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 – June 7, 2015

 

In statistics, there is a concept of “degrees of freedom.”

It is the number of independent ways by which a dynamic system can move, without violating any constraint imposed upon it.

For example, if you know that you have a dollar in change distributed between your 2 pockets and one of those pockets has $0.75 in it, there aren’t too many possibilities for what the other pocket will contain. That’s an example of a single degree of freedom. However, as soon as you throw a third pocket into the mix there are an additional 25 permutations possible, as a second degree of freedom opens up lots of possibilities.

Poor Janet Yellen. So few possibilities and so many constraints tying her up.

Since US interest rates can’t go much lower, she doesn’t have too much choice in their direction. She has no choice but to raise rates.

Eventually.

Her only freedom is in the timing of action. If you’re married to data, as is now being professed, she has to balance the opinion of a well regarded economist with the latest employment data release and the prospects of upwardly revised GDP statistics.

Her degrees of freedom situation got a little muddled this past week as Christine Lagarde, who is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, urged her to stay in line with the European Central Bank and keep interest rates low. At the same time the Employment Situation Report, released on Friday morning came in with job growth stronger than expected.

As the popular song once asked “should I stay or should I go?” is the kind of decision facing Janet Yellen right now and regardless of her decision, it’s going to be second guessed to death and much more likely to receive blame than credit for whatever near term or longer term outcomes there may be.

Doing nothing may be the safest decision, although this week the US bond market made its feelings known as rates moved in the only direction that makes sense.

That’s because suddenly the data has shifted the discussion back to the potential for the announcement of an interest rate increase as early as June 17th, the date of the next FOMC Statement release. That’s happened within days of the discussion having been about whether that increase would even occur in 2015.

With competing pressures of being out of synchrony with the direction of rates in the rest of the world and the reality of an economy that now may actually be growing at a stronger rate than had been believed, inaction would seem to be the obvious path to take.

Being tied up makes it easier to fail to act, but I’m betting that if any one can break free of the duct tape constraints that seek to bind her, it will be Janet Yellen.

The expression became long ago hackneyed, but while we all await a decision of interest rates, I suspect that Janet Yellen will break out of the box. As Bernanke before her, she will put her own twist on our narrow and limited expectations, leaving Christine Lagarde to realize that being late to the game is not a good reason to heed advice.

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

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) had a really terrible week last week as the news that everyone had come to expect regarding its intentions with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) became confirmed.

The funny part, although not if you’re an Intel shareholder, is that when rumors first surfaced earlier in the year, the initial response was positive for Intel’s share price.

Not so much, though, as rumors became news and suddenly every one started questioning intel’s strategy with the acquisition.

As weak as the overall market was this past week, it was well ahead of Intel, which lost nearly 8%. That drop in price has made the shares once again appealing, as its CEO, Brian Krzanich, shouldn’t strike anyone as being frivolous, particularly as it comes to operations, having previously served as Intel’s COO. I would guess that Krzanich can sense a strategic fit better than most at a company where he has spent nearly 33 years of his life.

With Chuck Robbins set to start soon as the new CEO at Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), more executive level changes were announced this past week, as shares also well under-performed the S&P 500 for the week.

Although nowhere as severe as Intel’s weekly decline, the drop in Cisco’s shares bring them closer to an appealing price once again, as its
ex-dividend data nears in a few weeks.

While shares are still a little higher priced than I might like to initiate a position, its recent weakness hasn’t had very much basis. Robbins’ new team, even though comprised of many Cisco insiders, is likely to hit the ground running with strategic initiatives and will probably be more focused on near term victories, than was outgoing CEO John Chambers.

I think that creates short term opportunities even as Robbins may pull out varied accounting tricks in the waning days of June in order to make the next quarter’s earnings pale in comparison to the subsequent quarter, thereby creating a positive early image of his leadership.

Altria (NYSE:MO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) are both ex-dividend this week and both offer a very attractive dividend. While one seeks to improve people’s lives through better chemistry, the other takes a different path.

Tobacco companies faced some challenges last week as the market didn’t react well to news of a $15 billion Canadian court penalty. Nor did it react well to news that a lawsuit regarding package labeling against the FDA was being dropped. A nearly 6% drop for the week is enough evidence of market displeasure.

Those drops helped to bring shares near some support levels just in time for the dividend and surprisingly good option premiums. While I don’t take any particular delight in the products or in the consequences of their use, there has never been a very good time to bet against their continued ability to withstand challenges.

That ability to withstand challenges is one of the signs of a great company and Merck falls into that category, as well.

Most often, companies like Altria and Merck, that have better than average dividend yields and whose dividend is about the size of a strike price unit or larger, in this case $0.50, are difficult to double dip in an effort to have some of the share price reduction brought about by going ex-dividend get subsidized by the option premium. However, with pharmaceutical companies being in play of late, the option premiums are higher than they have been for quite some time, even during an ex-dividend week.

Merck is rarely a candidate for a double dip dividend trade, but may be so this coming week, having also concluded a very weak past few trading days that highlighted a number of drug study trial results.

Finally, Williams Company (NYSE:WMB) is also ex-dividend this week having fallen sharply following the very positive reception it received after announcing the planned purchase of the remainder of its pipeline business, Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ).

With a nearly 10% decline in the past month since that announcement, as with both Altria and Merck, it offers a better than average dividend yield and a dividend that is greater than its strike price units. However, it too, is now offering an option premium that allows for double dipping that is so often now possible or feasible.

However, as with Altria, the recent decline seems to have been over-exaggerated and rather than selling an in the money call in an attempt to double dip on dividend and premium, I think that i may be inclined to forgo some of that double dipping in exchange for capital gains on the underlying shares by using out of the money options.

Either way, it’s an exercise in greed, but I like having the increased degree of freedom to do so.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Intel

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Altria (6/11), Williams Company (6/10), Merck (6/11)

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 8, 2015

It seems as if it has been a long time since we were at that stage where good economic news was interpreted negatively and bad news was celebrated.

Lately, on the economic front there really hasn’t been any bad news, although depending on your perspective perhaps the good news just hasn’t been good enough. That might include unrequited expectations for a consumer buying frenzy that hasn’t yet materialized as a result of energy savings.

On the other hand the good news has been steady. Not terribly spectacular, but a steady climb toward an improved economic landscape for more and more people. Again, to put a little cynical spin on things, for some the climb has been far too slow and the 5.5% unemployment rate a bit illusory as so many may have simply dropped out of the employment seeking pool.

After a week in which the market moved in alternating directions on no news at all during the first 3 days of trading, it finally reverted to a paradoxical form when the Employment Situation Report was released on Friday morning.

A much better than expected number and with no revisions to previous months was great if you were among those looking for and finding a new job. What it wasn’t great for were the prospects of interest rates staying low and the Federal Reserve continuing with its “patience.”

At least that’s how the impact of the data was perceived. The good news was cast in a very negative way and the immediate reaction was not much different from the panic that might beset a grocery store when in August the Farmer’s Almanac may call for unusually brutal winter and people clear the shelves of milk in anticipation.

While there are still far too many people in need of jobs and newly created jobs aren’t necessarily of the same caliber of pay as those lost since 2008, for some the burden of the good news was too much to bear and the selling accelerated to a level not seen in quite a while, although never really to the point of toilet paper frenzy.

At the very least for those who practice a paradoxical approach to the interpretation of news, they were able to contain some of their emotions even as their irrational selling ruled the day. It was like still finding a carton of milk after the hordes had beaten you to the store, indicating that not everyone believed that Armageddon was the next stop.

