Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

The "What If" game is about as fruitless as it gets, but is also as much a part of human nature as just about anything else.

How else could I explain having played that game at a high school reunion?

That may explain the consistent popularity of that simple question as a genre on so many people’s must read lists as the New Year begins.

Historical events lead themselves so beautifully to the "What If" question because the cascading of events can be so far reaching, especially in an interconnected world.

Even before that interconnection became so established it didn’t take too much imagination to envision far reaching outcomes that would have been so wildly different around the world even a century or more later.

Imagine if the Union had decided to cede Fort Sumpter and simply allowed the South to go its merry way. Would an abridged United States have been any where near the force it has been for the past 100 years? What would that have meant for Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel and every other corner of the world?

Second guessing things can never change the past, but it may provide some clues for how to approach the future, if only the future could be as predictable as the past.

Looking back at 2015 there are lots of "what if" questions that could be asked as we digest the fact that it was the market’s worst performance since 2008.

In that year the S&P 500 was down about 37%, while in 2015 it was only down 0.7%. That gives some sense of what kind of a ride we’ve been on for the past 7 years, if the worst of those years was only 0.7% lower.

But most everyone knows that the 0.7% figure is fairly illusory.

For me the "what if" game starts with what if Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and a handful of others had only performed as well as the averages.

Of course, even that "what if" exercise would continue to perpetuate some of the skew seen in 2015, as the averages were only as high as they were due to the significant out-performance of a handful of key constituent components of the index. Imagining what if those large winners had only gone down 0.7% for the year would still result in an index that wouldn’t really reflect just how bad the underlying market was in 2015.

While some motivated individual could do those calculations for the S&P 500, which is a bit more complex, due to its market capitalization calculation, it’s a much easier exercise for the DJIA.

Just imagine multiplying the 10 points gained by Microsoft , the 30 pre-split points gained by Nike (NKE), the 17 points by UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the 26 points by McDonalds (MCD) or the 29 points by Home Depot (HD) and suddenly the DJIA which had been down 2.2% for 2015, would have been another 761 points lower or an additional 4.5% decline.

Add another 15 points from Boeing (BA) and another 10 from Disney (DIS) and we’re starting to inch closer and closer to what could have really been a year long correction.

Beyond those names the pickings were fairly slim from among the 30 comprising that index. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better and the NASDAQ 100, up for the year, was certainly able to boast only due to the performances of Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet and Facebook (FB).

Now, also imagine what if historically high levels of corporate stock buybacks hadn’t artificially painted a better picture of per share earnings.

That’s not to say that the past year could have only been much worse, but it could also have been much better.

Of course you could also begin to imagine what if the market had actually accepted lower energy and commodity prices as a good thing?

What if investors had actually viewed the prospects of a gradual increase in interest rates as also being a good thing, as it would be reflective of an improving, yet non-frothy, economy?

And finally, for me at least, What if the FOMC hadn’t toyed with our fragile emotions and labile intellect all through the year?

Flat line years such as 2015 and 2011 don’t come very often, but when they do, most dispense with the "what if" questions and instead focus on past history which suggests a good year to follow.

But the "what if" game can also be prospective in nature, though in the coming year we should most likely ask similar questions, just with a slight variation.

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

What if money is running dry to keep the buyback frenzy alive?

Or, what if corporate earnings actually reflect greater consumer participation?

You may as well simply ask what if rational thought were to return to markets?

But it’s probably best not to ask questions when you may not be prepared to hear the answer.

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

For those, myself included, who have been expecting some kind of a resurgence in energy prices and were disbelieving when some were calling for even further drops only to see those calls come true, it’s not really clear what the market’s reaction might be if that rebound did occur.

While the market frequently followed oil lower and then occasionally rebounded when oil did so, it’s hard to envision the market responding favorably in the face of sustained oil price stability or strength.

I’ve given up the idea that the resurgence would begin any day now and instead am more willing to put that misguided faith into the health of financial sector stocks.

Unless the FOMC is going to toy with us further or the economy isn’t going to show the kind of strength that warranted an interest rate increase or warrants future increases, financials should fare well going forward.

This week I’m considering MetLife (MET), Morgan Stanley and American Express (AXP), all well off from their 2015 highs.

MetLife, down 12% during 2015 is actually the best performer of that small group. As with Morgan Stanley, almost the entirety of the year’s loss has come in the latter half of the year when the S&P 500 was performing no worse than it had during the first 6 months of the year.

Both Morgan Stanley and MetLife have large enough option premiums to consider the sale of the nearest out of the money call contracts in an attempt to secure some share appreciation in exchange for a somewhat lo0wer option premium.

