Weekend Update – May 8, 2016

Depending upon how concrete you are in interpreting the meaning of the concept of “the circle of life,” the beginning and the end of that circle must be identical events as their points in space are coincident.

Various religions and philosophies believe that through a certain life path, another life awaits, but the rigorous requirements of geometry may be put aside in the process.

It’s also not clear that there had been any data dependency in the formulation of the philosophical concept.

Life, death and re-birth almost reads like a stock chart, except that the stock chart is plotted over time.

While new life generally brings joy, a geometric centric definition of “the circle of life” would both begin and end with that kind of joy.

On the other hand, a more philosophical interpretation of the concept has some diametrically different events, death and life, coinciding as the circle is closed.

Philosophy aside, markets have their own circle of life.

Start where you like in defining that circle, but among the components are low interest rates; increasing business investment for growth; increasing productivity; increasing corporate profits; increasing employment; increasing consumer spending; higher prices; higher interest rates; decreasing business investment; decreasing productivity;  decreasing employment; decreasing consumer spending and on and on.

That’s more or less a traditional look at the way things usually go, but at the moment it’s hard to know where in that circle we are or if we even have a circle.

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Weekend Update – May 1, 2016


There was potentially lots that could have moved the market last week.

Earnings season was getting into full swing as oil continued its march higher.

As if those weren’t enough, we had an FOMC Statement release and a GDP report and even more earnings to round out the week.

But basically, none of those really mattered.

The FOMC expressed some confidence in the economy even as the GDP may have said otherwise the following day and earnings were all over the place with the market not being very forgiving when already lowered expectations weren’t met or were being pushed out another quarter.

Again, none of that mattered.

What really mattered was when Carl Icahn, who unlike Chicken Little, calmly told the world that he had sold his entire stake in Apple (AAPL) for fears of what China’s “attitude” might be with regard to the company.

The initial interviewer misinterpreted Icahn’s comments to mean that he was worried about the Chinese economy itself and that may have been exactly how traders interpreted Icahn’s words, although a second interviewer correctly interpreted Icahn’s comments and got him to add clarity.

Icahn confirmed that he was actually worried about the possibility that China would be less of a reliable partner for Apple and not that he envisioned a new round of meltdowns in the CHinese economy or in their financial institutions.

Big difference.

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Weekend Update – October 11, 2015

If you’re a fan of “American Exceptionalism” and can put aside the fact that the Shanghai stock market has made daily moves of 6% higher in the past few months on more than one occasion, you have to believe that the past week has truly been a sign of the United States’ supremacy extending to its stock markets.

We are, of optiocourse, the only nation to have successfully convinced much of the world for the past 46 years that we put a man on the moon.

So you tell me. What can’t we do?

What we can do very well is turn bad news into good news and that appears to be the path that we’ve returned to, as the market’s climb may be related to a growing belief that interest rate hikes may now be delayed and the party can continue unabated.

While it was refreshing for that short period of time when news was taken at face value, we now are faced with the prospect of markets again exhibiting their disappointment when those interest rate hikes truly do finally become reality.

Once the market came to its old realizations it moved from its intra-day lows hit after the most recent Employment Situation Report and the S&P 500 rocketed higher by 6% as a very good week came to its end on a quiet note.

While much of the gain was actually achieved when the Shanghai markets were closed for the 7 day National Day holiday celebration, it may be useful to review just what rockets are capable of doing and perhaps looking to China as an example of what soaring into orbit can lead to.

Rockets come in all sizes and shapes, but are really nothing more than a vehicle launched by a high thrust engine. Those high thrust rocket engines create the opportunities for the vehicle. Some of those vehicles are designed to orbit and others to achieve escape velocity and soar to great heights.

And some crash or explode violently, although not by design.

As someone who likes to sell options the idea of a stock just going into orbit and staying there for a while is actually really appealing, but with stocks its much better if the orbit established is one that has come down from greater heights.

That’s not how rockets usually work, though.

But for any kind of orbiting to really be worthwhile, those premiums have to be enriched by occasional bumps along the path that don’t quite make it to the level of violent explosions.

It’s just that you never really know when those violent explosions are going to come and how often. Certainly Elon Musk didn’t expect his last two rocket launches to come to sudden ends.

