Weekend Update – February 8, 2015

There’s not too much doubt that this past week had a character that was very different from nearly every week that had preceded it thus far in 2015, which has been predominated by sad faces.

The problem encountered in January and helping to create a sea of sad faces is that we were all expecting to begin seeing evidence of an improving economy. That kind of anticipation timed along with what we often believe to be a traditionally positive January market easily set the stage for disappointment.

The narrative that seemed so logical and convincing included more jobs, higher wages and newfound personal wealth due to slashed energy prices. The problem, though, was that when the time came for corroborating data to take the narrative into the realm of non-fiction it just wasn’t on the same page.

Retail Sales weren’t what we were expecting and neither was the GDP. Manufacturing data was falling and the early results from earnings season were less than stellar, as good news failed to materialize or coalesce into a coherent story in support of the narrative.

However, this past week caught glimpses of good news to come, as some prominent national retailers provided improved guidance that was finally in line with the theory that we had come to accept as gospel. Finally there was some indication that lower energy prices were going to result in more discretionary spending. What was especially encouraging was that the improvement on the retail side was no longer being confined to the more luxurious end of the spectrum.

I preferred this week’s “happy face” version of 2015, even if the week did end on a little bit of a down note after a day that featured a near flawless “Employment Situation Report,” that included some sizeable revisions to previous months.

In a perfect example of the concept that “as an investor and a consumer you can not have your cake and eat it, too” the market went higher, but so did 10 Year Treasury rates and energy prices, but within reason that can be a good trade-off.

2015 has been pretty dizzying thus far. All you have to do is take a look at an S&P 500 chart since having reached market highs at the end of December 2014. It doesn’t take long to realize that market tests have been coming at a far greater frequency or on a more compressed time frame than they had been coming in almost 3 years.

The good news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those selling. The bad news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those buying.

The activity seen in 2015 will lead some to believe that it demonstrates the market’s resilience, while others will be less optimistic and point out that large moves higher, as have been commonplace in 2015 are typically seen in or approaching bear markets.

Fortunately, we will have hindsight to guide us.

Until that point that hindsight kicks in there is the problem of deciding whether it’s a smiling face or a
sad face that awaits in the near future.

With the otherwise under-appreciated JOLT Survey, which Janet Yellen has said held increasing importance as it may indicate workforce optimism and another Retail Sales report coming this week, there may be more reason to add to the trickle of evidence that may validate last week’s happy faces.

Of course, while official government reports and data are certainly meaningful, despite a propensity toward revision, the really meaningful data may start coming in just a few weeks. At that time the major retailers begin to release their earnings. Perhaps more importantly than those earnings ending in December 2014, they will have also had 2 additional months of observation to either validate or negate the narrative and also provide changed forward guidance.

I have my “happy face” mask within easy reach, although the sad face is never far away.

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

One of the reasons that I like Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) so much is that it is prone to large and decisive movements, but is otherwise a fairly staid stock that has a nice habit of seeing its price revert toward the mean.

Fastenal reported good earnings just a few weeks ago, but this past week reported weaker than expected January sales resulting in another of those decisive movements that rippled through to its competitors, as well.

The hindsight tool indicates that over the past few years these kind of drops from about the $45 level have proven to be a good time to purchase or add shares. While only offering a monthly options contract there are now only 2 weeks remaining on the February 2015 cycle. However, during the 10 occasions that I have owned shares in the past 18 months I’ve held them through only a single monthly option cycle just once, so it does tend to be a longer holding.

While “old tech” was weak last weak and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been weak since releasing its earnings, a nearly 10% drop seems excessive, but a welcome return to a price level last seen 6 months ago.

Among my favorite kind of option contract sales, but ones that I only infrequently get to execute, are for those going ex-dividend on a Monday. In such cases, early assignment has to occur on the previous Friday. If selling an option contract expiring the same week as the ex-dividend date and shares are assigned early to capture the dividend, the contract seller won’t get the dividend, but does get an additional week of premium and a return of cash from the assignment which can then be re-invested to generate more income.

Microsoft shares go ex-dividend on Tuesday February 17th, the day after the Presidents Day holiday. That means if an option contract is to be exercised early it must be done on the preceding Friday and may offer one of those opportunities to benefit whe
ther the option is exercised early or not.

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) also goes ex-dividend this week. While oil was nearly 10% higher for the week and may reasonably be expected to undergo some short term profit taking, as too many have foregone their bearish sentiment, Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to decrease its capital expenditures is just another in the steps necessary to nudge the supply-demand equilibrium toward a balance favoring price.

