Weekend Update – September 4, 2016

These are sensitive times.

For the longest time the FOMC and investors were the closest of allies.

The FOMC gave investors what they craved.

With cheap money increasingly made available investors could do what they want to do the most.

Invest.

In return, if you believe in trickle down economics, the great wealth created by investors would then get re-invested into the economy, helping to fund the creation of jobs, which in turn would fuel increasing demand for consumer products.

That would result in a virtuous cycle that would grow the economy, with the FOMC carefully controlling growth to keep the 40 years’ worth of inflation fears soothed.

Surely that was a win – win scenario, in theory, at least.

Then came the rumors.

Those rumors were started, fueled and spread by the very FOMC that created good times for most everyone that had a discretionary dollar to invest.

The fear that those rumors of an interest rate increase coming soon, perhaps a series of them in 2016, would become reality, periodically sowed selling waves into the blackened hearts of investors.

With even the doves among the FOMC members beginning to utter tones spoken by hawks, investors knew that their glory days were numbered and began expressing some slow acceptance of an interest rate increase.

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Weekend Update – July 31, 2016

Let me get this straight.

The people sequestered in their nearly meeting for 2 days in Washington and who only have to consider monetary policy in the context of a dual mandate are the smartest guys in the room?

We often hear the phrase “the smartest guys in the room.”

Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes there may be a bit of sarcasm attached to its use.

I don’t know if anyone can sincerely have any doubt about the quality of the intellect around the table at which members of the FOMC convene to make and implement policy.

While there may be some subjective baggage that each carries to the table, the frequent reference to its decisions being “data drive” would have you believe that the best and brightest minds would be objectively assessing the stream of data and projecting their meaning in concert with one another.

One of the hallmarks of being among the smartest in the room is that you can see, or at least are expected to see what the future is more likely to hold than can the person in the next room. After all, whether you’re the smartest in the room and happen to be at Goldman Sachs (GS) or at the Federal Reserve, no one is paying you to predict the past.

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Weekend Update – June 19, 2016

About 25 years ago a character debuted on Saturday Night Live and the recurring joke was to try and guess the character’s gender.

The sketches typically had  red herrings and lots of mis-direction and the question of Pat’s gender was never answered.

Never a terribly popular character, someone had the fiscally irresponsible idea of making a feature film and Pat was never heard from again.

The guessing stopped.

Fast forward to 2016 and think of Pat as an FOMC member.

Over the past 2 months or so there has probably been lots of mis-direction coming from Federal Reserve Governors, perhaps as they floated trial balloons to see how interest rate action or inaction would be received by the stock market.

The health of the stock market is not really part of their mandate, but since so much of the nation’s wealth is very closely aligned with those markets, it may only be logical that the FOMC should at least have some passing interest in its health.

Who would have guessed 6 months ago when the first interest rate hike occurred that we would be at a point where that has thus far been the only one?

Who would have thought that in the transpiring 6 months nothing would have validated the December 2015 interest rate increase and that nothing but conflicting economic data would be forthcoming?

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Weekend Update – February 7, 2016

If the recently deceased Harlem Globetrotters’ great player, Meadowlark Lemon had been alive today and helping the equally great band, The Byrds, re-write their classic song, it would likely get a new title.

The title would perfectly describe what this past week was a all about.

“Spin, Spin, Spin.”

Whether it was post-Iowa Caucus result speeches by the candidates or President Obama’s comments in the aftermath of Friday’s disappointing Employment Situation Report and downward revision to the previous month, it’s easy to see the spin going around and around.

No wonder the stock market is getting dizzy and dizzier, despite its heights getting lower and lower.

With confusion coming from Iowa regarding the definition of “winning” from both sides of the aisle you could easily be excused for shaking your head as the week started.

Then, when a picture of decreasing employment numbers alongside increasing jobless claims numbers was painted as reflecting an increasingly robust economy you could have been further excused for shaking your head into the week’s end.

Politicians who want an opportunity to create a legacy, as well as lame duck politicians who want to cement a legacy are very adept at spin and the ability to portray everything in terms of black and white.

The other side is always wrong and the facts are as portrayed and not as fact.

For stock investors life was much easier when only having to deal with the paradoxical association between oil and stocks.

You simply awoke in the morning and saw where West Texas Intermediate was trading and knew that the stock market would go in the same direction.