I think that if I could choose, I’d much rather be trading stocks when there is an identifiable and consistent reaction to events, even if it may be less than rational. The early part of the week, moving up and down daily in individual vacuums could do little to create any kind of confidence regarding market direction. In essence, it’s easier to plan survival tactics when maniacs are in charge than it is when no one is in charge.

Those that were in charge on Friday based their actions on fear and dragged the rest of us down with them.

They were fearful that putting more people to work would accelerate the timetable for raising interest rates. That in turn would lead to greater costs of doing business and would be coming at a time that the rest of the world is lowering rates.

That would probably lead to even greater strength in the US Dollar, perhaps even USD and Euro parity, which only serves to accentuate those currency headwinds that have already been highlighted as reducing corporate earnings and would only further create competitive threats.

Cycles. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.

The reaction by traders on Friday would have you believe that none of this was previously known or suspected to be in our future.

The reality is that we all know that rates are going to go higher. It’s just a question of whether we follow Janet Yellen’s perceived path or Stanley Fisher’s accelerated path.

Personally, my fear is how we could be trading in a market that in the space of a single week, when both Yellen and Fischer expressed their opinions, could go from the comforting assurances from Janet Yellen to completely tossing out those assurances. That leads to the question of whether we believe she is simply wrong or just lying.

Neither of those is very comforting.

It’s actually even worse than that, as last week the market, following a positive response to Yellen’s comments turned on her barely 2 days later upon Fischer’s suggestion that interest rate increases would be coming sooner, rather than later.

On the other hand a more rational consideration of Friday’s reaction would suggest that maybe the reaction itself was irrational and unwarranted because Janet Yellen is in a better position to know about the timing or rate increases than a nervous portfolio manager and is probably much less likely to lie or mis-represent her intentions.

There’s always that.

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

Following Friday’s sell-off a number of positions appear to be more appropriately priced, however, the accelerating nature of the sell-off should leave some residual precaution as approaching the coming week, as even stock innocents were taken along for the plunge on Friday and could just as easily still be at risk.

Another large climb in 10 Year Treasury interest rates makes interest related investment strategies more appealing to some and the impending start of the European version of Quantitative Easing may also serve to siphon investment funds from US equity markets.

While I do have some room in my mind and heart for some more exciting kind of positions this week, my primary focus is likely to be on more mundane positions, especially if there’s a dividend at hand. This week’s selection is also more limited, than usual, as I expect my week to be ruled by some of that heightened caution, at least at the outset of trading.

Huntsman (NYSE:HUN), Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) seem to be appropriate choices for the coming week and all under-performed the S&P 500 during the past week, with the latter perhaps having more currency related considerations in their futures.

Trading right near its one year low is Huntsman Corp . It’s not a terribly exciting company, but at the moment, who really needs excitement?

Trading only monthly options I might consider the use of a longer term option sale, perhaps a May 2015, to further reduce the excitement, while bypassing earnings in late April and adding a decent sized premium to the potential return, in addition to the upcoming dividend and, hopefully, some capital gains from shares, as well.

There probably isn’t very much that can be said about Coca Cola that would offer any great new insights. With a number of potential support levels beneath its current price and a recently enhanced option premium, particularly in a week that it is ex-dividend, a position seems to offer a good balance of reward with risk.

While the company may still be floundering in its efforts to better diversify its portfolio of offerings and while it may continue to be under attack for its management, those may be of little concern for a very short term strategy seeking to capitalize on option premiums and the upcoming dividend. At its current price level, however, it is below its mid-point level range for the past 6 months and may offer some near term upside in the underlying shares in addition to the income related opportunities.

You really know that it’s no longer your “grandfather’s stock market” when big pharma is no longer the keystone in everyone’s portfolio and is no longer making front page new on a daily basis. Instead, increasingly big pharma is playing second fiddle to smaller pharmaceutical companies, at least in garnering attention, unless it is involved in a proposed buy-out or merger, as is increasingly the case.

