Weekend Update – April 28, 2013

Schadenfreude suits me just fine.

Is it really “schadefreude” when you don’t really know or see the people upon whom misfortune has been heaped?

For those that aren’t familiar with the word, “schadenfreude” is the strangely good feeling that some people derive when others fail or are subject to misfortune.

In Talmudic teaching the highest form of charity is when neither the donor nor the recipient are aware of one another’s identity. Complete ignorance raises the act of charity to a higher level.

Of course, we will never be able to answer the question of whether there is really a sound produced when a tree falls in the forest and there is no one present to lay witness. A single degree of separation can completely call into question that which seems patently obvious. Ignorance of an event can be is as if it doesn’t even exist.

Being a covered option seller, I do take some perverse pleasure and satisfaction when the market goes lower, even though I know that the vast majority of investors, especially the individual investor, fares well only when the markets are moving higher.

When I sell longer term call options, such as the monthly variety, I just love seeing the share price exceed my strike level early during the term of the contract, only to watch those gains dissipate as the term nears its end, especially if the end returns right to the strike price.

Somewhere, I just know that someone is asking themselves why they didn’t take their profits when they had the chance.

That’s pretty bad, right? But I never see that person. I’m not really certain that they even exist, except for the fact that I was once that person. To a large degree I believe that I was deeply ignorant back in those days with regard to the discipline of securing profits. These days I’ve simply added ignorance to the fortunes of those on the other end of trades to the list of things unknowable. Additionally, not knowing who they are is the highest form of ignorance.

As this past week was one that I immensely enjoyed and briefly put away my short term pessimism in order to trade at levels that reflect a more bullish tone, I’m now on the fence as to whether the bullish feeling can be sustained given what the past may be revealing.

After hitting market peaks 2 weeks ago and then alternatively going from the worst week of 2013 to one of the best weeks of 2013, I continue to believe that we are replicating the first 5 months of 2012.

So while I’m very happy with the higher tract that stocks took this past week, I’m especially happy to see assignments take place and have the cash settle in my account, to hold or to invest, as the market reveals itself.

Although I would much rather be fully invested, I really do want to see give backs of many gains at this point. Having a sizeable portion in cash and evolving from the use of weekly contracts to monthly ones, or even the occasional June 2013 cycle, makes it easy to make that wish.

If history is a guide, the last correction we experienced lasted just one month and then was completely recovered 2 months after it ended.

I can live with that, at least while cash is on the sidelines. If it happens, and assuming that it’s within tolerable levels, such as 10%, I’ll be reasonably happy, but not in a schadenfreude kind of way, although that kind of admission would certainly get me much more attention. Everyone notices the misanthropic guy and wishing that stock prices retreat may be the highest form of misanthrope, especially if it disproportionately impacts widows and orphans.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or the “PEE” category (see details). Additionally, as in previous weeks there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence. Additionally, as with the previous week, we are at the height of earnings season and thus far there have been some surprises, perhaps offering more opportunity to sell well out of the money puts prior to earnings.

I really can’t recall the last time I owned shares of ExxonMobil (XOM). Although it is one of the shares that I consistently follow, it rarely has piqued my short term interest. That may be changing a bit as I look at its upcoming and increased dividend. At a time that I’m expecting to be on the precipice of a market decline that is technically driven, rather than fundamentally, I would be more inclined to limit new investments to more defensive stocks that are likely to outperform a falling market during a period of economic stability or growth.

Although Apple (AAPL) was a potential earnings related trade last week, I ultimately waited for earnings and instead purchased shares the next day. Those were assigned, but if shares open the week near the $410 level, I am interested in establishing a new position and using an out of the money monthly contract in order to have an opportunity to also secure the newly increased dividend. I believe that Apple will out-perform the market in the near term and will offer trading opportunities in addition to appealing option premiums.

With last week’s selection Cisco (CSCO) among those assigned, Oracle (ORCL) also one of last week’s potential picks went unrequited. It also under-performed Cisco as some of the networking companies were depressed following Broadcom’s (BRCM) earnings. I’ll be looking to Oracle as a potential purchase this week as well, as the technology sector may be showing some signs of catching up to the overall market with Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) showing strength.