In both cases, I think the timing is good for trying to get the best of both worlds, although Morgan Stanley will be among the relatively early earnings reports in just a few weeks and still hasn’t recovered from its last quarter’s poorly received results, so it would help to be prepared to manage the position if still held going into earnings in 3 weeks.

By contrast, American Express reports on that same day, but all of 2015 was an abysmal one for the company once the world learned that its relationship with Costco (COST) was far more important than anyone had believed. The impending loss of Costco as a branded partner in the coming 3 months has weighed heavily on American Express, which is ex-dividend this week.

I would believe that most of that loss in share has already been discounted and that disappointments aren’t going to be too likely, particularly if the consumer is truly making something of a comeback.

There has actually been far less press given to retail results this past holiday season than for any that I can remember in the recent and not so recent past.

Most national retailers tend to pull rabbits out of their hats after preparing us for a disappointing holiday season, with the exception of Best Buy (BBY), which traditionally falls during the final week of the year on perpetually disappointing numbers.

Best Buy has already fallen significantly in th e past 3 months, but over the years it has generally been fairly predictable in its ability to bounce back after sharp declines, whether precipitous or death by a thousand cuts.

To my untrained eye it appears that Best Buy is building some support at the $30 level and doesn’t report full earnings for another 2 months. Perhaps it’s its reputation preceding it at this time of the year, but Best Buy’s current option premium is larger than is generally found and I might consider purchasing shares and selling out of the money calls in the anticipation of some price appreciation.

Under Armour (UA) is in a strange place, as it is currently in one of its most sustained downward trends in at least 5 years.

While Nike, its arch competitor, had a stellar year in 2015, up until a fateful downtrend that began in early October, Under Armour was significantly out-performing Nike, even while the latter was some 35% above the S&P 500’s performance.

That same untrained eye sees some leveling off in the past few weeks and despite still having a fairly low beta reflecting a longer period of observation than the past 2 months, the option premium is continuing to reflect uncertainty.

With perhaps some possibility that cold weather may finally be coming to areas where it belongs this time of the year, it may not be too late for Under Armour to play a game of catch up, which is just about the only athletic pursuit that I still consider.

Finally, Pfizer (PFE) has been somewhat mired since announcing a planned merger, buyout, inversion or whatever you like to have it considered. The initially buoyed price has fallen back, but as with Dow Chemical (DOW) which has also fallen back after a similar merger announcement move higher, it has returned to the pre-announcement level.

I view that as indicating that there’s limited downside in the event of some bad news related to the proposed merger, but as with Dow Chemical, Best Buy and Under Armour, the near term option premium continues to reflect perceived near term risk.

Whatever Pfizer;’s merger related risk may be, I don’t believe it will be a near term risk. From the perspective of a call option seller that kind of perception in the face of no tangible news can be a great gift that keeps giving.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (1/6 $0.29)

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 – June 15, 2014

It’s hard to believe that there was ever a period of a few hundred years with relative peace and little military expansion.

It’s not too hard to believe that almost 2000 years have passed, but given that the Pax Romana was followed by the Middle Ages we may want to re-think the idyllic and beneficial nature of peace.

The “Pax Romana” sounds so quaint in an era when even a week without new conflict seems like a gift from the heavens, but the markets need some kind of conflict, physical or otherwise, to keep it functioning in a rationale manner. Otherwise it gets left to its own self and that could have consequences.

This past week was one in which there was no real scheduled news and very little was expected to be happening to shake markets. It was a week when I thought the real challenge would be balancing new market highs achieved in very tentative fashion with the vacuum that can generate largely uncatalyzed moves.

In that vacuum too much quietude can lead to lots of introspection, and over-analysis, not to mention those voices that start telling you what you really should be doing. In that vacuum it’s not too unusual to see over-exaggerated responses to otherwise benign factors.

Who knew that the vacuum could be so easily magnify the results of a primary election in a small congressional district?

For some reason that was the conventional wisdom explaining the first of two triple digit losses mid-week, despite little rationale reason to believe that the political landscape could get any less accommodating. Why in the world a roadblock toward achieving immigration reform could jeopardize stock health is a difficult thesis to weave, but that was the story and everyone stuck to it, while ignoring the fact that the World Bank had cut its forecasts for global growth.

However, the following day there really was something to be concerned about and that was the disruption of a week’s worth of world peace as news came of a mostly unknown army beginning to conquer Iraq and marching toward its capital with Patton-like speed.

Its name “ISIS,” an acronym for “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” is an unfortunate situation for Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS). It reminds me a bit of the early 1980s and the one time popular diet suppressant, AYDS. Hopeful Isis Pharmaceuticals will respond better than the decision to rename a product as “Diet Ayds.”

But with tensions rising as this past week came to its close the market once again did the unexpected, just as it had done through much of 2011, 2012 and 2013.