On a steady price decline since the end of January 2015, when the market started its own party mode, Merck shares are also ex-dividend this week and offer a better premium proposition than is normally the case when doing so.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has for the past few months been held hostage by energy prices and will likely continue so while the supply – demand situation for oil evolves for better or worse.

The only good news is that while it may be unduly castigated for its joint energy holdings the impact has been relatively muted. During the past few months as shares have become more volatile its option premiums have understandably been increasing and making it again worthy of some consideration.

Although it doesn’t go ex-dividend for another 3 weeks I would already place my sights on trying to capture that dividend and would consider a longer term option contract in order to attempt to lock in several weeks of premiums in addition to the dividend as oil is likely to go up and down man
y times during that time frame.

Sometimes, the best approach during periods of advanced volatility is to try and ride things out by placing some time distance between your short option positions and events.

I was considering adding more shares of Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) a few weeks ago, as it passed the $52.50 level, thinking that it might be ready for a breakout, perhaps bringing it back to levels last seen before the breakdown of the potash cartel. I can’t really recall why I ultimately decided to look elsewhere, but instead shares went into another break-down.

That breakdown last week will hopefully be much smaller, since I already own shares and will take nowhere near as long to recoup the losses.

The nearly 8% decline in shares last week for no discernible reason has now brought them back to the upper range of where I had most recently been comfortable adding shares. While the broader macro-economic picture may suggest less acreage being put to use to add to the supply of already low priced crops there isn’t such a clean association between commodity prices and fertilizer prices.

With its ex-dividend date having just passed and with the recent trend still pointing downward, Mosaic may be a good candidate to consider the sale of put options as a means of potential entry into a long position, but at an even lower price.

Finally, for the third consecutive week I would consider establishing a position in shares of United Continental (NYSE:UAL) as part of a paired trade with an energy holding, especially if you crave the kind of excitement that Huntsman may not be able to provide.

I’ve been using Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) as the matching energy position and had my UAL shares assigned this past Friday, despite a large price drop for the second consecutive week just before expiration.

With the energy holding still in my portfolio I would consider another purchase of UAL, particularly if there is weakness in its shares to open the week. As has been the case previously, because of the volatility in shares the option premiums have been very generous. However, rather than directly taking advantage of those premiums, my preference has been to balance risk with reward and instead have opted for lower premiums by selecting deep in the money strike prices. Doing so allows shares to drop in price while still being able to deliver an acceptable ROI for the week.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: Mosaic, United Continental

Double Dip Dividend: Huntsman (3/12), Coca Cola (3/12), Merck (3/12)

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 – December 28, 2014

A week ago, it seemed as perhaps the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin was the cause for the sudden turnaround in market fortunes and was the giver of the gift that we had all been expecting this December.

His relative calm demeanor and reasonable words surrounding the sudden collapse of the Ruble and surging interest rates helped to put an equally sudden stop to market fears.

Thank you, Vladimir, but what have you done for us lately?

At least, even with his finger pointing, there hasn’t been any saber rattling and no new obligatory face saving demonstrable shows of bravado on the international front. At least, not yet, but it can get awfully cold in Russia this time of the year. Luckily for them, heating fuel is unusually inexpensive right now, although maybe not so much in Ruble terms.

Fortunately, it seems that there may be others willing to take up the mantle of prodding our markets forward when challenges appear, although it’s not very likely that they would want to do anything to lend us a helping hand or be part of the gift giving.

For the purists, there are still a steady stream of economic reports that can move markets depending on what kind of lens is used to interpret the data. Global personalities playing global games are just ephemeral distractions, even though a day old key economic report is also just as quickly forgotten when the next day’s, often contradictory report, is released.

Then it’s just a question of “what report have you delivered to me lately?”

Everyone should have expected good news coming from this week’s GDP report as the first glimpses of the impact of lower energy prices were revealed. That’s especially the case as 70% of GDP is said to be comprised of consumer spending and most everyone you know feels more wealthy. That’s not because of any great stock market rally but because of falling energy prices. Despite hitting a new record high an average of once each week in 2014 for most people that’s not where the feeling of wealth has come from this year.

The market still rallied in surprise. It was a case of good news being interpreted as good news, the way most normal people would have interpreted it.

What we can now await is the next GDP report which comes the morning after the next FOMC Statement release in January. Being data driven, it may be reasonable to expect that the FOMC may look at the initial data streams reflecting increasing consumer activity and GDP growth and throw “patience” out the window.

Then, we will simply be at the mercy of the lenses that decide whether that news is good or bad for markets as interest rate increases may seem to be warranted sooner than the last FOMC Statement led us to believe.

But this past week, it became clear that
if a Santa Claus Rally does await us these final days of 2014 as the DJIA closed at another record high, the real benefactor may be the diminutive leader of a nation that mandates haircut style and prohibits the personal use of “Dear Leader’s” actual name by anyone other than “Dear Leader” himself.

I don’t want to mention him by name, however, as I don’t deal well with threats or cyber-attacks of any kind, so we’ll just say that we may be able to thank Kim Jong Doe for this week’s establishment of more new closing record highs and setting the stage for the year end rally.

The lunacy surrounding the release of an otherwise inconsequential movie displaced most of our thoughts about the price of oil. While “Dear Leader” said nothing in a calming manner, offering threats rather than constructive strategies, the change of topic was a welcome relief, as oil continued to be a drag on the overall market, but no longer holds it in hostage, at least as long as it can continue to trade in the $54-60 range.

The alleged antics of a nation and a leader so far away was far better to focus upon than anything of substantive value, or anything that could have had us put on one of those lenses that interprets good news as being bad.

As a nation witnessed markets pass the 18000 level for the very first time, en route to setting its 51st record close of the year, more interest was directed at the outrage associated with a self-imposed censorship that appeared to be an acquiescence to external threats from someone with a funny haircut.

When the very idea of seeing a movie, that may turn out to be sophomorically delightful, is construed by reasonable and educated people as the patriotic thing to do, you know that no one is really paying attention to much else going on around them.

This week that was a good thing and I hope the final few trading days of the year are equally vacuous and that the market will continue rising in a vacuum.

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

I’m generally not a big user of ETF vehicles, although they do lend themselves to a covered option strategy, this week may be a little different.

While each of the past two weeks has offered an opportunity to dip a toe back into the energy sector, this week, rather than using individual names there may be reason to think about the most beaten down among the beaten down.

If you own anything in the oil services sector, as I already do, you know which sub-section of the energy sector that happens to be. The oil services sector has been absolutely abysmal, but like the rest of the sector has shown some ability to respond to anything resembling good news. At this point, however, simply being able to tread water would be a major victory for components of that sector.

The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEARCA:OIH) can give you either the best or the worst way to establish a position or hedge existing positions. While some components may still be at risk of eliminating or reducing a dividend, there’s not too much doubt that at the first sign of oil prices creeping higher there will be some increase in drilling activity and the reward, at these low price levels, may now finally be greater than the risk.

While not an ETF, the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEARCA:BNO) tracks the price of its namesake very closely and offers a way to take a position on the direction and magnitude of future pricing. While I don’t believe that oil prices will be turning higher in the near term, the opportunity doers exist, however, to use a covered call strategy and elect to sell a longer term out of the money strike, if you believe that prices will be heading higher. At the moment, with shares trading at $23.26, for example, selling a $28 April 17, 2014 call option would deliver a premium of $0.80 while awaiting shares to return to a closing price last seen on December 1, 2014.

Pharmaceutical companies, long considered a conservative kind of investment, have been anything but that in recent months. Between the flurry of merger and inversion activity and the very recent across the board drops as a cheaper alternative to the management of Hepatitis C may become the drug of choice by those paying for coverage, the entire sector has responded poorly.

Merck (NYSE:MRK) was one of those companies that appeared to be simply caught in the crosswinds between battling insurance companies and those who play in role in delivering health care and want to be paid for their services. A quick 6% drop in Merck shares isn’t something that happens with any regularity and it can be a suitable longer term covered option position, particularly with its dividend in mind.

In addition the Healthcare Select SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLV) is off of its recent highs in response to the same assault, although not to the degree of some individual names. It offers a reasonable option premium with greater diversification of risk, but without sacrificing inordinately on the reward side of the equation. Like so many surprises, in this case, the decision of a pharmacy benefit management company to squeeze profits, the initial response by investors is swift and often in over-reaction to events. The Healthcare Select SPDR may be a good vehicle to capitalize on some of the immediate reaction as some of the recovery has already begun to take form.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) and VMWare (NYSE:VMW) continue to have the kind of relationship that is too close for many, particularly those who believe that EMC should capitalize by selling its large remaining holding in VMWare.

EMC shares are ex-dividend this week and despite having considered adding shares over the past few weeks, instead, I’ve just watched its price climb higher from the brief drop it took along with the rest of the market, as falling oil prices indiscriminately took most everything lower.

Whether on the basis of its own businesses, its appeal to other larger technology companies or because of its stake in VMWare, EMC remains a steadfast company that has offered moderate share appreciation, a marginally acceptable dividend and competitive option premiums. Individually, none of those is spectacular, but that reflects the kind of company that EMC is in a universe of higher profile and higher risk companies.

VMWare, on the other hand offers no dividend, but does offer some more excitement, and therefore, higher option premiums, than does EMC. I haven’t owned shares in a
while, but might consider entering into a position by first selling puts and rolling over, if necessary, if assignment is trying to be avoided. With earnings being reported in a month, the evening before EMC reports its earnings, there may be additional opportunities to leverage the put premium in advance of earnings, particularly as VMWare is prone to large earnings moves.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about considering adding either Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) or AT&T (NYSE:T) to a portfolio. With cellphone companies under some pressure, in part due to the popularity of Apple’s offerings, share price is attractive, although there may be some additional surprises as earnings season begins next month and may reflect not only on the competitive pressures, but also on the costs of having Apple as a partner.

AT&T, despite a nice recovery in the past week is still nearly 5% lower than just a month ago. With its generous dividend up for distribution the following week and earnings still nearly 3 weeks after that date, there may be opportunity to create a short term position to collect the dividend and some option premiums in the interim.

There aren’t very many insights that can be offered on Apple. It continues to be on most everyone’s wish list and continues to command premium pricing, even when there may be reasons to believe that competitors may have reasonable alternatives to offer.

Despite having gone more than 20% higher since its stock split, the climb has been reasonably orderly over the past 6 months. However, in the past month, despite the 2% climb to end last week, it has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 during December. I think that if the Santa Claus Rally is for real, Apple shares are bound to atone for some of that drop, just as there is likelihood that all of those consumers feeling more wealthy from the nice surprise of lower oil prices may have treated themselves or a loved one to a new iPhone.

Finally, this will likely be just another week where someone finds reason to either extol or criticize the leadership skills of Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Like EMC, at least some of Yahoo’s fortunes are tied up in the performance of another company. However, that other company hasn’t yet been tested in any meaningful manner since its recent IPO.

For that matter neither has Marissa Mayer since her ascension, but shares have done nicely during her tenure, perhaps due to a very fortunate situation that she inherited

In the meantime as all of the speculation mounts as to what Yahoo will do with all of its cash, the shares have settled into a narrow range over the past month, having significantly trailed the S&P 500. However, in that time, it has also significantly out-performed shares of Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA), the company to which most believe its fortunes are intimately tied.

Yahoo will report earnings a week before Ali Baba and if considering a position I would probably want to consider one, perhaps the sale of puts, that might allow some reasonable ability to be out of the position before Yahoo’s earnings. If not, I’d especially want to be
out before those of Ali Baba, amid reports that it spent more than $160 million in the past year countering fake listings on its websites.

While I trust that Santa Claus exists, Jack Ma’s request of “trust” may need a little more time to be earned, as apparently trustworthiness may not be a core quality extending very deeply into those who fuel the money making enterprise that took Wall Street by storm just a few months ago.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, AT&T, Healthcare Select SPDR, Merck

Momentum Stocks: United States Brent Oil Fund, Market Vectors Oil Services ETF, VMWare, Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: EMC Corp (12/30)

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.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in AAPL, BNO, EMC, MRK, OIH, T, VMW, XLV, YHOO over the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Weekend Update – October 19, 2014

 After Friday’s nearly 300 point move higher, it’s absolutely inconceivable that anyone can have a clear idea of what comes next.

Even during the climbs higher over the past two years no one really had a clue of what the next day would bring, but there was an entirely different “gestalt” about the market than we have now.

During that earlier time the sum of its parts seemed somewhat irrelevant as the market as a whole was just greater than those parts and had a momentum that was impervious to the usual challenges and patterns.

The most obvious of those challenges that hadn’t come to a fruition was the obligatory periodic 10% correction. Instead, while we really didn’t know what was coming next, at least we had a clear idea of what was not coming next.

Can you say the same today?

After a month of the kind of daily moves that we really haven’t seen since the latter half of 2011, their alternating basis can only keep people off guard.

People generally fall into two categories on days when the market spikes as it did on Friday, particularly after a torrent of plunges. They either see that as evidence that we’ve turned the corner or that it’s just another trap to lure you in so that your money can wither away while feeding the beast.

For some, those optimists among us, they will have identified a capitulation as having occurred this week. They believe that kind of blow off selling marks the beginning of a return to a climb higher.

For the pessimists among us, they see that most every out-sized market one day gain has occurred during an overall downtrend.

While I remain confused about what the next week will bring, I’m not too confused about what my course of action is likely to be.

I don’t agree with the optimists that we’ve seen a capitulation. Those tend to be marked by a frenzy of selling. It’s not just a 400 point decline, it’s the rapid acceleration of the losses that shows no evidence of letting up that is usually the hallmark. The following day is also usually marked by selling during the open and then cautious buying that becomes a flood of bargain hunters.

So capitulation? Probably not, but the market very well still could have found a near term bottom this week as that 400 point loss did evaporate. That near bottom did bring us to about a 9% overall decline in the S&P 500 over the past 4 weeks, so perhaps you might hear the optimists asking “can a brother get some slack on 1%?” in the hopes that we can all move on and return to the carefree ways of 2012 and 2013.

On the other hand, those pessimists do have data on their side. You don’t need very fancy kinds of analysis to show that those 200, 300 and higher point moves over history have only served to suck money out of people’s pockets under false pretenses.

Over the past four weeks with the possible exception of the advances higher in the latter half of this past week, every strong advance led to disappointment. Every time it looked as if there was value to be had it was another value trap, as a whole.

My course of action last week was one that still has me in shock.

I didn’t execute a single new position trade last week, after having only added 2 new positions the previous week.

I’d better get used to that shock, because I don’t expect to add many, if any, new positions this week, unless there’s some reason to believe that a period, even if very short, of stability will step in.

Perhaps continuing good earnings news will be the catalyst for the market to take a breather from its recent mindless journeys to the depths and to the heights. Good news form the financial sector, some good indications from industrials and some good news from the technology companies that really matter could be a wonderful prelude to improved retail earnings.

Or maybe none of that will matter and we’ll again focus on things like moving averages, support levels, mixed messages from Federal Reserve Governors and news of continuing economic dysfunction in the European Union, all while watching the smartest guys in the room, the bond traders have their own gyrations as interest rates on 10 Year Treasury notes resemble a yo-yo, having had an enormous 10% spread in the past week.