In China’s case those 6% increases have been followed by some epic declines, but that’s not unusual whenever seeing large moves in either direction.

As we get ready to start earnings season for real this week we may quickly learn whether our own 6% move higher was just the first leg of a multi-stage rocket launch or whether it will soon discover that there is precious little below to offer much in the way of support.

Prior to that 6% climb it was that lack of much below that created a situation where many stocks had gone into orbit, taking a rest to regain strength for a bounce higher. That temporary orbit was a great opportunity to generate some option premium income, as some of the risk of a crash was reduced as those stocks had already migrated closer to the ground.

While I don’t begrudge the recent rapid rise it would be nice to go back into orbit for a while and refuel for a slower, but more sustainable ride higher.

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

There aren’t too many data points to go on since that turnaround last week, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been uncharacteristically missing from the party.

It seems as if it’s suddenly becoming fashionable to disparage Apple, although I don’t recall Tim Cook having given Elon Musk a hard time recently. With the opening of the movie, Steve Jobs, this week may or may not further diminish the luster.

Ever since Apple joined the DJIA on March 19, 2015 it has dragged the index 109 points lower, accounting for about 11% of the index’s decline, as it has badly lagged both the DJIA and S&P 500 during that period. The truth, however, is that upon closer look, Apple has actually under-performed both for most of the past 3 year period, even when selecting numerous sub-periods for study. The past 6 months have only made the under-performance more obvious.

With both earnings and an ex-dividend date coming in the next month, I would be inclined to consider an Apple investment from the sale of out of the money puts. If facing assignment, it should be reasonably easy to rollover those puts and continuing to do so as earnings approach. If, however, faced with the need to rollover into the week of earnings, I would do so using an extended weekly option, but one expiring in the week prior to the week of the ex-dividend date. Then, if faced with assignment, I would plan to take the assignment and capture the dividend, rather than continuing to attempt to escape share ownership.

In contrast to Apple, Visa (NYSE:V) which joined the DJIA some 2 years earlier, coincidentally having split its shares on the same day that Apple joined the index, actually added 49 points to the DJIA.

For Visa and other credit card companies there may be a perfect storm of the good kind on the horizon. With chip secured credit cards just beginning their transition into use in the United States and serving to limit losses accruing to the credit card companies, Visa is also a likely beneficiary of increasing consumer activity as there is finally some evidence that the long awaited oil dividend is finding its way into retail.

When it comes to bad news, it’s hard to find too many that have taken more lumps than YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS).

Despite a small rebound in YUM shares on Friday, that came nowhere close toward erasing the 19% decline after disappointing earnings from its China operations.

YUM Brands was a potential earnings related trade last week, but it came with a condition. That condition being that there had to be significant give back of the previous week’s gains.

Instead, for the 2 trading days prior to earnings, YUM shares went higher, removing any interest in taking the risk of selling puts as the option market was still anticipating a relatively mild earnings related move and the reward was really insufficient.

Now, even after the week ending bounce, YUM’s weekly option premium is quite high, especially factoring in its ex-dividend state. As discussed last week, the premium enhancement may be sufficient to look into the possibility of selling a deep in the money weekly call option and ceding the dividend in order to accrue the premium and exit the position after just 2 days, if assigned early.

You needn’t look to China to explain The Gap’s problems. Slumping sales under its new CEO and the departure of a key executive from a rare division that was performing have sent shares lower and lower.

The troubles were compounded late this past week when The Gap did, as fewer and fewer in retail are doing, and released its same store sales figures and they continued to disappoint everyone.

Having gone ex-dividend in the past week that lure is now gone for a few months. The good news about The Gap is that it isn’t scheduled to report news of any kind of news for another month, when it releases same store sales once again, followed by quarterly results 10 days later.

The lack of any more impending bad news isn’t the best of compliments. However, unlike a rocket headed for a crash the floors for a stock can be more forgiving and The Gap is approaching a multi-year support level that may provide some justification for a position with an intended short term time frame as its option premiums are increasingly reflecting its increased volatility.

Coach (NYSE:COH) has earnings due to be reported at the end of this month. It is very often a big mover at earnings and despite some large declines had generally had a history of price recovery. That, however, hasn’t been the case in nearly 2 years.

