Weekend Update – June 29, 2014

There wasn’t much going on last week, but for what there was, you can be certain that there was a role played by some branch of government.

By no means I am a libertarian and I certainly understand the need for a beneficent government to protect those things that we hold dear, from assets to zoning, but this past week government seemed to be the singular driver of news during a week that was otherwise devoid of news.

For starters, we received yet another revision to the first quarter GDP, indicating a 2.9% decrease. That’s not the sort of growth that engenders much confidence in the economy, but it’s also the sort of report that doesn’t engender much confidence in the reporter.

Certainly for a market that is said to discount the future, learning that what you believed to have been true was patently false has to also shake confidence, particularly when you begin to wonder whether your own government’s reporting of economic data is any better than that from the nation we so readily disparage for the veracity of its reporting – China.

With the economic calendar so important each week, this coming week’s early Employment Situation Report, which has been fairly inconsequential for the past 6 months, may prove otherwise if either it offers data consistent with the  abysmal GDP statistic or is qualified by large downward revisions of previous months.

But with objective data reporting out of the way, the early part of the week was focused on Supreme Court rulings that were scheduled to be released as the current session comes to its end. The decision regarding the novel technology behind the Aereo product that delivers broadcast transmission to any internet enabled device was ruled unconstitutional and any company with local broadcasting interests soared on the decision. Essentially, the Supreme Court said that an antennae that is leased and captures broadcasts is illegal, while an antennae that is purchased and captures broadcast television is not.

Then the Internal Revenue Service came into focus as it ruled favorably on Iron Mountain’s (IRM) request to convert to a REIT, which was especially surprising since it had tentatively given an adverse opinion last year. The result was a surge in share price confounding those who believed that the price already fully discounted the opinion. This ruling could open the way for others to consider separating that portion of their business that generates revenues in corporate owned facilities into a REIT and enjoy those tax benefits.

Then there was the matter of the refiners that awoke Thursday morning to the shocking news that the US Department of Commerce was going to allow essentially unrefined oil to be exported, even without a license, thereby likely reducing margins at the refiners. That sector saw some brutalized victims and some clear victors from the decision.

Then there was the case of Verizon (VZ) that had a contract in Germany canceled for fears that the NSA could use the devices as an easy conduit for surreptitiously gathering intelligence. 

Finally, Barclays (BCS) drew attention from local government as the New York State Attorney General’s office filed suit against Barclays claiming “fraud and deceit” in the manner their dark pool trading was executed. Of course, when there’s one cockroach you can be certain that there are more to be found, so the financial sector becomes more widely suspect as Barclays is scrutinized.

But to be clear, I was certainly on the side of government when Janet Yellen, just the previous week gave reason to believe that interest rates would remain low, thereby suggesting that equities would be a more advantageous investment vehicle than bonds. Unfortunately, as soon as this past week started, that news was old and long forgotten, as the message had no carry over to this week’s trading.

While some of last week’s events were scheduled, others came as a surprise in more than their content. Hopefully this week will be one when the hand of government will remain invisible and allow the market to trade on something that hasn’t been seen in a long while – fundamentals.

However, now isn’t the time to hold one’s breath and it’s not necessarily likely that next week’s beginning of another earnings season will be the time to do so, either.

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

Holly Frontier (HFC) was one of those brutalized refiners whose shares plummeted upon the news that certain unrefined products could now be exported. The share drop has brought Holly Frontier to the lower end of the range in which it had been trading and in which I currently own shares. I’ve done so on five occasions this year and have watched shares go up and down in alternating quantum stages during that time. While I believe the reaction to the news may have been overdone and would like to add shares, as Holly Frontier has an appealing option premium, regular dividend and routinely pays a special dividend, as well, I would likely await to see some stability in its price as the week opens before making the decision.

I’ve been waiting a while to re-purchase shares of DuPont (DD) and after its surprise announcement of a lower earnings forecast on reduced seed sales that time may have arrived. At one time DuPont was a very frequent holding, but it’s been nearly two years since that last purchase. Since that time DuPont has started offering weekly options and much more recently expanded weekly options, greatly increasing its appeal. Like many other stocks that I consider for purchase, DuPont has that nice troika of option premium, dividend and price stability that can serve to minimize some market tremors.

Another major decliner this week was Dollar General (DG), which plunged upon news that its CEO was planning to retire sometime in 2015. Presumably, the rational for that plunge was that the company was therefore, less likely to be involved in a buyout or merger with Family Dollar Stores (FDO) as has been rumored, in the near term.

That doesn’t really seem to make very much sense to me. If the union of those two companies makes sense, as many believe that it does for both companies, it’s not terribly likely that a company would giv
e up on the idea and simply go on hiatus. They would most certainly get the process moving at an appropriate time, while ensuring that CEO succession was closely aligned with the objectives defined by the board, which will continue to be chaired by its current CEO who has indicated he would stay on during the transition period.

I actually purchased some shares in the final couple of hours on Friday in the belief that I could get a quick assignment while shares recovered and anticipated doing another purchase this coming week.

Instead, shares stumbled while trading in a wide range in the final hour and I eventually rolled over shares. However, I think that the reaction was very much not only an over-reaction, but also the wrong reaction to what was really benign news. That leaves me in a position to consider further adding shares this week.

Verizon seems to be paying a price for the US government’s alleged spying on German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and is reportedly losing government contracts in Germany to Deutsche Telecom (DT) over concerns that Verizon cell phones may be eminently capable of doing the NSA’s bidding overseas. A late day recovery restored shares above $49, but I would be anxious to purchase shares if approaching that level again, mindful of its ex-dividend date the following week.

The potential dividend payers for the week are Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), Medtronic (MDT) and Sysco (SYY).

Bristol Myers is a frequent holding and I currently own two lots, having saved one from assignment specifically because I wanted to retain the dividend this week. It has traded in a range recently as some good news about a drug used in the treatment of melanoma has lifted shares from the low end of that range that I believe may carry shares back toward the $52 range if the overall market doesn’t fade. 

Medtronic has been much in the news lately due to its proposed $43 billion buyout of Covidien (COV), an Ireland based company. While inversions are increasingly in our lexicon these days, this merger makes sense on more than just a tax basis.

Trading near its yearly highs isn’t generally a place I want to be when opening a position, but I don’t foresee any near term threat to Medtronic’s share price and it does offer a decent dividend, made more appealing if shares are assigned relatively quickly. 

Sysco is just one of those companies that is everywhere you probably don’t always want to be. It’s non-flashy, utilitarian and below the radar, yet it is fairly indispensable and reliable in terms of what if offers to a broad range of customers. Shares have only recently begun trading weekly and expanded weekly options and while offering a nice dividend and option premium, also offers some opportunity for share appreciation, as well.

Finally, Whole Foods (WFM) also goes ex-dividend on July 1, but purchasing for the purposes of capturing the paltry dividend may be as bad of an idea as it has been for me to have purchased shares in the past. I currently own shares and have watched them tumble as the company faced increasing competition, bad weather and significant expansion efforts. In addition, an occasional comment too many and too controversial by one of its co-CEOs does nothing to help it recover its former glory.

Whole Foods is one of those rare companies that has previously recovered its lost glory, although it did take nearly 7 years to return to its 2005 price peak. I don’t really have the kind of patience, but the extent of the climb isn’t as steep as in the past.

I think that it’s bad news is behind it and it has shown some stability at its current price. While I often like to purchase shares after a price drop, especially if I already own shares, I haven’t found the reason to do so with Whole Foods while watching its value erode.

Unless there’s a report coming from government agencies next week citing health hazards of organic food, I’m finally ready to add to my Whole Food holdings and may as well take that puny dividend for my troubles.

Traditional Stocks: DuPont, Holly Frontier, Verizon, Whole Foods

Momentum: Dollar General

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers Squibb (7/1), Medtronic (7/1), Sysco (7/1)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

 

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 – March 31, 2013

It’s said that George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak (EKDKQ), was quite methodical as he approached the end of his life and was prepared to put his escape plan into action.

“My work here is done” may be a very logical way to approach any kind of transition, although it doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme that Eastman felt was appropriate under his circumstances. Be prepared, but don’t be crazy.

I’ve been transitioning a portfolio for almost a month in anticipation of the market taking a break and perhaps giving back some of its gains; maybe even a lot of its gains.

Doing so has made me much less fun to be around, but circumstances do change and being prepared for plausible scenarios means having exit strategies and surviving to see them do as planned until it’s time to exit the exit strategy. Once my work is done I can’t wait to get back to work.

I for one was glad to see the first quarter of 2013 come to an end. Fortunately, as a covered option seller, my remaining life span may not be sufficient to see another opening yearly quarter such as this past one, as the last such period was in 1987.

You may or may not remember how that year ended, but let’s just say that a single day 500 point drop back then was a lot more meaningful than it would be today.

I wasn’t prepared back then, in fact, that was the last time I used a margin account. I may end up being wrong this time around, but in watching markets for a number of years, both as a casual observer and as an active participant it’s reasonably clear that the good times don’t just keep rolling.

Selling covered calls is a great strategy when applied methodically, but it does meet its match in markets that just do nothing other than going higher. Hopefully April will usher in some greater variety in outcomes, as the past few weeks, despite having established records in both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 have been showing some signs of tentative behavior.