Most of all, I want to focus on not being duped and trying to put uncovered positions to work. That means continuing to try and resist what appear to be screaming bargains, even after Friday’s march higher and higher.

But, we’re only human and can only resist for so long.

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

As I look at prices, even after some runs higher on Friday, what’s not to like? That still doesn’t mean, however, that you have to end up committing to anything.

What makes the temptation even stronger, despite a big drop in volatility on Friday, are the option premiums that can now be had when selling. The challenge, however, is finding the option buyer, as call volume is diminished, probably reflecting a paucity of belief that there will be sudden price jumps in underlying shares.

Part of the strategy accommodation that may be made if grappling with paper losses following the past four weeks is to now consider using out of the money strike prices that will still return the same ROI on the premium portion, but also potentially add some meaningful capital gains on the shares.

As with last week, I’m not terribly interested in the back story behind the week’s selections, but more in the recent price history, with particular attention to those that may have been overly and inappropriately punished.

MetLife (MET) is one of those among so many, that l have been waiting to repurchase. With the recent interest rate gyrations that actually brought the 10 Year rate below 2% there may be some rational to the price drop seen in MetLife, but with the 10% increase in rates some life was breathed back into floundering shares.

eBay (EBAY) is still a company that is always on my radar screen. Whether that will continue to be the case after the PayPal spin-off may be questionable, but for now, at its new low, low price, having taken a little bit of a beating from its just posted earnings, it really is beginning to feel irresistible.

Among sectors getting my attention this week is Healthcare. Following the drop in Merck (MRK), Baxter International (BAX) and the continued weakness of Walgreen (WAG).

With a 10% drop in shares of Merck in the past week, taking it to an 8 month low in the absence of any meaningful news one has to wonder when will the craziness end? Now in
its own personal correction phase it wouldn’t be entirely an ill-conceived idea to believe that shares have either no reason to continue under-performing the market. With an attractive dividend and option premiums reflecting that downward spiral, Merck is one position that could warrant resisting the need to resist.

Baxter International is also in its own personal correction, although its time frame as been a month for that 10% decline. Despite having just released earnings and offering improved guidance shares continued to flail even as most everything else was showing some recovery. While there may be some logical explanation my interest in entertaining it may be subsumed by an interest in picking up shares.

Walgreen continues to be mired down at a price level to which it plunged after calling off any potential tax inversion plans. Being stuck in that trading range, however, has helped Walgreen to outperform the S&P 500 since it hit its highs last month. For it to continue trading in that range might be the kind of comfort that could provide some smiles even while everything else around is crumbling, particularly if the upcoming dividend is captured, as well.

Marathon Oil (MRO) is just another of those really hard hit energy stocks that has to cause some head shaking as it is in a personal correction and then some, even after 2 days of strength. The list need not end with Marathon Oil if considering adding energy sector positions, as there is no shortage of viable candidates. FOr me, Marathon Oil is one position that I’ve longed to return to my portfolio, but do understand that there may continue to be some downward pricing pressure in oil, before the inevitable bounce higher.

FInally, how can you not at least consider taking sides in the great Apple (AAPL) saga? Whether there will be a gold mine ahead as the new products hit the stores or deep disappointment, its earnings report this week is not likely to reflect anything other than great phone sales and lagging sales in most, if not all other product lines.

The option market, however, isn’t expecting too much action, with an implied price movement of only 4.4% next week. With barely a 1% premium at a strike level right at the lower edge defined by the implied move there isn’t really any enhancement in its premiums, especially as there is a general increase in volatility buoying most option premiums.

However, the sale of puts at the lower level strike may offer the opportunity to enter a position, particularly in front of the upcoming dividend at a better price than has been seen in over 2 months, or may simply offer a decent one week return.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, eBay, Marathon Oil, Merck, MetLife, Walgreen

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (10/20 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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Copyright 2014 TheAcsMan