Now they’re back into having to decide whether news they hear is good or bad and whether to react appropriately to that news or paradoxically.

Of course, that would be easier if news was really presented on a factual basis and not so quickly subjected to overwhelmingly sanctimonious spin.

With the notion that evidence of a slow down in the economy would make the likelihood of further Federal Reserve rate hikes less, bad news was once again being taken as good news. The predominance of oil, however, as a factor in the market’s direction may have been obscuring some of that newly rediscovered fractured thought process.

With the market having spent the week going back and forth with numerous large intra-day moves and some large daily moves, it all came down to Friday’s trading to determine the fate of the DJIA for the week, as it had only been 34 points lower heading into the final day of trading. That week included one day with a loss of 290 points and the following day with a gain of 193 points.

If you were among those for whom confidence could have been inspired by those kind of movements, then any kind of upcoming spin could have led you in any direction.

Of course, the direction also depended on whether you are now of the increasing frame of mind that good news is bad news.

While we awaited Friday morning’s Employment Situation Report release and the DJIA had been down only 0.2%, the broader indexes weren’t faring quite as well.

The S&P 500 had already been 1.3% lower on the week and the NASDAQ 100 was down 2.6%.

With Friday morning’s release, the data, while disappointing was likely not weak enough to give cause for much celebration for those looking for good reason to dismiss the possibility of future interest rate hikes in 2016.

What may have cast a pall on the market was the Presidential spin that focused on the 4.9% jobless rate and wage growth.

If you were among those interpreting bad news as being good, you had to interpret that kind of spin as being good news.

And that can only be bad as the FOMC had certainly not closed the door on further interest rate increases in its recent statement.

While the DJIA lost an additional 1.3% to end the week, the NASDAQ 100 tacked on an additional 3.4% to its already sizable loss for the week, while the S&P 500 lost an additional 1.9%.

Good luck trying to spin that as we begin to prepare for the coming week.

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

Having suffered the direct blow from decrease oil prices and the indirect blow from what those decreasing prices have wrought upon the market, it’s not easy to consider adding another energy position.

Who can begin to count the number of times over the past 15 months that it didn’t look as if we had hit a once in a generation kind of rock bottom bargain price for a barrel of oil?

With ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) having just slashed its dividend, you do have to wonder whether British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) could be next.

WHile its dividend this week is presumably safe, it’s harder to make that case for the remainder of 2016 if rude prices continue to test lows. In its defense, British Petroleum is better diversified than ConocoPhillips is after having spun off its refining assets a few years ago, but the risk of insufficient cash flow is still there.

What is also there is a very nice option premium in reflection of further risk.

Looking at the option premiums, I am inclined to look at more than a weekly option contract, as is normally my approach for positions going ex-dividend during the week.

The exaggerated volatility of the past 2 weeks is really enhancing the premium and the dividend is extraordinary, while likely having more safety than the option market may be surmising.

Also ex-dividend this week are DuPont (NYSE:DD) and International Paper (NYSE:IP).

While DuPont has gone considerably higher in the past two weeks, I believe that in the absence of general market weakness it can recapture much of what had been lost following the announcement of a complex deal with Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW).

With some strength also seen in Dow Chemical recently, I took the opportunity to sell calls on uncovered shares and is a portion of the strategic theme for this week, I used an out of the money strike price and a longer term time frame than I would normally consider in an effort to lock in some higher volatility driven option premiums and to regain lost share value.

The same approach holds for if considering a purchase of International Paper.

While it’s recent earnings report exceeded expectations and met whisper numbers, its stock price trend for the past year has been decidedly lower and lower, even in the absence of structural or operating issues.

While its payout ratio is getting uncomfortably high, the generous premium should continue to be safe and I might consider locking in the premium for a longer term, perhaps to even encompass an additional ex-dividend date in May 2016, although upcoming earnings would also have to be considered if doing so.

For that reason, I might even consider going out to a July 2016 expiration in the anticipation that some of that lost luster in its price will be regained by then,

Although not ex-dividend this week, EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) is among some of those fallen angels in the technology sector and which are beginning to celebrate their newly found volatility with some enhanced option premiums.

Somehow lost in the story with EMC is that there is a buyout offer that appears to be on track for completion and at a price that is substantially higher than Friday’s closing price.

I’m not one to play in the same arena with those expert in the science and art of arbitrage, but this one seems to offer some opportunity, even as the deal isn’t expected to close until the end of the year.