The process, however, unless there is an unexpected event or change in policy, such as Saudi Arabia cutting production in exchange for Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, is a slow one. I would, therefore, look at a holding in Royal Dutch Shell to be of a longer term nature and the absence of weekly options removes some of the risk of short term volatility.

However, if it’s volatility that you’re looking for, then Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) may be just the thing, as precious metals has seen a very clear increase in its volatility and has trickled down to the level of the miners.

Over the past 2 months this has been one of my favorite trades as I’ve rolled over existing positions numerous times, sometimes more than once in a week and even electing to rollover when assignment was nearly certain in order to keep deriving income from the holding.

As seen this past week and nearly every week in the past 2 months these shares can move up and down very quickly, but for those who believe that precious metals or some proxy should be in the speculative portion of their portfolio, this may be a suitable addition, especially as uncertainty abounds in stocks, bonds, currencies and metals.

While I only have room for one energy sector position, Marathon Oil also goes ex-dividend this week and has reasons to be considered.

While its dividend is far below that of Royal Dutch Shell, it has also suffered a far greater decline from its recent high level. While I think that decline near its end, it does have earnings to report on February 18, 2015, a week after its ex-dividend date.

Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), unlike Royal Dutch Shell does offer weekly option contracts providing opportunities to focus on either or both events by selecting different expiration dates. In the case of Marathon, as we’ve seen with many others in the energy sector reporting their earnings, the reality has been better than the fears and shares have done well in the aftermath. With that in mind I look at Marathon as potentially offering a good dividend and upside potential from earnings, in addition to an option premium that;’s enhanced by the upcoming earnings as well as the added volatility surrounding energy names.

International Paper (NYSE:IP) also is ex-dividend this week and while it is near its 52 week high and 20% higher from its earnings release in October 2014, its near term prospects don’t appear to hold a return to that level. Instead, I think that there is still room for some capital appreciation, or at least continuing to trade in its recent range, while offering the opportuni
ty to accumulate premiums.

The company has been very shareholder friendly with spin-offs, increasing share buybacks and dividend increases in each of the past 5 years. That’s a nice combination for those who need something to offset the lack of excitement in its actual businesses.

After announcing record earnings, but weak forward guidance, shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) briefly suffered a sharp fall. However, when there was some opportunity to really evaluate the increased share buyback announced and the increased dividend analysts dismissed the importance of the lowered guidance and shares recovered.

Other than experiencing some currency headwinds, margins on its products are expected to increase as it its share of digital download revenues. After all, what is a “millennial” going to spend their newly found cash on if not gaming? In return, Activision may have some upside share potential supported by its buyback and a nice option premium to help atone for the adventure that may await with share ownership.

Finally, what’s a day without the report of a new cyber-hack and the theft of personal data? Last week’s report of a massive and successful attack of a healthcare insurer, that made away with personally identifying data and not just credit card numbers, may be the start of massive headaches for many in the 14 states served by that insurer who may find that joining the witness protection program and changing their name and date of birth may be the best remedy.

While retaining FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE) after the hack isn’t terribly different from closing the barn door a little too late, it certainly raises the profile of companies in the cyber-security arena even higher.

FireEye reports earnings this week and if you only looked at a 6 month chart you would think that it had done well in scratching its way back toward its August 2014 level. However, a look beyond 6 months shows just how far shares have fallen in the past year.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move upon earnings and based on past history that may be an under-estimate of what may be possible. However, one may be able to obtain a 1% ROI by selling a weekly put option at a strike level that is about 15.7% Friday’s closing price.

However, since shares are already up about 12% in the past week, I would consider the sale of puts only if there is a meaningful price decline prior to earnings, or if that doesn’t occur, if there is a significant decline after earnings, as FireEye has disappointed in the past and it’s a fickle stock market that has to decide whether the past is more important than the future.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal

Momentum Stocks: Activision Blizzard, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper , Marathon Oil (2/11), Microsoft (2/17), Royal Dutch Shell (2/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: FireEye (2/11 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.

 

Weekend Update – January 4, 2015

If you follow the various winning themes for the past year, any past year for that matter, the one thing that seems fairly consistent is that the following year is often less than kind to the notion that good things can just keep happening unchanged.

Often the crowd has a way of ruining good things, whether it’s a pristine and previously unknown hidden corner of a national park or an obscure trend or pattern in markets.

Back in the days when people used to invest in mutual funds the sum total of many people’s “research” was to pick up a copy of Money Magazine and see which was the top performing fund or sector for the year and shift money to that fund for the following year.

That rarely worked out well.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember such things as “The January Effect” or “Dogs of the Dow.” The more they were written about and discussed, and the more widely they were embraced, the less effective they were.

The “Santa Claus Rally” wasn’t very different, at least this year, even as the final day of that period for a brief while looked as if it might end with an upward flourish, but that too disappointed.

Remember “Sell in May and then go away”?

Like most things, the more you anticipate joining in on all of the fun that others have been having, the more likely you’re going to be disappointed.

The latest patterns getting attention are the “years ending in 5” and “Presidential election cycles in years ending in 5.” They may have some history to back up the observations, but seemingly overlooked is the close association between those two events, that are not entirely independent of one another.

Since 2015 happens to be both a year ending in “5” and the year preceding a presidential election, it is clear that the only direction can be higher. What that leaves is the debate over how to get to the promised land. That, of course, is the issue of the merits of active versus passive management of stock portfolios.

For purposes of clarity, the only “merit” that really matters is performance.

Those who have used a simple passive strategy over the past two years, perhaps as simple as being entirely invested in the SPDR S&P 500 Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) to the exclusion of everything else, would have been hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd while hedge fund managers would have been trampled underneath.

The past two years haven’t been especially kind to hedge fund managers, b
ut they have been trampled for very different reasons in that time.

In 2013 who but a super-human kind of investor could have kept up with the S&P 500 while also trying to decrease risk? It’s not terribly easy to match a 30% gain. Hedging has its costs and if markets go only higher those costs simply eat into profits.

In 2014, though, it was a different issue, as the only people who really prospered, in what was still a good year, were those who didn’t try to outsmart markets, as it was almost impossible to even begin classifying the market in 2014. The continual sector rotation either required lots of luck to be continually on the right side of trades or lots of real skill and talent.

Luck runs out. Skill and talents have greater staying power and there’s a reason that only a handful of money managers are well known and regarded for more than a year at a time.

What is fascinating about the market is that even as it ended the year with a very respectable gain those who tried to finesse the market by actively trading don’t have the same kind of elation about its performance.

Just ask them.

So the question is whether the simplicity of a passive strategy is going to again be superior to an active strategy in 2015

As an active trader I’d like to think that passivity will be pass√© as the new year begins. Of course, you do have to wonder how that arbitrary divide that begins after New Years can actually create an environment with a different character, but somehow that arbitrary divide creates a situation where very few years are like the year preceding it.

I have reason to believe that I have neither skill nor luck, so can only count on the observation that a good thing becomes less of a good thing with time.

Popularity is superficial, while history runs deep.

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

I also like to think that I’ve never really had an original thought.

This week’s potential stock selections to begin 2015 may be an excellent example of the lack of originality, as all of the names are either recent selections, purchases or assigned positions. Add to that their general lack of exciting qualities and you have a really impotent one – two punch to start the year.

With earnings season set to begin the week after this coming week there’s plenty of time for excitement. However, with the upcoming week featuring an FOMC Statement release and the Employment Situation Report, there’s already enough excitement in the upcoming week to want to add to it.

The scheduled events of this week also offer more than enough opportunity to add to this past week’s broad weakness, particularly if the FOMC emphasizes strong GDP data or there is unusually large employment growth, either of which could signal interest rate increases ahead.

In that kind of environment, even if widely expected, the immediate reaction would likely be a shock to the system and I would prefer my exposure to be offset by the security of size and quality. Characteristics that coincidentally may be found in components of the S&P 500, so favored by passivists.

Among those are three members of the DJIA.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) are among this week’s list.

Intel is a little bit of an anomaly to be included in the list, as it was the best performing of the DJIA stocks in 2014 and might, therefore, be reasonably expected to lag in 2015. However, I think that those who would have been prone to pile into the stock because of its performance in the past year would have already done so, as its most recent performance has trailed the S&P 500.

What appeals to me about Intel’s shares for a very short term trade is that the crowd turned very suddenly on them on Friday, giving up nearly all of an almost 3% gain earlier in the trading session. With that arbitrary divide creating its own unique trading dynamics, Intel may not receive quite the same attention as General Electric and Verizon, as those may garner notice because they are among those “dogs” that still have faithful adherents.

But beyond that, Intel still has a fundamentally positive story behind its climb in 2014 and may again be well aligned with the fortunes of a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as it continues on its return to relevance. For a short term trade in advance of its upcoming earnings report on January 15, 2015, I wouldn’t mind it trading listlessly in return for the option premium.

General Electric is simply at a price point that I find attractive, having recently had shares assigned. It certainly hasn’t been a very attractive stock over the years for much of anything other than a covered option strategy, but it has been well suited for that, as long as it can continue to trade in a relatively narrow range.