As news related to the Chinese economy seems to wag our own stock market, the heavy machinery titans have been slammed back and forth as what is called “news” is so often re-interpreted or presented in different lights that create an alternation between good economic news and bad economic news on a near daily basis. Very often the sector moves in unison even when the exposure to China is limited. While Joy Global (JOY) has significant exposure, PACCAR (PCAR)certainly has less so. Both have recovered a bit this past week as have Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE). ALl, however, continue to trail the S&P 500 in 2013.

Petrobras (PBR) suspended its regular dividend payment in 2012. I’m somewhat embarrassed to still be holding shares priced in the $19-20 range, purchased just before a slew of bad news. Having held onto shares even as they sank as much as almost 25%, it has been clawing its way back. Among the positive signs are the recent announcement of two special dividends. With the hope for some stability in its share price after bad news regarding pricing and production issues have now been digested, it may be time to restart accumulating shares.

Last week playing earnings related trades was a very timely strategy. I don’t know if the pleasant surprises will continue, but I think there may again be some very reasonable risk-reward propositions available, as long as you don’t mind the possibility of owning shares after it’s all said and done.

Among those reporting is Facebook (FB), which despite having received an IPO allocation and currently owning shares at various price points, has become one of my favorite stocks. The existence of extended weekly options opens up many more opportunities to generate option premiums and mitigate the potential impact of sudden adverse moves in share price. At Friday’s closing price, a weekly put sale at a strike price 12.5% below the close could return a 0.7% ROI. For those more adventurous, a strike price only 9% lower could yield a 1.4% return.

Pfizer (PFE) reports earnings this week and fits into the profile that appeals to me the most when considering an earnings related trade. This past week it sustained a large price drop, which is usually the signal that clears me to sell puts on shares. However, in this case, I more likely to consider an outright purchase on shares, not only for some capital appreciation and option premium income, but also in order to capture the May 8, 2013 dividend payment.

Humana (HUM) has been on a true rollercoaster ride. As often happens with health care stocks the various interpretations of how changing legislation or pricing structure may impact share price sends the shares in irrational and alternating directions. With earnings approaching and shares down almost 10% from its 2 week ago high, it represents a potentially acceptable risk-reward offer. If it falls less than another7% the ROI is approximately 1%. That, however, is for the time remaining on a monthly contract, which makes it a little less appealing to me, but still under consideration.

Finally, I’m not certain how much longer the world needs an independent Open Table (OPEN) but it has the kind of pricing volatility at the time of earnings release to make it worth considering a purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or simply a sale of deep out of the money puts.

Traditional Stocks: ExxonMobil, Oracle, Paccar, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Petrobras (ex-div 4/30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Facebook (5/1 PM), Humana (5/1 AM), Open Table (5/2 PM)

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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Weekend Update – March 24, 2013

Common sense tells us that at some point there has to be some retracement following an impressive climb higher. My common sense has never been very good, so I’m beginning to question the pessimism that overtook me about 4 weeks ago.

Maybe the new version of a market plunge is simply staying at or near the same level for a few days. After all, who doesn’t believe that if you’re not moving ahead that you’re falling behind? It is all about momentum and growth. Besides, if history can be re-written by the victors, why not the rules that are based on historical observations?

During the previous 4 weeks I’ve made very few of the trades that I would have ordinarily made, constantly expecting either the sky to fall down or the floor to disappear from underneath. Of the trades, most have fallen in line with the belief that what others consider a timeless bit of advice. Investing in quality companies with reliably safe dividends may be timeless, but it can also be boring. Of course, adding in the income from selling options and it’s less so, but perhaps more importantly better positioned to cushion any potential drops in an overall market.

That makes sense to me, so there must be something flawed in the reasoning, although it did work in 2007-2009 and certainly worked in 1999-2000. I can safely say that without resorting to a re-writing of history.

Among the areas that I would like to consider adding this week are healthcare, industrials and financial sectors, having started doing so last week with Caterpillar (CAT) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories, with no selections in the “Momentum” category, befitting common sense. (see details). Additionally, there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence.

Deere (DE) has been unnecessarily caught in the headlights recently, as it frequently trades in parallel to other heavy machinery giants, despite Deere not having the same kind of global economic exposure. The fact that it goes ex-dividend this week and always offers a reasonable premium, even when volatility is low, makes it a good selection, especially at its current price, which is down about 8% in a time that the S&P 500 has been up 3%. That seems a bit incongruous.

State Street Bank (STT) also goes ex-dividend this week. At a time when banks with global interests are at risk due to European Union and Euro related issues, State Street is probably the lowest profile of all of our “too big to fail” banks that play with the “big boys” overseas. Despite a marked climb, particularly from mid-January, it has shown resistance to potentially damaging international events.

While State Street Bank looks appealing, I have wanted to pick up shares of JP Morgan (JPM) for the past couple of weeks as it and its one time invincible CEO and Chairman, have come under increasing scrutiny and attack. Although it doesn’t pay a dividend this week, if purchased and call options are not assigned, it does offer a better dividend to holders than State Street and will do so on April 3, 2013. Better yet, Jamie Dimon will be there to oversee the dividend as both CEO and Chairman, as the Board of Directors re-affirmed his dual role late Friday afternoon, to which shares showed no response.

If you’re looking for a poster child to represent the stock market top of 2007, then look no further than Blackstone (BX). It was even hotter than Boston Chicken of a generation earlier, and it, too, quickly left a bad after taste. Suddenly, Blackstone no longer seems irrelevant and its name is being heard more frequently as buyouts, mergers and acquisitions are returning to the marketplace, perhaps just in time for another top.

Back in the days when I had to deal with managed care health companies, I wasn’t particularly fond of them, perhaps because I was wrong in the early 1980s when I thought they would disappear as quickly as they arrived. As it turns out, it was only the managed care company on whose advisory board I served that left the American landscape for greener pastures in The Philippines. Humana, one of the early managed care companies at that time was predominantly in the business of providing health care. These days it’s divested itself of that side of the social contract and now markets and offers insurance products.

Humana (HUM) is a low volatility stock as reflected in its “beta” of 0.85 and is trading close to its two year low. The fear with Humana, as with other health care with a large Medicare population is that new reimbursement rates, which are expected to be released on April 1, 2013 will be substantially lower. Shares have already fallen more almost 20% in the past 6 weeks at a time when insurers, on the other side of the equation, have fared well.

UnitedHealth Care (UNH) is the big gorilla in the healthcare room. It has really lagged the S&P 500 ever since being add to the DJIA. However, if your objective is to find stocks upon which you can generate revenue from dividends and the sale of option premiums, you really don’t need much in the way of share performance. In fact, it may be antithetical to what you really want. UnitedHealth Group, though, doesn’t have the same degree of exposure to Medicare fees, as does Humana.

While the insurers and the health care providers battle it out between themselves and the government, there’s another component to healthcare that comes into focus for me this week. The suppliers were in the news this week as Cardinal Health (CAH) reportedly has lost its contract with Walgreens (WAG). Cardinal Health and Baxter (BAX) do not do anything terribly exciting, they just do somethings that are absolutely necessary for the provision of healthcare, both in formal settings and at home. Although also subject to Medicare reimbursement rates and certainly susceptible to pricing pressure from its partners, they are consistently reliable companies and satisfy my need to look for low beta positions. Besides their option premiums, Cardinal Health also goes ex-dividend this week.

Then again, what’s healthcare without pharmaceuticals? Merck (MRK) is another of those companies whose shares I’ve wanted to buy over the past few weeks. It’s now come down from its recent Vytorin related high and may round out purchases in the sector.

With the safe and boring out of the way, there are still a few laggard companies that have yet to report their quarterly earnings before the cycle starts all over again on April 8th. Of those, one caught my attention.

Why anyone goes into a GameStop (GME) store is beyond me. Yet, if you travel around the country you will still see the occasional Blockbuster store, as well. Yet, somehow GameStop shares tend not to suffer terribly when earnings are released, although it is very capable of making large moves at any other time. The current proposition is whether the sale of puts to derive a 2.8% ROI in the event of less than a 12% decline in share price is worthwhile.

Now that’s a challenging game and you don’t even have to leave home to play it.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter, Blackstone, JP Morgan, UnitedHealth Group

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Cardinal Health (3/27), Deere (3/26), Humana (3/26), State Street Bank (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/28 AM)

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

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan