Weekend Update – December 25, 2016

 It’s the end of the world as we know it

…And I feel fine.

Whoever thought that we would live to see the day that the President-Elect would be running a parallel foreign policy?

Whoever thought we would live to see the day that Republicans were cozying up to the Russian government while the Democrats were sounding the siren?

Then again, did anyone really believe that Great Britain would split from the European Union?

Maybe it really is the end of the world as we know it.

The one good thing is that as best as we can project, life in a post-apocalyptic world will probably be characterized by lower tax rates.

That can only add to the feeling fine sensation and I certainly look forward to the little considered benefits of an apocalypse.

While the world may not be ending, 2016 is coming to an end and after a very palpable post-election rally, it’s not very clear where we go next.

I certainly don’t know where I go next.

In less than a month populism meets reality and the direction may become more clear. At the moment, the only thing that really is clear is that populism is a world wide phenomenon, which means that lots of world-wide enemies are being identified to account for all of the ills any particular society may be experiencing.

 

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Weekend Update – September 13, 2015

For those of a certain age, you may or may not recall that Marvin Gaye’s popular song “What’s Going On?” was fairly controversial and raised many questions about the behavior of American society both inside and outside of our borders during a time that great upheaval was underway.

The Groucho Marx character Rufus T. Firefly said “Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.”

While I could never answer that seminal question seeking an explanation for everything going on, I do know that the more outlandish Groucho’s film name, the funnier the film. However, that kind of knowledge has proven itself to be of little meaningful value, despite its incredibly high predictive value.

That may be the same situation when considering the market’s performance following the initiation of interest rate hikes. Despite knowing that the market eventually responds to that in a very positive manner by moving higher, traders haven’t been rushing to position themselves to take advantage of what’s widely expected to be an upcoming interest rate increase.

In hindsight it may be easy to understand some of the confusion experienced 40 years ago as the feeling that we were moving away from some of our ideals and fundamental guiding principles was becoming increasingly pervasive.

I don’t think Groucho’s pretense of understanding would have fooled anyone equally befuddled in that era and no 4 year old child, devoid of bias or subjectivity, could have really understood the nature of the societal transformation that was at hand.

Following the past week’s stealth rally it’s certainly no more clear as to what’s going on and while many are eager to explain what is going on, even a 4 year old knows that it’s best to not even make the attempt, lest you look, sound or read like a babbling idiot.

It’s becoming difficult to recall what our investing ideals and fundamentals used to be. Other than “buy low and sell high,” it’s not clear what we believe in anymore, nor who or what is really in charge of market momentum.

Just as Marvin Gaye’s song recognized change inside and outside of our borders, our own markets have increasingly been influenced by what’s going on outside of those borders.

If you have any idea of what is really going on outside of our borders, especially in China, you may be that 4 year old child that can explain it all to the rest of us.

The shock of the decline in Shanghai has certainly had an influence on us, but once the FOMC finally raises rates, which may come early as this week, we may all come to a very important realization.

That realization may be that what’s really going on is that the United States economy is the best in the world in relative terms and is continuing to improve in absolute terms.

That will be something to sing about.

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

With relatively little interest in wanting to dip too deeply into cash reserves, which themselves are stretched thinner than I would like, I’m more inclined to give some consideration to positions going ex-dividend in the very near future.

Recent past weeks have provided lots of those opportunities, but for me, this week isn’t as welcoming.

The two that have my attention, General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) couldn’t be more different, other than perhaps in the length of tenure of their Chairmen/CEOs.

I currently own shares in both companies and had shares of General Electric assigned this past week.

While most of the week’s attention directed toward General Electric is related to the European Union’s approval of its bid to buy Alstom SA (EPA:ALO), General Electric has rekindled my interest in its shares solely because of its decline along with the rest of the market.

While it has mirrored the performance of the S&P 500 since its high point in July, I would be happy to see it do nothing more than to continue to mirror that performance, as the combination of its dividend and recently volatility enhanced option premium makes it a better than usual candidate for reward relative to risk.

While I also don’t particularly like to re
purchase recently assigned shares at a higher price, that most recent purchase may very well have been at an unrealistically low price relative to the potential to accumulate dividends, premiums and still see capital appreciation of shares.

Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, is caught in all of the uncertainty surrounding China and the ability of Chinese citizens to part with their dwindling discretionary cash. With highly significant exposure to Macau, Las Vegas Sands has seen its share price bounce fairly violently over the past few months and has certainly reflected the fact that we have no real clue as to what’s going on in China.

As expected, along with that risk, especially in a market with its own increasing uncertainty is an attractive option premium. Since Las Vegas Sands ex-dividend date is on a Friday and it does offer expanded weekly options, there are a number of potential buy/write combinations that can seek to take advantage of the option premium, with or without also capturing the dividend.

The least risk adverse investor might consider the sale of a deep in the money weekly call option with the objective of simply generating an option premium in exchange for 4 days of stock ownership. At Friday’s closing prices that would have been buying shares at $46.88 and selling a weekly $45.50 call option for $1.82. With a $0.65 dividend, shares would very likely be assigned early if Thursday’s closing price was higher than $46.15.

If assigned early, that 4 day venture would yield a return of 0.9%.

However, if shares are not assigned early, the return is 2.3%, if shares are assigned at closing.

Alternatively, a $45.50 September 25, 2015 contract could be sold with the hope that shares are assigned early. In that case the return would be 1.3% for the 4 days of risk.

In keeping with Las Vegas Sand’s main product line, it’s a gamble, no matter which path you may elect to take, but even a 4 year old child knows that some risks are better than others.

Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) was ex-dividend this past week and it’s not sold in Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), which is expected to go ex-dividend at the end of the month.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about an investment in Coca Cola, but if looking for some relative safety during a period of market turmoil, Coca Cola has been just that, paralleling the behavior of General Electric since that market top.

As also with General Electric, its dividend yield is more than 50% higher than for the S&P 500 and its option premium is also reflecting greater market volatility.

Following an 8% decline I would consider looking at longer term options to try and lock in the greater premium, as well as having an opportunity to wait out some chance for a price rebound.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, has just been an unmitigated disaster. As bad as the S&P 500 has performed in the past 2 months, you can triple that loss if looking to describe Whole Foods’ plight.

What makes their performance even more disappointing is that after two years of blaming winter weather and assuming the costs of significant national expansion, it had looked as if Whole Foods had turned the corner and was about to reap the benefits of that expansion.

What wasn’t anticipated was that it would have to start sharing the market that it created and having to sacrifice its rich margins in an industry characterized by razor thin margins.

However, I think that Whole Foods will now be in for another extended period of seeing its share price going nowhere fast. While that might be a reason to avoid the shares for most, that can be just the ideal situation for accumulating income as option premiums very often reflect the volatility that such companies show upon earnings, rather than the treading water they do in the interim.

That was precisely the kind of share price character describing eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) for years. Even when stuck in a trading range the premiums still reflected its proclivity to surprise investors a few times each year. Unless purchasing shares at a near term top, adding them anywhere near or below the mid-point of the trading range was a very good way to enhance reward while minimizing risk specific to that stock.

While 2015 hasn’t been very kind to Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), compared to so many others since mid-July, it has been a veritable super-star, having gained 3%, including its dividend.

Over the past week, however, Seagate lagged the market during a week when the performance of the technology sector was mixed.

Seagate is a stock that I like to consider for its ability to generate option related income through the sale of puts as it approaches a support level. Having just recovered from testing the $46.50 level, I would consider the sale of
puts and would try to roll those over and over if necessary, until that point that shares are ready to go ex-dividend.

That won’t be for another 2 months, so in the event of an adverse price move there should be sufficient time for some chance of recovery and the ability to close out the position.

In the event that it does become necessary to keep rolling over the put premiums heading into earnings, I would select an expiration a week before the ex-dividend date, taking advantage of either an increased premium that will be available due to earnings or trading down to a lower strike price.

Then, if necessary, assignment can be taken before the ex-dividend date and consideration given to selling calls on the new long position.

Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) reports earnings this week and while it offers only monthly option contracts, with earnings coming during the final week of that monthly contract, there is a chance to consider the sale of put options that are effectively the equivalent of a weekly.

Adobe option contracts don’t offer the wide range of strike levels as do many other stocks, so there are some limitations if considering an earnings related trade. The option market is implying a move of approximately 6.7%.