While there may still be regulatory hurdles head, EMC appears to be a willing partner and while awaiting a decision, there are still some dividends to be had.

For that reason, I might consider buying shares and selling a longer term and significantly out of the money option contract. Since I also already have existing shares at $30, I might consider combining lots and selling calls at a strike below the cost of the original lot, not counting accumulated premiums and dividends.

Finally, I just don’t think that I can any longer resist buying shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) at this level.

eBay was one of my more frequent holdings until the announcement of its definitive plan to spin off its profitable PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) unit.

What could be more appropriate when talking about the week’s spin than to look at a post-spin eBay?

For years I loved holding eBay as it made little net movement, even as it had occasional spikes and plunges usually earnings related. All that meant was that it had an attractive option premium, with relatively little risk associated with it, as long as you didn’t mind those occasional plunges that were inevitably reversed.

WIth no real challenge ahead of it other than market risk in general, eBay is now at its post spin-off low and is offering a great option premium for what I perceive to be low risk.

WIth those premiums so attractive, but mindful that there may be near term market risk, I would probably think in terms of selling longer term and out of the money call contracts on any shares that I purchased.

While the market could continue to be further dragged down by declining oil prices and while games are still being played with what economic data really means and how it should be interpreted, you do have to wonder how any of that impacts eBay.

I know that I do.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, EMC Corporation

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (2/10 $0.59), DuPont (2/10 $0.38), International Paper (2/11 $0.38)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:

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

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Weekend Update – September 27, 2015

Subscribers to Option to Profit received preliminary notification of this week’s stock selections on Friday, September 25th, 8:00 AM EDT and updated at 10:20 AM. The full article was distributed on Saturday, at 11:25 AM)

I doubt that Johnny Cash was thinking about that thin line that distinguishes a market in correction from one that is not.

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For him, walking the line” was probably a reference to maintaining the correct behavior so that he could ensure holding onto something of great personal value.

Sometimes that line is as clear as the difference between black and white and other times the difference can be fairly arbitrary.

Lately our markets have been walking a line, not necessarily borne out of a clear distinction between right and wrong, but rather dancing around the definition of exactly what constitutes a market correction, going in and out without much regard.

The back and forth dance has, to some degree, been in response to mixed messages coming from the FOMC that have left the impression of a divergence between words and actions.

Regardless, what is at stake can hold some real tangible value, despite a stock portfolio not being known for its ability to keep you warm at night. Indirectly, however, the more healthy that portfolio the less you have to think about cranking up the thermostat on those cold and lonely nights.

It had been a long, long time since being challenged by that arbitrary 10% definition, but ever since having crossed that line a month ago there’s been lots of indecision about which direction we were heading.

This week was another good example of that, just as the final day of the week was its own good example of the back and forth that has characterized markets.

Depending on your perspective our recent indecision about which side of the line we want to be on is either creating support for a launching pad higher or future resistance to that move higher.

When you think about the quote attributed to Jim Rogers, “I have never met a rich technician,” you can understand, regardless of how ludicrous that may be, just how true it may also be.

While flipping a coin may have predictable odds in the long term, another saying has some real merit when considering the difficulty in trying to interpret charts and chart patterns,

That is “the market can stay irrational far longer than you can stay liquid.” Just a few wrong bets in succession on the direction can have devastating effects.

The single positive from the past 10 days of trading, however, is that the market has started behaving in a rational manner. It finally demonstrated that it understood the true meaning of a potential interest rate hike and then it reacted as a sane person might when their rational expectation was dashed.

Part of the indecision that we’ve been displaying has to be related to what has seemed as a lot of muddled messages coming from the FOMC and from Federal Reserve Governors. One minute there are hawkish sentiments being expressed, yet it’s the doves that seem to be still holding court, leading onlookers to wonder whether the FOMC is capable of making the decision that many believe is increasingly overdue.

In a week where there was little economic news we were all focused on personalities, instead and still stewing over the previous week’s unexpected turn of events.

It was a week when Pope Francis took center stage, then Chinese President Xi trying to cozy up to American business leaders before his less welcoming White House meeting, and then there was finally John Boehner.

The news of John Boehner’s early departure may be the most significant of all news for the week as it probably reduces the chance of another government shutdown and associated headaches for all.

It also marked something rare in Washington politics; a promise kept.

