now trading below its 200 dma, but it doesn’t report earnings until a week after Halliburton. However, it also offers exceptionally high option premiums as the perceived risk remains heightened in anticipation of further sector weakness.
Owing to its drops the final two days of the previous week, Dow Chemical (DOW) is now also trading below its 200 dma. It, too, is demonstrating an option premium that is substantially higher than has been the case recently, although the risk appears to be considered less than that seen for both Halliburton and Anadarko. With the exception of having received an “outperform” rating those past two days, Dow Chemical appears to have just been caught up in the market’s downturn.
Fastenal (FAST) has traded below its 200 dma since its last earnings report in July 2014 and was not helped by its latest report this past Friday. That was the case despite generally good revenues, but with softer margins that were expected to continue. Unlike the preceding stocks the option premiums are not expanded in reflection of heightened risk. In the event that this position is initiated with a put sale that is likely to be assigned, I would consider taking possession of shares rather than rolling over the puts, as shares go ex-dividend during the November 2014 option cycle.
For a stock whose price hasn’t done very much, eBay (EBAY) has been getting lots and lots of attention and perhaps it is that attention which has prompted it to finally decide to do what so many have suggested, by releasing plans to spin off its PayPal unit. eBay reports earnings this week and is always a prospect to exhibit a sizeable move. It is currently trading below the point that consider the mid-point of the price range that I like to see when considering a new position. As with some other potential earnings trades, it is a candidate for out of the money put sales before earnings or for those more cautious the sale of puts after earnings in the event of a large price drop upon earnings having been released.
Intel (INTC) reports earnings this week after having already been brutalized this past week along with the rest of the chip sector. Most recently I discussed some hesitancy regarding a position in Intel because it had two price gaps higher in the past few months. However, thanks to the past week it has now erased one of those price gaps that represented additional risk. As with Fastenal there is an upcoming ex-dividend date that may be a consideration in any potential trade.
Following YUM Brands’ (YUM) earnings report last week, many over-reacted during after hours trading and shares quickly recovered to end the following day higher, perhaps buoyed by the enthusiasm following the FOMC Statement. Shares did trend lower the rest of the week, but fared much better than the overall market. This coming week YUM Brands is ex-dividend and based upon its option premium is a veritable sea of calm, although it too is demonstrating growth in premiums as risk is generally heightened.
Finally, Best Buy (BBY) is one of those stocks that has seen its own personal correction, having fallen nearly 13% since the market high just 3 weeks ago. With so much attention having been placed on European concerns it’s hard to think of too many stocks that are so well shielded from some of those perceived risks. Although it doesn’t report earnings for more than a month, this is a position that I would like to maintain for an extended period of time, particularly with its currently bloated option premiums, heading into earnings, which I believe will reflect an improving discretionary spending environment, to Best Buy’s benefit.
Unless of course the muzzle falls off, in which case all bets are off for this week.
Traditional Stocks: Anadarko Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Fastenal, Halliburton
Momentum: Best Buy
Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (10/15)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (10/15 AM), Intel (10/14 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.
Somewhere along the line most of us have tried the proven strategy of hanging out with people who were uglier or stupider than we perceived ourselves to be, in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.
There’s nothing really wrong in admitting that to be the case. It’s really the ultimate in victimless opportunism and can truly be a win-win for everyone involved.
The opportunist hopes to break away from that crowd and the crowd feels elevated by its association, or so goes the opportunist’s rationalization.
Markets are no different and this past week was as good of an example of that tried and tested phenomenon as you might ever find. In this case, the opportunist was the US equity market, but it really can rarely be a win-win situation.
Bonds, currencies and precious metals?
Ugly and stupid.
There were three potentially market rocking stories this week that could have struck fear in stock investors, but neither an upcoming FOMC statement, a pending independence referendum in Scotland, nor history’s largest IPO could do what common sense said should occur, particularly with liquidity being threatened from multiple directions.
You can probably thank the less than attractive alternatives for making stocks look so good to investors.
U.S. equity markets just did what we’ve become so accustomed to, other than for brief moments over the past two years, as the week ended on yet another new record high with the DJIA moving higher each day of the week.
Last week was like a perfect storm, except that the winds blew from all different directions during the latter half of the week.
The week started a bit ominously, but after a while it was clear that selling was narrow in scope and appeared to be limited to profit taking in some of the year’s big gainers, ostensibly to raise cash for any hoped for Alibaba (BABA) allocation, that was unlikely to materialize for most retail investors.