Verizon will be ex-dividend this week and is down nearly 9% from its high in November. Bruised a little due to increasing competition among mobile providers and sustaining the expenses of subsidizing the iPhone, it will report earnings in less than 3 weeks and I might want to either be out of any position prior to then, or if not, use an extended weekly option if having to rollover a position to acquire some additional premium in protection, in the event of an adverse response to earnings.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has had its fortunes most recently closely aligned to the energy sector. WHile owning a more expensive lot, I’ve traded other lots as shares have fallen in an effort to generate quick returns from option premiums and share appreciation.

As those shares again approach $45.50 I would like to do so again, but recognizing that oil is at a precarious level, as it gets closer to the $50 level, which if breached, could pull Dow Chemical even lower.

That increased volatility due to the uncertainty in the energy sector has made the option premiums much more appealing. However, even with that challenge, Dow Chemical has the advantage of a highly competent and long serving CEO who is increasingly responsive to the marketplace as he has activists breathing down his neck.

The Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) story isn’t one of being held hostage by an energy cartel and falling prices, as is the case with Dow Chemical, but rather it fell prey to the collapse of the much less well known potash cartel.

Hopefully, the time frame will be far shorter for Dow Chemical than it has been for Mosaic, as I’ve been sitting on some much more expensive shares for quite a while. In the interim, however, Mosaic has offered many opportunities for entering into new positions in the hopes of quick assignment and capturing option premiums, dividends and some occasional capital gains on shares.

While its next dividend is till some months away, it is now quickly again in the price range at which I like to consider adding shares again, although it could still go even lower. However, as long as it does continue trading in this relatively narrow range, it is capable of generating serial option premiums and even if its performance may seem mediocre on a yearly basis, its ROI can be very attractive.

I don’t get terribly excited about food stocks, but when looking for some relative calm, both Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) and Kelloggs (NYSE:K) may offer some respite from any tumult that may confront the market next week.

Both were recently assigned and at these levels I wouldn’t mind owning them again. In the case of Campbell Soup, that means the opportunity to capture its dividend and not be concerned about its next earnings until the March 2015 option cycle.

Kellogg is a stock that I would consider buying more often, however, the decision is related to how closely its price is to one of the strike levels on its monthly options.

Unlike Campbell Soup which has strikes at $1 intervals and many weekly options have $0.50 intervals, Kellogg options utilize $2.50 intervals, which can make the premiums relatively unattractive if the share price is at a distance from the strike at the time of the proposed sale of option contracts.

Finally, my plan to add shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) a couple of weeks agowent unrequited. The fact that its shares are now 2% lower doesn’t necessarily make me salivate over the prospects about adding shares now, as the past two weeks could have represented lost opportunities to generate option premiums and in a position to do so again in the coming week, as shares seem to be settling in at this higher level.

The coming year may be a fascinating one for eBay as the speculation grows about the planned spin off of PayPal, which may never make it to an IPO as it may be coveted by another company.

Of course, who might benefit from that detour is also open to question as eBay itself may be in the crosshairs of an acquiring behemoth.

For now, I still like owning eBay shares and usually selling near or in the money calls, but I would increasingly consider setting aside a portion of those shares for the kind of capital gains that so many have moaned about not having seen over the years as slings and arrows have consistently been thrown in eBay’s direction.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, General Electric, Intel, Kellogg, Mosaic

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Campbell Soup (1/8), Verizon (1/7)

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.

Taking a Gamble with Earnings

The coming week stands to be a busy one as about 150 of the S&P 500 stocks will be reporting their quarterly earnings.

While earnings had gotten off to a good start last week with a strong showing from those in the financial sector, the market’s initial optimism was tempered a bit during the first day Janet Yellen’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony and was sent into a pall with news of the tragic downing of a Malaysian civilian plan over the disputed Ukraine – Russian border area.

Regardless of the direction a stock’s price takes upon the earnings parade that also includes forward guidance there is often opportunity to profit from either the expected or unexpected news that’s delivered.

Whenever I ponder whether an earnings related trade is worth consideration I let the option market’s measure of the “implied price move” serve to determine whether there is a satisfactory risk-reward proposition. That calculation provides a price range in which projected price movements are thought to be likely.

If selling options, whether as part of a covered call strategy or through the sale of puts, there may be opportunity to achieve an acceptable premium even though if it represents a share price outside of the bounds set by the option market. Of course, that does depend to some degree on your own definition of “acceptable” and what you believe to be the appropriate level of risk to accompany that reward.

This coming week there appears to be a number of stocks that may warrant some attention as the reward may be well suited to the risk for some, as premiums tend to be heightened before known events, such as earnings.

A unifying theme for stocks that satisfy my criteria of offering a 1% or greater premium for a weekly option at a strike price outside of the boundary defined by the implied move calculation is underlying volatility. While already heightened due to impending earnings release and the uncertainty that accompanies the event, stocks that typically satisfy the criteria I’ve selected are already quite volatile.

While the implied volatilities may sometimes appear to be high, they are often consistent with past history and such moves are certainly within the realm of probability. That knowledge should serve as a warning that the unthinkable can, and does, happen.

While individuals can set their own risk-reward parameters, I’m very satisfied with a weekly 1% ROI.  The other part of the equation, the risk, is less quantitative. It is merely a question of whether the necessary strike level to achieve the reward is above or below the lower boundary defined by the stock’s implied move. 

I prefer to be below that lower boundary.

Among the companies that I am considering this coming week are Apple (AAPL), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), Comcast (CMCSA), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Facebook (FB), Freeport McMoRan (FCX), Intuitive Surgical (ISRG), Microsoft (MSFT), Pandora (P) and VMWare (VMW).

The basis for making any of these trades is entirely predicated upon what may be an inefficiency between the option premiums and the implied price movement. I give no consideration to fundamental nor technical issues and would prefer not to be in a position to take ownership of shares in the event of an adverse price move.

My preference when selling put contracts is to do so when shares have already been falling in price in advance of earnings. Given the flourish with which this past week ended that is a bit more difficult, as a number of the shares listed had sizable gains in the session, recovering from the previous day’s drops.

While I would prefer not to take ownership of shares, the investor must be prepared to do so or to attempt to manage the options contract, such as rolling it forward, if assignment appears inevitable.

During periods of low volatility it may sometimes be difficult to do so and achieve a meaningful additional premium without going out further in time than you may have envisioned, however.

The table above may be used as a guide for determining which of these selected companies meets risk-reward parameters. Re-assessments need to be made as prices and, therefore, strike prices and their premiums may change. Additionally, the target ROI may warrant being changed as time erodes. For example, if the trade is executed with only 4 days of time remaining on the contract the 1% ROI may find its equivalent in a 0.8% return.

While the list can be used prospectively there may also be occasion to consider put sales following earnings in those cases where shares have reacted in an extremely negative fashion to earnings or to guidance. If you believe the response was an over-reaction to the news there may then be opportunity to sell put options to take advantage of the negative sentiment that may be reflected in option premiums.

In such a case the sale of a put is a bullish sentiment and there may be opportunity to make that expression a profitable one as the over-reaction faces its own correction. My recent observation, however, is that it seems to be taking longer and longer to see some stocks mount meaningful recoveries after earnings disappointments, which I interpret as a bearish indicator for the market as a whole, as risk aversion is a priority.

Recently, I’ve spent some considerable time in managing some positions that had greater than anticipated price moves, including taking assignment and then managing the  position through the sale of call options.

Ultimately, regardless of the timing of an earnings related trade there is always opportunity when large price movements are anticipated, especially if those worst and best case scenarios aren’t realized.

Best of all, if the extreme scenarios are realized a nimble trader may have opportunity to create even more opportunities and allow the position to accumulate re
turns while doing so.

 

Weekend Update – July 6, 2014

You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I’ve long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It’s far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.

Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.

So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you’re not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That’s especially so because lately the market hasn’t been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality

In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen re-affirmed he commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.

If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post – FOMC press conference?

That gift didn’t have too much staying power and it’s unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it’s good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.

When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.

Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."

As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.

So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation’s employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn’t a very good time if you were an equity investor.

While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you’re on a roll you go with it.

More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.

However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying  about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?

I’m afraid the answer is that "you don’t," other than perhaps in hindsight.

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

Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.

I don’t say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer’s face.

That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I’m always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.

Most recently Coach (COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven’t found myself displaying a similar emotion. I’ve usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.

However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn’t end with earnings this time around.

As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares  or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.

While not  in retail, Mosaic (MOS) is another company that I’ve spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it’s time to  make some money. 

Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to continually rollover option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.

Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (DRI). There’s probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend. 

While Darden’s payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn’t much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.

Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.

As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have  are-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.

Microsoft (MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.

Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it’s clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.

Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.

The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn’t quite fulfill my objective of tring to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen is a good friend to have on your side.

Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.

While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs’ illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook’s second seat at the helm of the company.

JP Morgan’s shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon’s health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JP Morgan’s credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon’s health or unexpected change of leadership.

In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JP Morgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected form its own self than in past years. WHether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.

Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we’ll need.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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.