That promise of strict term limits was included in the “Contract with America” and John Boehner was a member of that incoming freshman Congressional Class of 1995 running on that platform, who has now indicated that he will be keeping that promise after only 11 terms in office.

None of that mattered for markets, but what did matter was Janet Yellen’s comments after Thursday’s market close when she said that a rate hike was likely this year and that overseas events were not likely to influence US policy.

That was something that had a semblance of a definitive nature to it and was to the market’s liking, particularly as the coming week may supply new economic information to justify the interest rate hawks gaining control.

Friday’s revised GDP data indicating a 3.9% growth rate for the year is a start, as the coming week also bring Jobless Claims, the Employment Situation Report and lots of Federal Reserve officials making speeches, including more from Janet Yellen, who had been reclusive for a while prior to the September meeting and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.

As a prelude to the next earnings season that begins in just 2 weeks, the stage could be set for an FOMC affirmation that the economy is growing sufficiently to begin thinking about inflation for the first time in a long time.

After being on the other side of the inflation line for a long time and seeing a lost generation in Japan, it will feel good to cross over even as old codgers still dread the notion.

Both sides of the line can be the right side, but not at the same time. Now is the time to get on the right side and let rising interest rates reflect a market poised to move higher, just as low interest rates subsidized the market for the past 6 years. However, as someone who likes to sell options and take advantage of this increased volatility, I welcome continued trading in large bursts of movement up and down, as long as that line is adhered to.

Since the mean can always be re-calculated based on where you want to start your observations, this reversion to the new mean, that just happens to be 10% below the peaks of the summer, can be a great neighborhood to dance around.

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

Last week I was a little busier than has been the usual case of late with regard to opening new positions. Following the sharp sell offs to end the previous week I had a reasonably good feeling about the upcoming week, but now feel fortunate to have emerged without any damage.

I don’t feel the same level of optimism as the new week is set to begin, but there really is no reason to have much conviction one way or another, although there appears to be a more hawkish tone in the air as Janet Yellen is attempting to give the impression that actions will be aligned with words.

With the good fortune of getting some assignments as the week came to its close and having some cash in hand, I would like to build on those cash reserves but still find lots of temptations that seek to separate me from the cash.

The temptations aren’t just the greatly diminished prices, but also the enhanced premiums that accompany the uncertainty that’s characterizing the market.

That uncertainty is still low by most standards other than for the past couple of years, but taking individual stocks that are either hovering around correction or even bear market declines and adding relatively high premiums, especially if a dividend is also involved, is a difficult combination to walk away from.

The stocks going ex-dividend in the upcoming week that may warrant some attention are EMC Corporation (EMC) and Cisco (CSCO).

I own shares of both and both have recently been disappointing, Cisco, after its most recent earnings report looked as if it was surely going to be assigned away from me, but as so many others got caught up in the sudden downdraft and has fallen 14% since earnings, without any particularly bad news. EMC for its part has dropped nearly 13% in that same time period.

As is also so frequently the case as option premiums are rising, those going ex-dividend may become even more attractive as an increasing portion of the share’s price drop due to the dividend gets subsidized by the option premium.

That is the case for both Cisco and EMC. In the case of EMC, when the ex-dividend is early in the week you could even be excused for writing an in the money call with the hope that the newly purchased shares get assigned, as you could still potentially derive a 1% ROI on such a trade, yet for only a single day of holding.

Cisco, which goes ex-dividend later in the week may be a situation where it is warranted to sell an expanded weekly option for the following week that is also in the money by greater than the amount of the dividend, again in an effort to prompt an early assignment.

Doing so trades off the dividend for additional premium and fewer days of holding so that the cash may potentially be recycled into other income generating positions.

On such position is Comcast (CMCSA) which is ex-dividend the following Monday and if assigned early would have to be done so at the conclusion of this week.

While the entire media landscape in undergoing rapid change and while Comcast has positioned itself as best as it can to withstand the quantum changes, a trade this week is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the shares for the income that it may be able to produce and isn’t a vote of confidence in its strategic initiatives and certainly not of its services.

The intention with Comcast is considering the sale of an in the money October 9 or October 16, 2015 call and as with Cisco or EMC, consider forgoing the dividend.

However, for any of those three dividend related trades, I believe that their prices alone are attractive enough and their option premiums enhanced enough, that even if not assigned early, they are in good position to be candidates for serial sale of call options or even repurchases, if assigned.