If the lessons of the Crimean and Ukraine crises have taught us anything it’s that Friday crises tend to be good for whatever it is that’s ailing the markets.

Going into a weekend of uncertainty the market again failed to sell off and abide by the age old wisdom of not staying long going into a weekend of uncertainty.

Lately, it seems that the market thrives most when peace, whether that of political compromise necessary for a budgetary agreement or that of a cease fire, is itself at risk. With all of the recent talk about complacency, while the Volatility Index may reflect the level of past complacent behavior, the decision to ignore the unknown that may come from a marauding army marching into a nation’s capital is a true measure.

While we all want peace in every aspect of our lives there is a sense of “schadenfreude” that may exist when realizing that it is ongoing tension that may serve to keep markets thriving rather than focusing upon itself and realizing that sometimes heights are untenable.

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

In  addition to the certainty of conflict that seems to occur on a very predictable basis, so too is there certainty lately that General Motors (GM) will be in the news and not for a good reason. With even more recalls announced last week there really hasn’t been much good news for quite a while, but as we saw last week, that didn’t seem to have any impact on sales.

To its credit despite all of the adverse news General Motors has defended the $35 level very nicely, as long as you’ve had a little bit of faith and patience while others either took profits or panicked.

Following a little bit of weakness and demonstrating that shares can absorb incredible amounts of bad news, General Motors offers some good opportunities for use in a covered option strategy, as it offers an attractive dividend that results from its frequent price gyrations. With it’s equally attractive dividend it is easier to be patient while watching shares move up and down. The availability of expanded weekly options adds considerable latitude in how shares are managed while awaiting those price movements.

With the recent revision to GDP there may not be much reason to be optimistic about near term economic growth. However with continuing and steady growth in employment and perhaps bolstered by news from one time leader Intel (INTC), of increasing fortunes, I again took to my proxy for economic growth, Fastenal (FAST). 

I already own shares that may be assigned this coming week, but would not be adverse to rolling them over as they approach the purchase price after some recent weakness. I would also consider either replacing those shares, if assigned, or even adding additional shares and would further consider using some longer term options, such as the July or August 2014 contracts. The latter also adds the possibility of capturing a dividend payment.

Nike (NKE) isn’t a company that I’ve owned very often, although it is one that I look at each week when thinking of possible replacements for assigned shares. Unfortunately, this week I didn’t have any assignments and that makes me a little more guarded about adding new positions and eroding my cash position. However, it’s hard to formulate a thesis whereby Nike is disproportionately damaged by any breach of peace in the world. I also look at shares of Nike as currently being on sale after some recent losses. 

Lowes (LOW) on the other hand, is a company that I’ve owned with some frequency, as recently as a week ago. It, too, is on sale after last week’s market movements and without any real reason for its price drop.

Lowes fits the profile of companies that have been especially kind to me, in that it tends to move within a defined range, deals with an easily understandable product and happens to offer reasonable option premiums and a fair dividend.

While there’s nothing terribly exciting about the company that sits in the shadow of a larger competitor and isn’t too likely to gain from future growth nor suffer from growth disappointments, there is something exciting about booking profits at a tolerable level of risk.

With some recent concerns about its future in the Russian marketplace having been put at ease, MasterCard (MA) has rebounded from its recent lows. It is among those stocks that has seen me hoping for a drop in value and did so a bit over the past week. My comfort level with purchasing new shares is in the $76 range and it is currently just below that level, inviting some consideration. However, I may be inclined to sell puts on shares as my preference is a lower entry price. If doing so and the shares dropped below the strike I would assess whether to attempt to rollover the puts in an effort to get an even lower entry price or whether to accept assignment and position myself to sell calls and perhaps collect the trivial dividend early next month.

The week’s two potential dividend plays are very much at extremes of the spectrum. General Electric (GE) is fairly staid, moves in small doses, while Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is quite the opposite.

General Electric is a company that I don’t own often enough and am never quite certain why that is the case. It too tends to trade in a definable range, is not terribly volatile, offers a reasonable option premium and an excellent dividend. All of that sounds compelling to me, with perhaps this being the week, as the dividend serves as a lure.

Las Vegas Sands, which I purchased last week and may lose to early assignment, is still at the lower end of its recent trading range, despite the good showing last week. While I don’t particularly like chasing stocks that have risen, regardless of how much higher they may still need to go to get to recent highs, here too, the dividend may be a potent lure. While the premium is always attractive, I think that the near term lower boundary on the trading range may have been defined at about $72.

Finally, everyone who loves dysfunction would certainly be attracted to Darden Restaurants (DRI).