But when the competition is weak, it doesn’t take much to shine and stand out from the crowd. With the week’s first challenge being whether the FOMC was going to accelerate their time table for raising interest rates, all it took was The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Hilsenrath expressing the belief that the phrase “considerable time,” would remain intact to allow stocks to stand out from the crowd.
Never mind that Hilsenrath had yet to demonstrate an inside track to the Yellen Federal Reserve, as he seemed to have had during the Bernanke era. Also forget about the fact that the FOMC has been using that phrase since March 2014 and sooner or later it has to give way to the relization that “considerable time” has already passed. That’s best left to deal with at some other time in the future.
Neither of those were important as all of the other options were looking worse.
With the outcome of the independence referendum being far from certain stocks had been smart enough not to have predicted the eventual outcome and put itself in jeopardy if independence was ratified. Instead the risk was borne by currencies and foreign stock markets.
Precious metals? Who in the world has been putting new money into precious metals of late?
So stocks looked great, but after getting a makeover last week, suddenly the crowd may not look so unappealing. Even precious metals may find some suitors because they just don’t want to chase after stocks and wind up getting disappointed.
Who knew that the high school experience could have taught so much about the behavior of stocks?
The behavior of stocks this week, was also similar to how high school “A-listers” may have acted when pulling in someone from the “losers.” The welcome isn’t always a full and complete embrace and somewhat circumspect or still maintaining an aura of superiority.
In this case the “A-list” DJIA greatly outperformed other major indexes this past week as the advance didn’t fully embrace a broader selection of stocks.
Despite last week’s nice gains against the odds, in this perfect storm, everything went right. Yet the embrace was with less conviction than it appeared.
That doesn’t mean that I want to go and join the losers, but I may be circumspect of the superficial appearance of those “A-listers” as next week is about to begin.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
By comparison, Yahoo (YHOO) looks even less appealing now that it has given up a portion of its stake in Alibaba.
I purchased a small Yahoo position late this past Thursday, when noticing that the in the money option premium was rising even as shares were declining.
The following day I closed those positions shortly after Alibaba started trading as the gain in shares wasn’t matched by a similar gain the premium, resulting in a net credit greater than allowing the position to be assigned.
The funny thing was that the position never would have been assigned as reportedly Yahoo shares were being used a proxy to shorting Alibaba and share price went substantially lower, as a result, even while the value of Yahoo’s remaining stake in Alibaba appreciated by about an additional 37% from the IPO price.
While that kind of short selling strategy may continue, Yahoo is also reportedly becoming the focus of attention from other sources, while it may still stand to benefit from its continuing Alibaba position.
With lots of attention being directed toward its still unproven CEO, Marissa Mayer, as to what she will do with the IPO proceeds, I expect that the Yahoo option premium will remain elevated as so many factors are now coming into play.
While I like those prospects and expect to re-purchase shares, I don’t think that I’ll be allocating too much to this position because of all of the uncertainty involved, but do like the evolving soap opera.
When it comes to comparisons, there’s little that Blackberry (BBRY) can do to make itself look appealing. Where exactly can it hang out to be able to stand out in the crowd and get the attention of those that vote on popularity? Still, under the leadership of John Chen, Blackberry has ended its slide toward oblivion and at least gives appearances of now having a s
trategy and the ability to execute.
Blackberry reports earnings this coming week and thanks to a lift provided by a Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst out-performed the NASDAQ 100 for the week.
The option market has assigned an implied move of 9.7% for the coming week and at Friday’s closing price a 1% ROI could be obtained even if shares fell by 13.7%. That kind of comparison makes Blackberry look good to me.
While maybe not looking good in comparison to its chief competitor, CVS Health (CVS) on the basis of its self proclaimed status of the guardians of the nation’s health after belatedly eliminating the sale of cigarettes from its stores, Walgreen looks food to me. That’s especially the case now that it seems to be settling into a trading range after it, too, belatedly, decided against a tax inversion strategy.
Walgreen, as with many other stocks trading in a range, but occasionally punctuated by substantive price moves related to earnings or other events, offers a nice option premium that may exceed the current risk of share ownership.
Until recently the comparison to gold during the summer worked out well for Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), having out-performed the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD). More recently, however, the Miners Index has had an abysmal month of September and is approaching a 2 year low. However, its beta is still quite low and shares are now trading below their yearly mid-point range, while offering a premium that may offset what I believe to be limited downside risk.
I don’t look at ETF vehicles very often, but this one may be right in terms of timing and price. The availability of expanded weekly options, strike prices in $0.50 increments and manageable bid-ask spreads makes this potentially a good candidate for serial rollover if it finds some support and begins trading in a range.
Fastenal (FAST) is one of those stocks that may not have much glamour and may not stand out sufficiently to get noticed. To me, though, it is a superstar in the world of covered options as it has traded reliably within a range and consistently returned to the mid-point of that range, where it currently resides.
Having rolled over shares this past Friday after a mid-session drop below the strike, I watched as it recovered enough to close above the strike. Had it been assigned, as originally thought would occur, I knew that at its current price I wanted to re-purchase shares. Instead, now I want to add shares, but being mindful that it will report earnings in just a few weeks.
Despite Alibaba’s successful IPO, it’s still difficult for me to have too much confidence in stocks that have either a heavy reliance on the Chinese economy or are Chinese companies. Fortunately or unfortunately, I do make exceptions for both situations, although far fewer for the latter.
Joy Global (JOY) has extensive interests in China and is very dependent on continued growth of the Chinese economy, which is difficult to measure with reliability. Of course with our own GDP being reported this coming Friday, we know all too well, based on the recent pattern of revisions, that data should always be viewed warily.
With some weakness in this sector, witness the recent drop in Caterpillar (CAT), Joy Global is approaching correction territory over the past month and is beginning to once again look appealing, not having owned shares in nearly a year. These shares can be volatile, but with patience and an inner sense of serenity, the option premiums can atone for moments of anxiety.
Despite still holding a very expensive lot of Coach (COH) shares for far too long, it is still one of my favorite stocks over the longer term time frame, having owned it on 21 occasions over 25 months.
Smarting from the pain of that lot I still hold, it took a while before finding the courage to purchase an additional lot, but that recent lot was assigned this past week and I’m ready to add another in its place, as it seems that Coach has found some support at its current level. In the past Coach has been an excellent covered option trade when it traded in a range. The reason for it offering attractive option premiums was due to its predictably large earnings related moves. However, in the past, it had a wonderful habit of its price reverting to the mean.
If so, I don’t mind executing serial trades, reaping premiums and the occasional premium to help offset the existing paper loss. As the luster from Kors (KORS) seems to be waning there is also less populist battering of Coach, which remains very popular internationally. It’s commitment to maintaining its dividend makes it easy to hold shares while awaiting what I hope is an inevitable, albeit, unusually slow recovery.
Whole Foods (WFM) is another of those companies that I own that is currently well below its purchase price. As with Coach, I eventually found the courage to purchase more shares and have done so 4 times in the past 3 months, as it appears to have also found some price support.
Recently its premiums have become more attractive as the company has become a topic of speculation regarding activist intervention. While I don’t think there’s too much to come of that speculation, I do believe that shares are poised to continue climbing and hopefully in a slow and sustained manner. It goes ex-dividend this week and while not the most generous of dividends it does supplement the potential return offered by also selling call options on shares sufficiently to make it an attractive consideration.
Finally, Oracle (ORCL) is back in the news and in the last couple of years that hasn’t really been a good thing. After a number of disappointing earnings reports over that time, its Chairman and CEO, Larry Ellison, blasted those around him, finding plenty of places to lay blame. His absence from last year’s earnings report and conference in order to attend Oracle Team USA’s effort in the Americas Cup race struck me as inappropriate.
Now the news of Ellison stepping down as CEO, while retaining the Chairmanship, preceded this most recent quarter’s disappointing earnings. It also was a prelude to the announcement of a power sharing plan with the appointment of co-CEOs, because we all know how much high achievers like to share power and glory.
Yet, with this past Friday’s price decline in Oracle it is again becoming a potentially attractive purchase candidate, particularly with an upcoming, albeit modest dividend coming on October 6, 2014.
That happens to be a Monday, and I wish there were more such Monday opportunities for those stocks that I follow. Those are often the best of the “Double Dip Dividend” selections, as early assignment to capture the dividend must occur on the preceding Friday and typically means receiving an entire week’s option premium, while being able to reinvest the exercise proceeds to generate even more income.