Part of being a less fun person has meant initiating fewer new positions each week. The first step to creating an environment that wouldn’t entice me to spend money on new positions was to cut off the funding just like you might with any addict. Luckily, most stock traders won’t resort to petty crime and pawning the belongings of loved ones to feed the habit, although that margin account can be very appealing and the answer to an easy fix.

I cut off my flow of funds by moving from weekly to extended weekly or monthly options. Longer contracts means less weekly contracts available to be assigned and less opportunity for new weekly cash to be available to “feed the beast.”.

Unfortunately, I also curtailed my cash flow by some unseemly timing in the purchase of new positions this past quarter, such as Petrobras (PBR) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) that are sitting awaiting opportunities to have call contracts written against them.

The next part of the transition was focusing on reliable dividend paying stocks. The kind your grandfather would feel comfortable owning. Last week, all new positions went ex-dividend last week or this coming week. They’re not very exciting to own, but dividends, especially when their ensuing share price reduction is partially offset by option premiums are especially welcome.

Keeping more cash in reserve, moving away from “Momentum” positions, longer contracts and seeking near term dividends is the exit strategy and my transition is nearly complete.

Now comes the waiting and the period of self-doubt, which includes wondering when it’s time to abandon a thesis. In the meantime, increasing cash reserves doesn’t mean a total prohibition against finding potential new opportunities. After all, being prepared doesn’t have to take you to extremes. Once you’ve reached a crazy state of preparedness it’s hard to turn around to see the light.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the “PEE” category, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (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.

Some of this week’s selections are stocks that I already own but may consider adding to existing positions. One such stock is Deere (DE) which left me somewhat exasperated this past Thursday, the final day of a holiday shortened trading week.

At almost precisely noon shares of Deere dropped by about $1.40 in about 8 minutes, taking it from the realm of stocks poised for assignment. The plunge happened while the market was stable and most other heavy machinery and equipment makers were actually going higher. There was no news to account for the sudden and sustained drop. Neither in real time nor hours after.

Caterpillar (CAT) is one of the stocks that has an ignominious reputation during this record setting quarter. It was among the worst performers of the quarter and was routinely tagged as a laggard on those days that the broad market performed well. I recently purchased shares having waited all quarter for them to reach the price point that was very kind to me in 2012. It accompanied Deere for a small portion of the former’s inexplicable retreat but recovered sufficiently to avoid being tagged yet again.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) and Medtronic (MDT) fit into two ongoing themes. Looking for near term dividend paying shares and belonging to the broadly defined healthcare sector. While healthcare has been the leading sector for the trailing year, I think there are still short term opportunities, even with a specter of a declining market. While both Bristol Myers and Medtronic have had significant advances lately, the combination of dividend and premium continue to make it appealing.

MetLife (MET), also a recent holding, fits into my broad definition of “healthcare” if you stretch that definition to an extreme. Part of my positive outlook for its shares is related to what I believe will be growth in its home insurance business. Of course, I rarely think in terms of fundamentals and certainly don’t have a long term perspective on its shares, but it is well positioned to maintain price stability even in a stock market of reduced stability.

Wells Fargo (WFC) and JP Morgan (JPM) are two very different banks. JP Morgan goes ex-dividend this week and has been beleaguered with domestic attacks from elected officials and international attacks as Cyprus may or may not add risk to global banks, such as JP Morgan.

On the other hand, Wells Fargo is as pure of a domestic play as you can find at a size that still makes it “too big to fail.” With news of improving real estate sales all over the country the Wells Fargo money machine is poised to re-create the glory days that so abruptly ended 5 years ago.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to purchase Lowes (LOW) for the past few weeks and have watched its price show some mild erosion during that time

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been one of my favorite stocks for a long time. I purchased additional shares last week to capture its dividend and after looking at its performance over the past 10 months feel guilty thinking that it’s a “boring” stock.

In fact, it’s been absolutely the poster child for what makes a covered call strategy a successful one. While its stock price has virtually remained unchanged since May 2012, the active cycle of buying shares, selling calls, assignment, buy shares, etc.. has resulted in a nearly 40% ROI.

Finally, Western Refining (WNR) is a company whose shares I briefly owned recently at a much lower price. It was one that got away during the uni-directional market of the first quarter. Its price has come down a bit and I think may now be at its “new normal” making it perhaps an antidote to Petrobras in a sector that has some catching up to do.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Deere, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan, Lowes, MetLife, Wells Fargo

Momentum Stocks: Western Refining

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers (ex-div 4/3), JP Morgan (ex-div 4/3), Medtronic (ex-div 4/3)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

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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