Not too long ago its CEO, Clarence Otis, was hailed as a genius and in touch with the casual dining needs of the nation. Now, he is castigated as caring only about his own fate and selling Darden’s assets at ridiculously low valuation in an effort to fend off activists.

Whatever.

I rarely want to consider an earnings related trade unless there are weekly and preferably expanded weekly contracts available and then usually consider the sale of puts. Sadly, in Darden’s case there are only monthly contracts, but this happens to be the final week of the monthly cycle, so in a perfectly executed strategy this could be a weekly trade.

However, despite that, I look at a potential share purchase of Darden and looking at a longer term commitment, with consideration of selling July 2014 calls in the hope of also capturing its very healthy dividend.

Dysfunction can sometimes play the same role as conflict. Sure, normalcy is far easier to deal with, but as with peace, where’s the excitement in that?

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Lowes, MasterCard, Nike

Momentum:  General Motors

Double Dip Dividend:  General Electric (6/19), Las Vegas Sands (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Darden Restaurants (6/20)

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

Weekend Update – May 25, 2014

This was a good week, every bit as much as it was an odd one. 

You almost can’t spell “good” without “odd.”

We tend to be creatures that spend a lot of time in hindsight and attempting to dissect out what we believe to be the important components of everything that surrounds us or impacts upon us.

Sometimes what’s really important is beyond our ability to  see or understand or is just so counter-intuitive to what we believe to be true. I’m always reminded of the great Ralph Ellison book, “The Invisible Man,” in which it’s revealed that the secret to obtaining the most pure of white paints is the addition of a drop of black paint.

That makes no sense on any level unless you suspend rational thought and simply believe. Rational thought has little role when it calls for the suspension of belief.

This past week there was no reason to believe that anything good would transpire.

Coming on the heels of the previous week, which saw a perfectly good advance evaporate by week’s end there wasn’t a rational case to be made for expecting anything better the following week. That was especially true after the strong sell-off this past Tuesday.

Rational thought would never have taken the antecedent events to signal that the market would alter its typical pattern of behavior on the day of an FOMC statement release. That behavior was to generally trade in a reserved and cautious fashion prior to the 2 PM embargo release and then shift into chaotic knee-jerks and equally chaotic post-kneejerk course corrections.

Instead, the market advanced strongly from the opening bell on that day, erasing the previous day’s losses and had no immediate reaction to the FOMC release and then in an orderly fashion moved mildly higher after the words were parsed and interpreted.

The trading on that day and its timing were entirely irrational. It was odd, but it was good.

Ordinarily it would have also been irrational to expect a rational response to the minutes that offered no new news, as in the past real news was not a necessary factor for irrational buying or selling behavior.

The ensuing rational behavior was also odd, but it, too, was good.

As another new high was set to end the week there should be concern about approaching a tipping point, especially as the number of new highs is on the down trend. However, the market’s odd behavior the past week gives me reason to be optimistic in the short term, despite a belief that the upside reward is now considerably less than the downside risk in the longer term. 

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

This was a week in which those paid to observe such things finally commented on the disappointing results coming from retailers, despite the fact that the past two or three quarters have been similar and certainly not reflective of the kind of increased discretionary spending you might expect with increasing employment statistics.

With some notable exceptions, such as LuLuLemon (LULU) and Family Dollar Store (FDO) I’ve enjoyed being in and out of retailers, although I think I’d rather be maimed than actually be in and out of anyone’s actual store.

This week a number of retailers have appeal, either on their merits or because there may be some earnings related trades seeking to capitalize on their movements. Included for their merits are in the list are Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), eBay (EBAY), Nike (NKE) and The Gap (GPS), while Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) and Kors (KORS) report earnings this week.

After a disappointing earnings report Bed Bath and Beyond has settled into a trading range and gas seemed to establish some support at the $60 level. Along with so many others that have seen their shares punished after earnings the recovery of share price seems delayed as compared to previous markets. For the option seller that kind of listless trading can be precisely the scenario that returns the best results.

eBay has also stagnated. With Carl Icahn still in the picture, but uncharacteristically quiet, especially after the announcement of a repatriation of some $6 billion in cash back to the United States and, therefore, subject to taxes, there doesn’t seem to be a catalyst for a return to its recent highs. That suits me just fine, as I’ve liked eBay at the $52 level for quite a while and it has been one of my more frequent in and out kind of trades. At present, I do own two other lots of shares and three lots is my self imposed limit, but for those considering an initial entry, eBay has been seen as a mediocre performer in the eyes of those expecting upward price movement, but a superstar from those seeking premium income through the serial sale of option contracts week in and out. If you’re the latter kind, eBay can be as rewarding as the very best of the rest.