As long as considering a Comcast purchase, one of my favorites in the sector is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). I currently own shares and most often consider initiating a new position as an ex-dividend date is approaching.

That won’t be for a while, however, the second criteria that I look at is where its price is relative to its historical trading range and it is currently below the average of my seven previous purchases in the past 16 months.

While little known, it is a major player in the ancient area of terrestrial television broadcasting and has significant family ownership. While owners of Cablevision (CVC) can argue the merits or liabilities of a closely held public company, the only real risk is that of a proposal to take the company private as a result of shares having sunk to ridiculously low levels.

I don’t see that on the horizon, although the old set of rabbit ears may be to blame for any fuzzy forecasting. Instead of relying on high technology and still being available the old fashioned way for free viewing, Sinclair Broadcasting has simply been amassing outlets all over the county and making money the old fashioned way.

As I had done with my current lot of shares, I sold some slightly longer term call options, as Sinclair offers only the monthly variety. Since it reports earnings very early in November and will likely go ex-dividend late that month, I would consider selling out of the money calls, perhaps using the December 2015 options in an effort to capture the dividend, the option premium and some capital gains on shares.

While religious and political luminaries were getting most of the attention this past week, it’s hard to overlook what has unfolded before our eyes at Volkswagen (VLKAY). Regulatory agencies and the courts may be of the belief that you can’t spell “Fahrvergnügen,” Volkswagen’s onetime advertising slogan buzzword, without “Revenge.” Unfortunately, for those owning shares in the major auto manufacturer’s, such as General Motors (GM), last week’s news painted with a very broad brush.

General Motors hasn’t been immune to its own bad news and you do have to wonder if society places greater onus and personal responsibility on the slow deaths that may be promoted by Volkswagen’s falsified diesel emissions testing than by the instantaneous deaths caused by faulty lock mechanisms.

For its part, General Motors appears to really be bargain priced and will likely escape the continued plastering by that broad brush. With an exceptional option premium this week, plumped up by the release of some sales data and a global conference call, GM’s biggest worry after having resolved some significant legal issues will continue to be currency exchange and potential weakness in the Chinese market.

With earnings due to be reported on October 21st, if considering a purchase of General Motors shares, I would think about a weekly or expanded weekly option sale, or simply bypassing the events and going straight to December, in an effort to also collect the generous dividend and possibly some capital gains while having some additional time to recover from any bad news at earnings.

MetLife (MET) is a stock that is beautifully reflective of its dependency on interest rates. As rates were moving higher and the crowd believed that would go even higher, MetLife followed suit.

Of course, the same happened when those interest rate expectations weren’t met.

Now, however, it appears that those rates will be getting a boost sooner, rather than later, as the FOMC seems to be publicly acknowledging its interests in a broad range of matters, including global events and perhaps even stock market events.

With a recently announced share buyback, those shares are now very attractively priced, even after Friday’s nearly 2% gain.

With earnings expected at the end of the month, I would consider the purchase of shares coupled with the sale of some out of the money calls, hoping to capitalize on both capital gains and bigger than usual option premiums. In the event that shares aren’t assigned prior to earnings, I would consider then selling a November 20 call in an effort to bypass earnings risk and perhaps also capture the next dividend.

Finally, I’ve been anxious to once again own eBay (EBAY) and have waited patiently for its price to decline to a more appealing level. While most acknowledge that eBay gave away its growth prospects when it completed the PayPal (PYPL) spin-off, it has actually out-performed the latter since that spin-off, despite being down  nearly 12%.

While eBay isn’t expected to be a very exciting stock performer, it hadn’t been one for years, yet was still a very attractive covered option trading vehicle, as it’s share price was punctuated by large moves, usually earnings related. Those moves gave option buyers a reason to demand and a reason for sellers to acquiesce.

That hasn’t changed and the volatility induced premiums are as healthy as they have been in years. As that volatility rises in the stock and in the overall market, there’s more and more benefit to be gained from selling in the money options both for enhanced premium and for downside protection.

It would be good to welcome eBay back into my portfolio. Even if it won’t keep me warm, I could likely buy someone else’s flea bitten blanket at a great price, using its wonderful services.

 

Traditional Stocks:  eBay, General Motors, MetLife, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (10/5 $0.25), Cisco (10/1 $0.21), EMC Corp (9/29 $0.12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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

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