However, a nearly 1% ROI may be achieved if shares fall less than 8.4% next week. Having just fallen that amount in the past 3 weeks I often like that kind of prelude to the sale of puts. More weakness in advance of earnings would be even better.

Finally, good times caught up with LuLuLemon Athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) as it reported earnings. Having gone virtually unchallenged in its price ascent that began near the end of 2014, it took a really large step in returning to those price levels.

While its earnings were in line with expectations, its guidance stretched those expectations for coming quarters thin. If LuLuLemon has learned anything over the past two years is that no one likes things to be stretched too thin.

The last time such a thing happened it took a long time for shares to recover and there was lots of internal turmoil, as well. While its founder is no longer there to discourage investors, the lack of near term growth may be an apt replacement for his poorly chosen words, thoughts and opinions.

However, one thing that LuLuLemon has been good for in the past, when faced with a quantum leap sharply declining stock price is serving as an income production vehicle through the sale of puts options.

I think that opportunity has returned as shares do tend to go through a period of some relative stability after such sharp declines. During those periods, however, the option premiums, befitting the decline and continued uncertainty remain fairly high.

Even though earnings are now behind LuLuLemon, the option market is still implying a price move of % next week. At the same time, the sale of a weekly put option % below Friday’s closing price could still yield a % ROI and offer opportunity to roll over the position in the event that assignment may become likely.

Traditional Stock: Coca Cola, Whole Foods

Momentum Stock: LuLuLemon Athletica, Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Electric (9/17 $0.23), Las Vegas Sands (9/18 $0.65)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Adobe (9/17 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 – September 6, 2015

Stop and take a break.

I’ve been doing just that, taking a break, for about the past 5 years, but sometimes I think that I’m working harder than ever.

Lately, however, I don’t feel as if I’m on a forward path so it may be time to do exactly what the Chinese stock markets did last week and what the US stock markets are doing this coming week.

They both took some time off and perhaps it was timed to perfection. After a 42% decline in Shanghai in less than 10 weeks and a 10% drop in the S&P 500 in 6 weeks, it was definitely time to take a breather and smell the dying flowers.

China took a couple of days off for celebrations ostensibly commemorating the end of World War II. While doing so they may also have wanted to show the nation and the world just how together they have things and just how much in control they really are at a time when the image is becoming otherwise.

After all, if the Faustian Bargain in place can no longer deliver on the promise of a higher standard of living, the message of an all powerful government has to be reinforced, lest people think they can opt out of the deal and choose democracy instead. 

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Weekend Update – March 22, 2015

The past week has to be one to make most people pause and try to understand the basis for what we just experienced.

In a week otherwise devoid of any meaningful news there was a singular event in the middle of the week and then a little bit of follow-up to help clarify that event.

That event was the release of this month’s FOMC Statement and the subsequent clarifying event was the press conference held by its Chair, Janet Yellen.

In its aftermath, I am more confused than ever.

Not so much about where interest rates are headed, nor when, but more about the thought processes that propel markets when expectations are so clearly defined and what our continuing expectations should be.

Most everyone who follows markets knows that the great debate of late has not been whether the FOMC was going to begin the process of raising interest rates, but when they were going to begin that process. Somehow, we believed that the answer to that question was going to come when we learned whether the word “patience” would continue to characterize the FOMC’s timetable with regard to its effort to “normalize the stance of monetary policy.”

Most had taken positions that the first rate increase would come either as early as this June or perhaps as late as September. The continuing use of the word “patience” was perceived as a sign that interest rate increases wouldn’t occur until sometime after June 2015.

So you have to excuse some confusion when the market reversed course by more than 300 points as it learned that the word “patience” was eliminated, but also received news that the FOMC didn’t foresee an interest rate increase before their next meeting in April 2015.

April?

That could mean that an increase by the May meeting was still on the table and the last time I looked, May came before June, especially if you believe a more hawkish approach is warranted.

Presumably, it was the fear of interest rate increases coming as early as June that was a source for recent market weakness.

As I parsed the words I couldn’t understand the way in which the news was initially embraced. While I expected that regardless of the wording outcome the market would find reason to move forward, I certainly didn’t expect the reaction that ensued, especially since the signal was so mixed and really offered nothing to get excited about, nor to fear.

No rate increase likely in April? That’s the best the FOMC could do?

But in a world where even the slightest of interest rate increases is feared, despite the past evidence suggesting that it should be embraced, the very thought of an increase possibly coming before June should have sent buyers heading for the exits.

Yet it was more than good enough, at least for a couple of hours, and actually represented the first in 7 trading sessions where the market reversed course intra-day, having had triple digit moves in opposite directions each and every one of those days.

Now clearly that has to inspire confidence for whatever is to come next.

It’s a good thing that I don’t believe very much in chart analysis, because it would otherwise be very tempting to notice that the previous 7 trading sessions shows a clear pattern of lower highs and higher lows when looking at the net change and an even more compelling series of higher highs and higher lows when looking at the DJIA closing levels.

Yet, at the same time, it has been nearly 4 weeks ever since the DJIA has been able to string together as little as 2 consecutive days of gains.

Perhaps not to coincidentally the last time the market was able to do that was on the occasion of Janet Yellen’s two day mandated congressional testimony during which time she re-iterated a dovish position regarding the initiation of interest rate increases. But barely 2 days later suspicion of her intentions set in as the Vice-Chairman of the FOMC, Stanley Fischer struck a more hawkish tone that just a week later seemed to be validated by the Employment Situation Report.

Despite the fact that there has been no other corroborating evidence to drive the data that the FOMC insists that it values, the market lost its forward momentum from February until Janet Yellen once again took center stage.

Why people just didn’t believe her all along is a mystery, just as it is a mystery that they again chose to believe her.

How long will the trust in her comforting words last this time?

Perhaps Friday’s GDP release, coming on the same day as a scheduled speech by Stanley Fischer will give us some idea of the staying power of the dove when faced with a circling hawk.

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

It was neither a good week to be DuPont (NYSE:DD) nor eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) as both received analyst downgrades and saw their shares fall significantly when compared to the S&P 500 over the previous 7 sessions.

DuPont’s downgrade came amid worries of problems in its agricultural and chemical segments, along with concerns about the kind of currency headwinds that we’re likely to be hearing much more about in the coming weeks as the next earnings season gets ready to begin.

While those are all important issues, certainly important enough to see DuPont’s shares fall nearly 9% relative to the S&P 500 in the past week, there was lots of activist related news that may be setting the stage for a more contentious kind of fight than Nelson Peltz usually gets himself into. However, it is that activist position that the analyst recognized as a risk to his overall negative outlook as Peltz took to the media last week to be both more accommodating in his requests to DuPont, but also to voice his frustrations.

In the meantime the recent drop in share price is similar to other such drops seen in the past year that have been at levels representing higher lows and that have set the stage for climbs to higher highs.

While Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) may be suffering from some of the same issues as DuPont and has the added liability of oil interests in Kuwait, it is at least seemingly at peace with its own activist investors, or at the very least the relations are not overtly adverse at the moment.

Dow Chemical has been very much tied to energy prices these past few months even as its CEO Andrew Liveris has clearly stated that on a net basis the decrease in energy prices is beneficial to Dow Chemical, as it pays more for energy input than it depends on revenue from energy outputs.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and are attractively priced, although as long as energy is under pressure and as long as Liveris’ contention goes ignored, the shares will be under pressure. I currently own shares and Dow Chemical was for a long time a staple in my portfolio, both as a long term holding and as a frequent trading vehicle. At the current price I think a new position could be used as either a longer term holding or a serial trade.

eBay has been absent from my portfolio for a couple of months as I’ve grown too uneasy with it flirting near the $60 level to consider re-purchasing shares. Even the $57.50 level puts me at unease, but a recent downgrade calling into question the value of its PayPal unit in light of increasing competition, most recently from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was welcome and did bring shares closer to the upper level at which I had some comfort.

Shares recovered nicely from the initial reaction to the downgrade, but still trailed the S&P 500 by 5% over the past 7 trading sessions.

In the past I have very much liked owning eBay when it was mired in a tight range, yet still delivered appealing option premiums due to the occasional earnings related surprises. The story changed once activism entered the picture and shares started moving beyond the 2 year price range in the belief that PayPal had great value beyond what was already reflected in eBay’s price.

With each passing day, however, the luster of PayPal may be diminishing, even as it still remains an extremely valuable brand and service.

As it sits at the upper end of where I would consider taking a position, I would be very interested in either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts on any further drop in price. If selling puts this is one position that I wouldn’t mind taking assignment on in the event of an adverse price move, but would still look at the possibility of simply rolling over those puts to forward weeks.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is increasingly becoming an interesting company. While it certainly has some challenges as it’s chief revenue generating drug goes off patent next year, it has certainly been actively pursuing other lucrative areas, including management of Hepatitis C and cancer therapy, with its planned purchase of Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ:PCYC).

While shares have recovered somewhat from its recent low following an analyst downgrade, they are still nearly 8% lower YTD, but the company is certainly not standing still. In addition to upside potential, the shares offer attractive option premiums and an upcoming dividend that’s well ahead of that offered by its one time parent.

I’m not much of a video gamer even though I can get easily get sucked in by useless activities of a repetitive nature. My guess is that a combination of lack of skill, lack of attention span and allegiance to pinball have kept me indifferent to much of the last 25 years of home entertainment.

This week, however, GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) have my attention.

I was actually happy to see my shares of GameStop get assigned this past week ahead of earnings this week. The timing was good as its generous dividend was captured without having to think about the risk of its upcoming earnings.

GameStop is a company that many have written off for years, pointing toward its paleolithic business model, the challenges of brick and mortar as well as streaming competition and the always large short interest looming over shares.

But somehow it continues to confound everyone.

With shares about 10% higher in March the option market is implying a price move of 7.8% upon earnings release. Meanwhile a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained even if shares fall almost 10% following the news. As with eBay, GameStop is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning if puts were at risk of being assigned. However, I’d be much more willing to sell puts if there was some price weakness heading into earnings. Otherwise, I would wait until after earnings and again consider the sale of puts in the event of a large price drop.

The last time I purchased Activision was after its own large price drop following earnings this past February when the company announced record earnings but provided weak forward guidance.

Shares, however, recovered quickly as Activision announced a large share buyback and increased dividend. Since then the shares have been trading in a fairly tight range and they are ex-dividend this week.

That dividend, however, is an annual one and on that basis is paltry. However, if shares end up being a short term holding the dividend yield can be very attractive, especially taken together with the option premiums available when selling calls.

Finally, LuLuLemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings this week and appears to be back in favor with shoppers as the company appears to be sufficiently distanced from its founder. Time may have been the best of all remedies to their particular problem as shares have shown great recovery.

The option market is implying an earnings related move of 8% and a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained when selling puts at a strike level 10.1% below Friday’s closing price. In the past, LuLuLemon has had some very significant earnings moves, with 15-20% moves not being out of the norm.

However, unlike a number of other stocks mentioned this week, LuLuLemon had nicely out-performed the S&P 500 over the past 7 trading sessions. For that reason I would be inclined to wait until after earnings are released and would consider either a sale of puts or a buy/write in the event of a large price drop.

Traditional Stocks: AbbVie, DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Activision (3/26), Dow Chemical (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/26 PM), LuLuLemon (3/26 AM)

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

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Weekend Update – December 7, 2014

Trying to listen to the President put forth some statistics regarding the employment situation in the United States this past week was difficult, as my attention was captured by the festive holiday backdrop.

Holding a prominent position next to our nation’s flag was what appeared to be a symbol that perhaps reflected official endorsement of Bacchanalian celebrations, together with the more traditionally accepted holiday decorations. Enlarging the photo did nothing to re-direct my imagination.

The President’s exploring the good news contained in the Employment Situation Report and trumpeting the trend in employment statistics may have been his muted version of a Bacchanalian victory lap, of sorts.

Focusing on that background item for as long as I did in wonderment caused me to lose sight of what should probably be recognized, as Friday’s Employment Situation Report indicated the addition of more than 300,000 new jobs in the past month, as well as a substantial upward revision to the previous month.

I guess that I wasn’t alone in losing focus about what’s been going on in the economy, as later that day during one of their now ubiquitous polls, CNBC viewers were asked whether President Obama was good for the stock market.

I suppose the answer may depend on the criteria one uses to define “good.” as well as whether one believes that things would have been better without him or his economic policies, or whether their time frame is forward or backward looking. read more

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