The Gap reported earnings on Friday and exhibited little movement. It’s currently trading at the high end of where I like to initiate positions, but it, too, has been a very reliable covered option trade. An acceptable dividend and a fair option premium makes it an appealing recurrent trade. The only maddening aspect of The Gap is that it is one of the few remaining retailers that oddly provides monthly same store sales and as a result it is prone to wild price swings on a regular basis. Those price swings, however, tend to be alternating and do help to keep those option premiums elevated.

You simply take the good with the odd in the case of The Gap and shrug your shoulders when the market response is adverse and just await the next opportunity when suddenly all is good again.

Despite all of the past criticism and predictions of its irrelevance in the marketplace Abercrombie and Fitch continues to be a survivor.  This past Friday was the second anniversary of the initial recommendation of taking a position for Option to Profit subscribers, although I haven’t owned shares in nearly 5 months. Since that in
itial purchase there have been 18 such recommendations, with a cumulative 71.5% return, despite shares having barely moved during that time frame.

Always volatile, especially when earnings are due, the options market is currently implying a 10.2% move in price. For me, the availability of a 1% ROI from selling put contracts at a strike level outside of the lower boundary of that implied range gets my interest. In this case shares could fall up to 13.9% before assignment is likely and still deliver that return.

Kors, also known as “Coach (COH) Killer” also reports earnings this week. It has stood out recently because it hasn’t been subject to the same kind of selling pressure as some other “momentum” stocks. The option market is implying a price movement of 7.4%, while a 1% ROI from put sales may be obtained at a strike level currently 8.8% below Friday’s closing price. However, while Abercrombie and Fitch has plenty of experience with disappointing earnings and has experienced drastic price drops, Kors has yet to really face those kinds of challenges. In the current market environment earnings disappointments are being magnified and the risk – reward proposition with an earnings related trade in Kors may not be as favorable as for that with Abercrombie.

In the case of Kors I may be more inclined to consider a trade after earnings, particularly considering the sale of puts if earnings are disappointing and shares plummet.

After last week’s brief ownership of Under Armour (UA) this week it may be time to consider a purchase of Nike, which under-performed Under Armour for the week. Shares also go ex-dividend this week and have been reasonably range-bound of late. It isn’t a terribly exciting trade, but at this stage of life, who really needs excitement? I also don’t need a pair of running shoes and could care less about making a fashion statement, but I do like the idea of its consistency and relatively low risk necessary in order to achieve a modest reward.

Transocean (RIG) is off of its recent lows, but still has quite a way to go to return to its highs of earlier in the year. Going ex-dividend this week, the 5.7% yield has made the waiting on a more expensive lot of shares to recover a bit easier. As with eBay, I already have two lots of shares, but believe that at the current level this is a good time for initial entry, perhaps considering a longer term option contract and seeking capital gains on shares, as well. As with most everything in business and economy, the current oversupply or rigs will soon become an under supply and Transocean will reap the benefits of cyclicality.

Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) also goes ex-dividend this week. It is an important player in my area and has become the largest operator of local television stations in the nation, while most people have never heard the name. It is an infrequent purchase for me, but I always consider doing so as it goes ex-dividend, particularly if trading at the mid-point of its recent range. CUrrently shares a little higher than I might prefer, but with only monthly options available and an always healthy premium, I think that even at the current level there is good opportunity, even if shares do migrate to the low end of its current range.

Finally, Joy Global (JOY), one of those companies whose fortunes are closely tied to Chinese economic reports, has seen a recent 5% price drop from its April 2014 highs. While it is still above the price that I usually like to consider for an entry, I may be interested in participating this week with either a put sale of a buy/write.

Among the considerations are events coming the following week, as shares go ex-dividend early in the week and then the company reports earnings later in the week.

While my preference would be for a quick one week period of involvement, there always has to be the expectation of well laid out plans not being realized. In this case the sale of puts that may need to be rolled over would benefit from enhanced earnings related premiums, but would suffer a bit as the price decrease from the dividend may not be entirely reflected in the option premium. That’s similar to what is occasionally seen on the call side, when option premiums may be higher than they rightfully should be, as the dividend is not fully accounted.

Otherwise, if beginning a position with a buy/write and not seeing shares assigned at the end of the week, I might consider a rollover to a deep in the money call, thereby taking advantage of the enhanced premiums and offering a potential exit in the event that shares fall with the guidelines predicted by the implied volatility. Additionally, it might offer the chance of early assignment prior to earnings due to the Monday ex-dividend date, thereby providing a quick exit and the full premium without putting in the additional time and risk.

 

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, eBay, The Gap

Momentum: Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Nike (5/29 $0.24), Sinclair Broadcasting (5/28 $0.15), Transocean (5/28 $0.75)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (5/29 AM), Kors (5/28 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

Weekend Update – March 17, 2013

Many stock charts look similar lately. For those old enough to remember Alan Greenspan’s first year as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the upward slope was all that many new investors and stock brokers had known for 5 years.