Over the past 3 years I’ve owned Coach shares 21 times, but am currently weighed down by a single lot that is nearly 18 months old. During that time period I’ve only seen fit to add shares on a single occasion, but am again considering doing so as it seems to be building upon some support and may be one of those beneficiaries of increased consumer spending, even as its demographic may be less sensitive to energy pricing.

With the risk comes a decent weekly option premium, but I might consider sacrificing some of that premium and attempting to use a higher priced strike and perhaps an extended weekly option, but being wary of earnings, even though I expect an upward surprise.

The drug sector has seen its share of bad news lately, as well and has certainly been the target of political opportunism and over the top greed that makes almost everyone cringe.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is ex-dividend this week and is nearly 20% lower from the date that the S&P 500 began its descent toward correction territory. Since its spin-off from Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), which is also ex-dividend this week, AbbVie has had more than its share of controversy, including a proposed inversion and the pricing of its Hepatitis C drug regimen.

Shares seem to have respected some price support and have returned to a level well below where I last owned them. With its equally respectable option premium and generous dividend, this looks like an opportune time to consider a position, but I would like it as a short term holding in an attempt to avoid being faced with its upcoming earnings report at the end of the month.

Finally, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reports earnings this week and had been on a tear until mid-August, when a broad brush took nearly every company down 10% or more.

Of course, even with that 10% decline, Icahn Enterprises (NASDAQ:IEP), would have been far better off not having sold its shares and incurring its own 13% loss in 2015.

With earnings coming this week I found it interesting that Netflix would announce a price increase for new customers in advance of earnings. In having done so, shares spiked nearly 10%.

The option market is implying a 14% price move, however, a 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a weekly put at a strike level 19% below Friday’s closing price.

That’s an unusually large cushion even as the option market has been starting to recover from a period of under-estimating earnings related moves in the past quarter.

While the safety net does appear wide, my cynical side has me believing that the subscription increase was timed to offer its own cushion for what may be some disappointing numbers. Given the emphasis on new subscriber acquisitions, I would believe that metric will come in strong, otherwise this wouldn’t be an opportune time for a price increase. However, there may be something lurking elsewhere.

With that in mind, I would consider the same approach as with YUM Brands last week and would only consider the sale of puts if preceded by some significant price pullback. Otherwise, I would hold off, but might become interested again in the event of a large downward move after earnings are released.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, The Gap, Visa

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double-Dip Dividend: AbbVie (10/13), YUM Brands (10/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Netflix (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.

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Weekend Update – February 16, 2014

Is our normal state of dysfunction now on vacation?

Barely seven trading days earlier many believed that we were finally on the precipice of the correction that had long eluded the markets.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify what causes sudden directional changes, much less understand the nature of what caused the change. That doesn’t stop anyone from offering their proprietary insight into that which may sometimes be unknowable.

Certainly there will be technicians who will be able to draw lines and when squinting really hard be able to see some kind of common object-like appearing image that foretold it all. Sadly, I’ve never been very adept at seeing those images, but then again, I even have a hard time identifying “The Big Dipper.”

Others may point to an equally obscure “Principle” that hasn’t had the luxury of being validated because of its rare occurrences that make it impossible to distinguish from the realm of “coincidence.”

For those paying attention it’s somewhat laughable thinking how with almost alternating breaths over the past two weeks we’ve gone from those warning that if the 10 year Treasury yield got up to 3% the market would react very negatively, to warnings that if the yield got below 2.6% the markets would be adverse. There may also be some logical corollaries to those views that are equally not borne out in reality.

Trying to explain what may be irrational markets, which are by and large derivatives of the irrational behaviors found in those comprising the markets, using a rational approach is itself somewhat irrational.

Crediting or blaming trading algorithms has to recognize that even they have to begin with the human component and will reflect certain biases and value propositions.

But the question has to remain what caused the sudden shifting of energy from its destruction to its creation? Further, what sustained that shift to the point that the “correction” had itself been corrected? As someone who buys stocks on the basis of price patterns there may be something to the observation that all previous attempts at a correction in the past 18 months have been halted before the 10% threshold and quickly reversed, just as this most recent attempt.

That may be enough and I suppose that a chart could tell that story.

But forget about those that are suggesting that the market is responding to better than expected earnings and seeking a rational basis in fundamentals. Everyone knows or should know that those earnings are significantly buoyed by share buybacks. There’s no better way to grow EPS than to shrink the share base. Unfortunately, that’s not a strategy that builds for the future nor lends itself to continuing favorable comparisons.

I think that the most recent advance can be broken into two component parts. The first, which occurred in the final two days of the previous trading week which had begun with a 325 point gain was simply what some would have called “a dead cat bounce.” Some combination of tiring from all of the selling and maybe envisioning some bargains.

But then something tangible happened the next week that we haven’t seen for a while. It was a combination of civility and cooperation. The political dysfunction that had characterized much of the past decade seemed to take a break last week and the markets noticed. They even responded in a completely normal way.

Early in the week came rumors that the House of Representatives would actually present a “clean bill” to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. No fighting, no threats to shut down the government and most importantly the decision to ignore the “Hastert Rule” and allow the vote to take place.

The Hastert Rule was a big player in the introduction of dysfunction into the legislative process. Even if a majority could be attained to pass a vote, the bill would not be brought to a vote unless a majority of the majority party was in favor the bill. Good luck trying to get that to occur in the case of proposing no “quid pro quo” in the proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The very idea of some form of cooperation by both sides for the common good has been so infrequent as to appear unique in our history. Although the common good may actually have taken a back seat to the need to prevent looking really bad again, whatever the root cause for a cessation to a particular form of dysfunction was welcome news.

While that was being ruminated, Janet Yellen began her first appearance as Federal Reserve Chairman, as mandated by the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill.

Despite the length of the hearings which would have even tired out Bruce Springsteen, they were entirely civil, respectful and diminished in the use of political dogma and talking points. There may have even been some fleeting moments of constructive dialogue.

Normal people do that sort of thing.

But beyond that the market reacted in a straightforward way to Janet Yellen’s appearance and message that the previous path would be the current path. People, when functioning in a normal fashion consider good news to be good news. They don’t play speculative games trying to take what is clear on the surface to its third or fourth derivative.

Unfortunately, for those who like volatility, as I do, because it enhances option premiums, the lack of dysfunction and the more rational approach to markets should diminish the occurrence of large moves in opposite directions to one another. In the real world realities don’t shift that suddenly and on such a regular basis, however, the moods that have moved the markets have shifted furiously as one theory gets displaced by the next.

How long can dysfunction stay on vacation? Human nature being what it is, unpredictable and incapable of fully understanding reality, is why so many in need stop taking their medications, particularly for chronic disorders. I suspect it won’t be long for dysfunction to re-visit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

Speaking of dysfunction, that pretty well summarizes the potash cartel. Along with other, one of my longtime favorite stocks, Mosaic (MOS) has had a rough time of things lately. In what may be one of the great blunders and miscalculations of all time, there is now some speculation that the cartel may resume cooperation, now that the CEO of the renegade breakaway has gone from house arrest in Belarus to extradition to Russia and as none of the members of the cartel have seen their fortunes rise as they have gone their separate ways.

In the interim Mosaic has traded in a very nice range after recovering from the initial shock. While I still own more expensively priced shares their burden has been somewhat eased by repetitive purchases of Mosaic and the sale of call contracts. Following an encouraging earnings report shares approached their near term peak. I would be anxious to add shares on even a small pullback, such as nearing $47.50.

^TNX ChartOne position that I’ve enjoyed sporadically owning has been MetLife (MET) which reported earnings last week. As long as interest rates are part of anyone’s equation for predicting where markets or stocks will go next, MetLife is one of those stocks that received a bump higher as interest rates started climbing concurrent with the announcement of the Federal Reserve;’s decision to initiate a taper to Quantitative Easing.

Cisco (CSCO), to hear the critics tell the story is a company with a troubled future and few prospects under the continued leadership of John Chambers. For those with some memory, you may recall that Chambers has been this route before and has been alternatively glorified, pilloried and glorified again. Currently, he has been a runner-up in the annual contest to identify the worst CEO of the year.

Personally, I have no opinion, but I do like the mediocrity in which shares have been mired. It’s that kind of mediocrity that creates a stream of option premiums and, in the case of Cisco, dividends, as well. With the string of disappointments continued at last week’s earnings report, Cisco did announce another dividend increase while it recovered from much of the drop that it sustained at first.

I’m never quite certain why I like Whole Foods (WFM). What this winter season has shown is that many people are content to stay at home any eat whatever gluten they can find rather than brave the elements and visit a local store for the healthier things in life. I think Whole Foods is now simply making the transition from growth stock to boring stock. If that is the case I expect to be owning it more often as with boring comes that price predictability that appeals to me so much.

This week’s potential dividend trades are a disparate group if you ignore that they have all under-performed the S&P 500 since its peak.

General Electric (GE) is just one of those perfect examples of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and perhaps not being in the right place at the right time. Much of General Electric’s woes when the market was crumbling in 2008 was its financial services group. Since the market bottom its shares have outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 50%, as GE has taken steps to reduce its financial services portfolio. Unfortunately that means that it won’t be in a position to benefit from any rising interest rate environment as can reasonably be expected to be in our future.

Still, coming off its recent price decline and offering a strong dividend this week its shares look inviting, even if only for a short term holding.

L Brands (LB) along with most of the rest of the retail sector hasn’t been reflective of a strong consumer economy. Having recovered about 50% of its recent fall and going ex-dividend this coming week I’m ready to watch it recover some more lost ground as its specialty retailing has appeared to have greater resilience than department store competitors. 

Transocean (RIG) still hasn’t recovered from its recent ratings cut from “sector outperform” to “sector perform.” I’ve never understood the logic of that kind of  assessment, particularly if the sector may still be in a position to outperform the broad market. However, equally hard to understand is the reaction, especially when the entire sector goes down in unison in response. Subsequently Transocean also received an outright “sell” recommendation and has been mired near its two year lows.

With a very healthy ex-dividend date this week I may have renewed interest in adding shares. While he has been quiet of late, at its latest disclosure, Icahn Enterprises (IEP) owned approximately 6% of Transocean and to some degree serves as a floor to share price, as does the dividend which is scheduled to increase to $3 annually.

However, as with L Brands, which also reports earnings on February 26, 2104, I would also consider an exit or rollover strategy for those that may want to mitigate earnings related risk that will present itself. Such strategies may include closing out the position below the purchase price or rolling over to a March 2014 option in order to have some additional time to ride out any storms.

There’s really not much reason to take sides in the validity of claims regarding the nature of Herbalife (HLF). It has certainly made for amusing theater, as long as you either stayed on the sidelines or selected the right side. With the recent suggestion that some on the long side of the equation have been selling shares this week’s upcoming earnings release may offer some opportunity, as shares have already fallen nearly 16%.

While the option market is only implying a 7.2% move in share price, the sale of a put can return a weekly 1% ROI even at a strike price 13.7% below the current price. That is about the largest cushion I recall seeing and does look appealing for those that may have an inclination to take on risk. I’m a little surprised of how low the implied price movement appears to be, however, the surprise is answered when seeing how unresponsive shares have been the past year upon earnings news.

Also reporting earnings this week is Groupon (GRPN), a stock that has taken on some credibility since replacing its one time CEO, who never enjoyed the same cycle of adulation and disdain as did John Chambers. While the “Daily Deal” space is no longer one that gets much attention, Groupon has demonstrated that all of the cautionary views warning of how few barriers to entry existed, were vacuous. Where there were few barriers were to exit the space. 

In the meantime the options market is predicting a 13.9% move related to earnings, while a weekly 1.3% ROI could possibly be achieved with a price movement of less than 19%. While that kind of downward move is possible, there is some very strong support above there.

Finally, there is the frustration of owning AIG (AIG) at the moment. The frustration comes from watching for the second successive earnings report shares climb smartly higher in the after-hours and then completely reverse direction the following day. I continue to believe that its CEO, Robert Benmosche is something of a hero for the manner in which he has restored AIG and created an historical reference point in the event anyone ever questions some future day bailout of a systemically vital company.

None of that hero worship matters as far as any proposed purchased this coming week. However, shares may be well priced and in a sector that’s ready for some renewed interest.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum Stocks: Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (ex-div 2/20), L Brands (ex-div 2/19), Transocean (ex-div 2/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Groupon (12/20 PM) , Herbalife (2/18 PM)

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

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Weekend Update – 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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