You may or may not recall how that second year went for him. It was the year that the stock market re-discovered the concept of gravity and the more complex notion of negative numbers.

To hear the one time Federal Reserve Chairman intone yesterday that the market is greatly undervalued sends whatever message you would like to hear when you digest his words.

“Irrational exuberance is the last term I would use to characterize the performance at the moment.”

The key to escaping responsibility and a stain on your prognosticating ability is the phrase “at the moment.” I use that a lot myself, as any moment can end up being the inflection point. It’s just too bad that the television cameras aren’t rolling at that point.

There’s much speculation lately about the source of any new money coming into the markets. Whether it’s refugees from the bond market or those that have sat on the sidelines since being shaken out sometime in the past 5 years. I’m not certain why the answer seems so hard to ascertain, but with all of the smug talk about those investors who represent the “smart money,” you might believe that any new money at the margins would be somewhat less smart. After all, besides perhaps being late to the party, they were either in bonds or cash all of this time.

How smart is that? Well, it depends on what side of the inflection you’re on when the question is asked.

Regardless of where any new money may be coming, all such funds are faced with the same dilemma. Do you chase something that’s already left the station or do you wait for the next opportunity to come along?

In a way, if you sell calls on your positions, you’re regularly faced with those question upon assignment. If you sell lots of weekly call options the question is a frequent one.

If you believe in history repeating itself, images such as this may be of concern:

Unless of course you’re very concrete, in which case there’s still three months left to frolic in higher prices and invest with impunity.

Approaching my fourth week of negativity and seeing a decrease in option income as a result of re-investing less of the proceeds of assigned shares, something has to reach a breaking point. Since the theoretical number of consecutive days that the market could go higher is unlimited, it may make sense to temper the conviction that only negative things wait ahead, especially for those unprepared.

Granted, the “doomsday preppers” that are featured on basic cable these days may not be the best of role models, there has to be something in-between that offers a compromise.

I think that compromise is avoiding most anything that your grandfather never had to opportunity to purchase.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference is to now look for high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, sadly, there are none such going ex-dividend this week.

I don’t recall the last time I considered so many stocks at any single time from the Dow Jones Index. In a month where the first 10 trading days took us higher, of the following Dow Index stocks only one outperformed the S&P 500.

Caterpillar (CAT) is approaching one of my favorite price points for its shares. Despite no negative news, other than what may be inferred though always questionable Chinese economic data, shares have been languishing and get more appealing daily. Those other heavy machinery companies without the potential Chinese exposure have been enjoying the market climb.

Home Depot (HD) has been a favorite stock ever since I dared to compare it to Apple (AAPL) in terms of performance, at a time that Apple was hitting on all cylinders. There’s nothing terribly exciting and there’s probably very little new information that can be added about Home Depot. It simply offers safety,a decent premium and continues to hit on all cylinders even as other more flashy companies have done otherwise. Let others debate whether increased housing sales are good or bad or whether it is a better buy than Lowes (LOW). It is simply a reliable portfolio partner.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) is no longer made of Teflon, although its share price continues to be fairly resistant. With Congressional hearings starting today and findings that JP Morgan was indifferent, at best, to the risks that it was assuming in what became known as the “London Whale Trades,” it will re-join its banking brethren who are, by and large, seeing their stocks enjoy the results of the stress tests. The increased dividend announced is a nice little touch, as well an inducement to add shares.

I rarely look at the Communication Services or Utilities sectors unless I want safety and dividends. That was a good formula early on in the process of recovering from 2007 plunge. But it may also be a good formula to protect against downwinds. Not necessarily a very exciting approach, but sleeping at night has its own merits. AT&T (T), although not going ex-dividend this week is expected to announce its ex-dividend date sometime in the April 2013 option cycle. It will be my Ambien.

Merck (MRK) was the lone Dow component company to have out-performed the S&P 500 through March 14, 2013, purely on the big bump when it received favorable news regarding its controversial Vytorin product. Recently its option premiums have started to become more compelling. I had hoped to purchase shares last week in order to capture the dividend, however, the Vytorin news disrupted that, as I chose not to chase.

Starbucks (SBUX) is a bit more expensive than I would like in order to pick up new shares, but I always prefer to get shares when it hovers near a strike price. Although your grandfather may not have been able to ever purchase shares of this company, it definitely has a business model of which he would approve. Basic and simple, while offering an addictive product worked well for tobacco companies and is equally and consistently successful at Starbucks.

The lone Momentum stock this week is Coach (COH). Having just had shares assigned at $49 and still owning some higher priced shares at $51, I rarely like to chase stocks as their prices have gone higher than their assigned price. However, I think that the worst is over for Coach and it still carries cache, despite some equivocation regarding its status in the luxury sector of retail.

I’ve had shares of Coach come in and out of my portfolio on a consistent basis ever since the first assault on its future and subsequent 10% drop in share price. It’s sometimes a little maddening how out-sized its moves are, but it does tend to gravitate back toward its pre-assault home.

Although I do want to eschew risk, there may be some earnings related trades this week that may still offer a reasonable risk-reward scenario.

With the exception of LuLu Lemon (LULU), all of the potential earnings related stocks are ones that I’ve happily owned in the past year and would be comfortable owning again. LuLu Lemon, however, is the only one of those potential plays that would fall into the Momentum category, although all are retailers or consumer discretionary companies.

Retailing based on what may turn out to be a fad is always a risky proposition and LuLu Lemon has certainly shown that it’s capable of exhibiting large price moves, both earnings related and otherwise. Someday, it may be on the wrong side of being a fad, but there’s currently no indication of that happening and impacting this current upcoming earnings release. Although it is capable of a 15% move in either direction, those a bit more daring may find the premiums associated with a 10% move appealing.

My shares of Tiffany were assigned this Friday, having been held for 181 days, as compared to just 26 days for positions opened in 2012. It’s was an interesting run, with lots of ups and downs, but its performance beat the S&P 500 for its holding period by 4.9%. Now offering weekly options, it is even more appealing to me as a casual purchase. With earnings this week and a significant recent run-up in price, put options are aggressively priced and attractive, if you don’t mind the possibility of owning shares.

Williams Sonoma (WSM) is one of those stocks for which I wished weekly options existed, especially as it offers earning related opportunities at the very beginning of a monthly cycle. It too, is very capable of 10% moves in either direction upon earnings, but as Coach, does have a tendency to return if the market reacts negatively.

The final earnings related trade is Nike (NKE). Although it is also capable of 10% moves, it doesn’t offer premiums quite as enhanced as some of the other names. However, it certainly doesn’t carry the risk of being a fad and so, even with a precipitous drop there can be reasonable expectations for a return to health. Even in the event of assignments of puts sold to capitalize on earnings, there are worse things in the world than owning shares of Nike.

Traditional Stocks: AT&T, Caterpillar, DuPont, Home Depot, JP Morgan, Merck, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: COH

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: LuLu Lemon (3/21 AM), Nike (3/21 PM), Tiffany (3/22 AM), Williams Sonoma (3/19 PM)

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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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan

Weekend Update – February 24, 2013

We all engage in bouts of wishful thinking.

On an intellectual level I can easily understand why it makes sense to not be fully invested at most moments in time. There are times when just the right opportunity seems to come along, but it stops only for those that have the means to treat that opportunity as it deserves.

I also understand why it is dangerous to extend yourself with the use of margin or leverage and why it’s beneficial to resist the need to pass up that opportunity.

What I don’t understand is why those opportunities always seem to arise at times when the well has gone dry and margin is the only drink of water to be found.

Actually, I do understand. I just wish things would be different.

I rely on the continuing assignment of shares and the re-investment of cash on a weekly basis. My preference is for anywhere from 20-40% of my portfolio to be turned over on a weekly basis.

But this past week was simply terrible on many levels. Whether you want to blame things on a deterioration of the metals complex, hidden messages in the FOMC meeting or the upcoming sequester, the market was far worse than the numbers indicated, as the down volume to up volume was unlike what we have seen for quite a while.

On Wednesday the performances of Boeing (BA), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and Verizon (VZ), all members of the Dow Jones Industrials Index helped to mask the downside, as the DJIA and S&P 500 diverged for the day. Thursday was more of the same, except Wal-Mart (WMT) joined the very exclusive party. So far, this week is eerily similar to the period immediately following the beginning of 2012 climb and immediately preceding a significant month long decline of nearly 10%,beginning May 2012.

That period was also preceded by the indices sometimes moving in opposite directions or differing magnitudes and those were especially accentuated during the month long decline.

So what I’m trying to say is that with all of the apparent bargains left in the carnage of this trading shortened week, I don’t have anywhere near the money that I would typically have to plow in head first. I wish I did; but I don’t. I also wish I had that cash so that I wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to have it all invested in equities.

Although that margin account is overtly beckoning me to approach, that’s something that I’ve developed enough strength to resist. But at the same time, I’m anxious to increase my cash position, but not necessarily for immediate re-investment.

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

Cisco (CSCO) was one of those stocks that I wanted to purchase last week, but like most in a wholly unsatisfying week, it wasn’t meant to be. With earnings out of the way and some mild losses sustained during the past week, it’s just better priced than before.

Although there have been periods of time that I’ve owned shares of both Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE), up until about $10 ago on each stock there has rarely been a time over the past 5 years that I haven’t owned at least one of them. This past week saw some retreat in their prices and they are getting closer to where I might once again be comfortable establishing ownership.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is one of those stocks that I really wished had offered weekly option premiums. Back in the days when there was no such vehicle this was one of my favorite stocks. This week it goes ex-dividend and that always gets me to give a closer look, especially after some recent price drops. Dividends, premiums and a price discount may be a good combination.

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been in my doghouse of late. That’s not any expression of its quality as a company, nor of its leadership. After all, back when the market last saw 14,000, Dow Chemical was among those companies whose shares, dividends and option premiums helped me to survive those frightening days. But after 2009 had gotten well entrenched and started heading back toward 14000, the rest of the market just left Dow behind. Then came weekly options and Dow Chemical didn’t join that party. More recently, as volatility has been low, it’s premiums have really lagged. But now, at its low point in the past two months for no real reason and badly lagging the broad market, it once again looks inviting.

Lorillard (LO) was on my radar screen about a month ago, but as so often happens when it came time to make a decision there appeared to be a better opportunity. This week Lorillard goes ex-dividend. Unfortunately, it no longer offers a weekly option, but this is one of those companies that if not assigned this month will likely be assigned soon, as tobacco companies have this knack for survival, much more so than their customers.

MetLife (MET) was on last week’s radar screen, but it was a week that very little went according to script. Maybe this week will be better, but like the tobacco companies that are sometimes the bane of insurance companies, even when paying out death benefits, somehow these companies survive well beyond the ability of their customers.

United Healthcare (UNH) simply continues the healthcare related theme. Already owning shares of Aetna (AET), I firmly believe that whatever form national healthcare will take, the insurance companies will thrive. Much as they have done since Medicaid and Medicare appeared on the national landscape and they moaned about how their business models would be destroyed. After 50 years of moaning you would think that we would all stop playing this silly game.

The Gap (GPS) reports earnings this week, along with Home Depot (HD) as opposed to most companies that I consider as potential earnings related trades, there isn’t a need to protect against a 10-20% drop. At least I don’t think there is that kind of need. But whereas the concern of holding shares of some of those very volatile companies is real, that’s not the case with these two. Even with unexpected price movements eventually ownership will be rewarded. The fact that Home Depot gained 2% following Friday’s upgrade by Oppenheimer to “outperform” always leads me to expect a reversal upon earnings release.

On the other hand, when it comes to MolyCorp (MCP) there’s definitely that kind of need to protect against a 20% price decline. Always volatile, MolyCorp got caught in last week’s metal’s meltdown, probably unnecessarily, since it really is a different entity. Yet with an SEC overhang still in its future and some investor unfriendly moves of late, MolyCorp doesn’t have much in the way of good will on its side.

Nike (NKE) goes ex-dividend this week and its option premiums have become somewhat more appealing since the stock split.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those companies that I’m really not certain what it is that they do or provide. I know enough to be aware that there is drama regarding the relationship between its CEO, Mark Benioff and Oracle’s mercurial CEO, Larry Ellison, to get people’s attention and become the basis of speculation. I just love those sort of side stories, they’re so much more bankable that technical analysis. In this case, a xx% drop in share price after earnings could still deliver a 1% ROI.

Finally, two banking pariahs are potential purchases this week. I’ve owned both Citibank (C) and Bank of America (BAC) in the past month and have lost both to assignment a few times. As quickly as their prices became to expensive to repurchase they have now become reasonably priced again.

Although Friday’s trading restored some of the temporarily beaten down stocks a bit, a number still appear to be good short term prospects. I emphasize “short term” because I am mindful of a repeat of the pattern of May 2012 and am looking for opportunities to move more funds to cash.

I don’t know if Friday’s recovery is a continuation of that 2012 pattern, but if it is, that leads to concern over the next leg of that pattern.

For that reason I may be looking at opportunities to increase cash levels as a defensive move. In the event that there are further signals pointing to a strong downside move, I would rather be out of the market and miss a continued upside move than go along for the ride downward and have to work especially hard to get back up.

I’ve done that before and don’t feel like having to do it again.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Cisco, Deere, Dow Chemical, MetLife, United Healthcare

Momentum Stocks: Citibank

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (ex-div 2/27), Lockheed Martin (ex-div 2/27), Lorillard (ex-div 2/27), Nike (ex-div 2/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Home Depot (2/26 AM), MolyCorp (2/28 PM), Salesforce.com (2/28 PM), The Gap (2/28 PM)

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.

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan