Weekend Update – May 24, 2015

There was a time, a long time ago, that people actually made telephone calls and the ones on the receiving end didn’t have Caller ID to screen those calls.

Back in those days, without any screening device, there were lots of wrong numbers. Sometimes, if it got to the point that you actually began to recognize the voice on the other end, those wrong numbers could become annoying. Of course, the time of the day also played a role in just how annoying those wrong numbers could be and they always seemed to come at the worst of times.

For example, just imagine how bad the timing might be if you discovered that the wrong GDP numbers had played a role, maybe a major role, in helping stock markets move higher in the belief that interest rate increases weren’t going to be imminent.

Somehow, that’s not as funny as the intentionally wrong number prank phone calls made by Bart Simpson.

Although anyone could make the honest mistake of dialing a wrong number, in the back of your mind you always wondered what kind of an idiot doesn’t know how to dial? After all, it was just a simple question of transposing numbers into action.

Otherwise, numbers were a thing of beauty and simply reflected the genius of mankind in their recognition and manipulations.

For many years I loved arithmetic and then I learned to really enjoy mathematics. The concept that “numbers don’t lie” had lots of meaning to me until I learned about interpretative statistics and came to realize that numbers may not lie, but people can coerce them into compromising themselves to the point that the numbers themselves are blamed.

As we’ve all been on an FOMC watch trying to predict when a data driven Federal Reserve would begin the process of increasing rates it’s a little disconcerting to learn that one of the key input numbers, the GDP, may not have been terribly accurate.

In other words, the numbers themselves may have lied.

As those GDP reports had been coming in over the past few months and had been consistently disappointing to our expectations, many wondered how they could possibly be reflecting a reality that seemed to be so opposite to what logic had suggested would be the case.

But faced with the sanctity of numbers it seemed a worthless exercise to question the illogical.

While many of us are wary of economic statistics that we see coming from overseas, particularly what may be self-serving numbers from China, there’s basically been a sense that official US government reports, while subject to revision, are at least consistent in their accuracy or inaccuracy, as the methodology is non-discriminatory and applied equally.

It really comes as a blow to confidence when the discovery is made that the methodology itself may be flawed and that it may not be a consistently applied flaw.

The word for that, one that we heard all week long, was “seasonality.”

The realization that the first quarter GDP was inaccurate puts last month’s FOMC minutes released this past week in a completely different light. While the FOMC Governors may not have been inclined to increase rates as early as this upcoming June’s meeting, that inclination may at least have been partially based upon erroneous data. That erroneous data, although perhaps isolated to a particular time of the year, therefore, may also impact the rate of change observed in subsequent periods. Those projected trends are the logical extension of discrete data points and may also contribute to policy decisions.

But not so readily once you find that you may have been living a lie.

Next week, a holiday shortened trading week, ends with the release of the GDP and may leave us with the question of just what to do with that data.

This past Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen gave an address and didn’t offer any new insights into the thoughts of the FOMC, particularly as the issue of the integrity of data was concerned.

With the S&P 500 resting for the week at what may either be a resistance level or a support level, what she also didn’t do was to offer stock market bulls a reason to believe that a dovish FOMC would take a June interest rate increase off the table to offer a launching pad.

As the market sits right below its record closing highs and with earnings season begin to wind down, taking those always questionable numbers away with them until the next earnings season begins in less than 2 months, all we have left is the trust in the consistency and accuracy of economic reports. However, taking a look at both the Shanghai and Hang Seng Indexes, maybe questionable numbers isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) and Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) have been very much linked in people’s minds ever since Coach’s very disappointing sales and earnings report in July 2013. At that time the storyline was that Coach was staid and uninteresting and had been supplanted in all ways by Kors.

To a large degree that mindset still continues, despite Kors steep descent from its highs of 2014. What has gone unnoticed, however, is that other than for the 6 month period after that disastrous earnings report in 2013, Coach shares have actually out-performed Kors through most of the time thereafter.

Coach didn’t fare terribly well after its most recent earnings report and its price has since returned back to where it had built a comfortable base. With an ex-dividend date upcoming the following week I think that I’m ready to add shares to a more expensive pre-existing lot that has been waiting for more than a year to be assigned and the past 8 months to be joined by another lot to help alleviate its misery.

With that upcoming dividend and with this week being a shortened trading week and offering lessened option premiums, I would likely consider a purchase of Coach shares and the sale of an extended weekly option, probably also seeking some capital gains on shares by using an out of the money strike price.

Kors on the other hand is reporting earnings this week and the option market is implying a 7.5% price movement. While not a very big differential, a 1% ROI may be achieved with the sale of a weekly put option if the shares fall less than 8.3% next week. If willing to add an additional week to the put contract expiration that would allow a fall of almost 10% before being at risk of assignment of shares.

Normally I don’t like to go more than a week at a time on a put sale unless needing to rollover a put that is deep in the money in order to prevent or delay assignment. However, the premiums this week are somewhat lower because of the holiday and that means that risk is a little bit higher if selling puts with a particular ROI as a goal in mind.

While Coach has been resistant to being buried and cast away, it’s hard to find a company that has had more requiems written for it than GameStop (NYSE:GME).

With game makers having done well of late there may be reason to delay a public performance of any requiem for yet another quarter as GameStop continues to confound investors who have long made it a very popular short position.

Unlike Kors, which pays no dividend, I do factor a dividend into the equation if selling puts in advance or after earnings are reported. GameStop reports earnings this week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the June 2015 option cycle.

With the option market having an implied price move of 6.2% as earnings are released, a 1% ROI can be achieved with the sale of a weekly put if shares don’t fall more than 6.8%. However, if faced with assignment, I would try to rollover the put options unless the ex-dividend date is announced and it is in the coming week. In that event, I would take assignment and consider the sale of calls with the added goal of also capturing the dividend.

I’ve been waiting a long time to re-purchase shares of Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) and always seem drawn to it as it is about to go ex-dividend. This week’s ex-dividend date arrives at a time when shares are approaching their yearly low point. I tend to like that combination particularly when occurring in a company that is otherwise not terribly volatile nor prone to surprises.

As with some other trades this week I might consider bypassing the weekly option and looking at an extended weekly option to try to offset some of the relatively higher transaction costs occurring in a holiday shortened week.

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is also ex-dividend this week and seems to have found stability after some tumultuous trading after its January 2015 earnings report. With some upcoming technology and telecom conferences over the next 2 weeks there may be some comments or observations to shake up that stability between now and its next earnings report. However, if open to that risk, shares do offer both an attractive option premium and dividend.

With shares currently situated closer to its yearly low than its high it is another position that I would consider selling an extended weekly option and seeking to also get some capital gains on shares by using an out of the money strike price.

Finally, retail hasn’t necessarily been a shining beacon of light and whatever suspicions may surround the GDP, there’s not too much question that retailers haven’t posted the kind of revenues that would support a consumer led expansion of the economy, although strangely shoes may be exception.

One of the more volatile of the shoe companies has been Deckers Outdoor (NYSE:DECK) and if the option market is any judge, it is again expected to be volatile as it rep
orts earnings this week.

The option market is implying a 10.5% price move in one direction or another this coming week as earnings are released and guidance provided.

Meanwhile, a 1% ROI could potentially be achieved from the sale of a put option if the shares don’t fall more than 15.4%. That’s quite a differential and may be enough to mitigate the risk in the shares of a company that are very prone to significant ups and downs.

As with Kors, there is no dividend to factor into any decision if faced with the need to either embrace or avoid assignment. In that event, I would likely try to roll the put options over to a forward week in an attempt to outlast any decline in share price and wait out price recovery, while still generating premium income.

That sounds good on paper and when it does work out that way, adding up all of those premiums on a piece of paper reminds you how beautiful simple numbers can still be.

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double Dip Dividend: Baxter International (5/28), Qualcomm (6/1)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Deckers (5/28), GameStop (5/28 PM), Kors (5/27 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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Weekend Update – August 31, 2014

You really can’t blame the markets for wanting to remain ignorant of what is going on around it.

When you’re having a party that just doesn’t seem to want to end the last thing you want to do is answer that unexpected knock on the door, especially when you can see a flashing red and blue light projected onto your walls.

The recent pattern has been a rational one in that any bad news has been treated as bad news. The market has demonstrated a great deal of nervousness surrounding uncertainty, particularly of a geo-political nature and there has been no shortage of that kind of news lately.

On the other hand, the market has thrived during a summer time environment that has been devoid of any news. Over the past four weeks that market has had its climb higher interrupted briefly only by occasional rumors of geo-political conflict.

Given the market’s reaction to such news which seemingly is accelerating from different corners of the world, the solution is fairly simple. But it was only this week that the obvious solution was put into action. Like any young child who wants only to do what he wants to do, the strategy is to hear only what you want to hear and ignore the rest.

Had the events of this week occurred earlier in the summer we might have been looking at another of the mini-corrections we’ve seen over the past two years and perhaps more. The additive impact of learning of Russian soldiers crossing the Ukraine border, Great Britain’s decision to elevate their Terror Alert level to “Severe” and President Obama’s comment that the United States did not yet have a strategy to  deal with ISIS, would have put a pause to any buying spree.

Instead, this week we heard none of those warnings and simply marched higher to even more new record closes, even ignoring the traditional warning to not go into a weekend of uncertainty with net long positions.

To compound the flagrant flaunting the market closed at another new high as we entered into a long holiday weekend. As we return to trading after its celebration the incentive to continue ignoring the world and environment around us can only be reinforced when learning that this past month was the best performing month of August in more than 10 years.

Marking the fourth consecutive week moving higher, the July worries of spiking volatility and a declining market are ancient history, occurring back in the days when we actually cared and actually listened.

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

Bank of America (BAC) may be a good example of ignoring news, although it could also be an example of  the relief that accompanies the baring of news. The finality of its recent $17 billion settlement stemming from its role in the financial crisis was a spur to the financial sector.

Shares go ex-dividend this week and represent the first distribution of its newly raised dividend. While still nothing worthy of chasing and despite the recent climb higher, the elimination of such significant uncertainty can see shares trading increasingly on fundamentals and increasingly becoming less of a speculative purchase as its beta has plunged in the past year.

With thoughts of conflict related risk continuing to be on my mind there’s reason to consider positions that may have some relative immunity to those risks. This week, however, the reward for selling options is unusually low. Not only is the extraordinarily depressed volatility so adversely impacting those premiums, but there are only four days of time value during this trade shortened week. Looking to use something other than a weekly option doesn’t offer much in the way of relief from the low volatility, so I’m not terribly enthusiastic about spending down cash reserves this coming week, particularly at market highs.

Still, there can always be an opportunity in the making. With the exceptions of the first and last selections for this week, like last week I’m drawn to positions that have under-performed the S&P 500 during the summer’s advance.

^SPX ChartThere was a time that Altria (MO) was one of my favorite stocks. Not one of my favorite companies, just one of my favorite stocks, thanks to drawing on the logic of the expression “hate the sin and not the sinner.”

Back in the old days, before it spun off Philip Morris (PM) it was one of those “triple threat” stocks. It offered a great dividend, great option premiums and the opportunity for share gains, as well. Even better, it did so with relatively little risk.

These days it’s not a very exciting stock, although it still offers a great dividend, but not a terribly compelling option premium, especially as the ex-dividend date approaches. However, during a time when geo-political events may take center stage, there may be some added safety in a company that is rarely associated with the word “safe,” other than in a negative context.

Colgate Palmolive (CL) isn’t a terribly exciting stock, but in the face of unwanted excitement, who needs to add to that fiery mix? Last week I added shares of Kellogg (K), another boring kind of position, but both represent some flight to safety. 

Trailing the S&P 500 by 8% during the summer, shares of Colgate Palmolive could reasonably be expected to have an additional degree of safety afforded from that recent decline and that adds to its appeal at a time when risk may be otherwise be an equal opportunity destroyer of assets.

YUM Brands (YUM) and Las Vegas Sands (LVS) both have much of their fortunes tied up in China and both have come down quite a bit during the summer.

YUM Brands has shown some stability of late and I would be happy to see it trading in the doldrums for a while, as that’s the best way to accumulate option premiums. WHile doing bu
siness is always a risk in China, there is, at least, little concern for exposure to other worldwide risks and YUM may have now weathered its latest food safety challenge.

Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, may not yet have seen the bottom to the concerns related to the vibrancy of gaming in Macao. However, the concerns now seem to be overdo and expectations seem to have been sufficiently lowered, setting the stage for upside surprises, as has been the situation in the past. As with concerns regarding decreased business at YUM due to economic downturns, once you get the taste for fast food or gambling, it’s hard to cut down on their addictive hold.

T-Mobile (TMUS), despite the high profile it maintains, thanks to the efforts of its CEO, John Legere, has somehow still managed to trail the S&P500 during the summer. This past week’s comments by parent Deutsche Telecom (DTEGY) seemed to imply that they would be happy to sell their interests for a $35 price on shares. They may be willing to take even less if a potential suitor would also take possession of John Legere, no questions asked.

I think that in the longer term the T-Mobile story will not end well, as there is reason to question the sustainability of its strategy to attract customers and its limited spectrum. It needs a partner with both cash and spectrum. However, since I don;t particularly look at the longer term picture when looking for weekly selections, I’m interested in replacing the shares that were assigned this past week, as its premium is very attractive.

Whole Foods (WFM) is another position that I had assigned this past week, while I still sit on a much more expensive lot. On the slightest pullback in price, or even stability in share price, I would consider a re-purchase of shares, as it appears Whole FOods is finding considerable support at its current level and has digested a year’s worth of bad news.

In an environment that has witnessed significant erosion in option premiums, Whole Foods has recently started moving in the opposite direction. Its option premiums have seen an increase in price, probably reflecting broader belief that shares are under-valued and ready to move higher. Although I’ve been adding shares in an attempt to offset paper losses from that more expensive lot, I believe that any new positions are warranted on their own at this level and would even consider rolling over positions that are likely to be assigned in order to accumulate these enriched premiums.

I currently have no technology sector holdings and have been anxious to add some. With distrust of “new technology” and “old technology” having appreciated so much in the past few months, it has been difficult to find suitable candidates.

Both SanDisk (SNDK) and QualComm (QCOM) have failed to match the performance recently of the S&P 500 and may be worthy of some consideration, although they both may have some more downside risk potential during a period of market uncertainty.

Among challenges that QualComm may face is that it is not collecting payment for its products. That is just another of the myriad of problems that may confront those doing business in China, as QualComm, and others, such as Microsoft (MSFT), may not be receiving sufficient licensing fee payments due to under-reporting of device sales.

In addition, it may also be facing a challenge to its supremacy in providing the chips that connect devices to cellular networks worldwide as Intel (INTC) and others may be poised to add to their market share at QualComm’s expense.

For those believing that the bad news has now been factored into QualComm’s share price, having resulted in nearly a 7% loss as compared to the S&P 500 performance, there may be opportunity to establish a position at this point, although continued adverse news could test support some 6% lower.

SanDisk certainly didn’t inspire much confidence this week as a number of executives and directors sold a portion of their positions.

I don’t have any particular bias as to the meaning of such sales. SanDisk’s price trajectory over the past year certainly leaves significant downside risk, however, the management of this company has consistently steered it against a torrent of  pessimistic waves, as it has survived commoditization of its core products. The risk of share ownership is mitigated by its option premium, that has resisted some of the general declines seen elsewhere, perhaps reflective of the perceived risk.

Finally, Coach (COH) has recently been in my doghouse, despite the fact that it has been a very reliable friend over the course of the past two years. But human nature being what it is, it’s hard to escape the question “what have you done for me lately?”

That’s the case because my most recent lot of Coach was purchased after earnings when it fell sharply and then surprised me by continuing to do so in a significant manner afterward, as well. Unlike with some other earnings related drops over the past two years this most recent one has had an extended recovery period, but I think that it is finally getting started.

The timing may be helped a little bit with shares going ex-dividend this week. That dividend is presumably safe, as management has committed toward maintaining it, although some have questioned how long Coach can continue to do so.

I choose not to listen to those fears.

Traditional Stocks: Altria, Colgate Palmolive, QualComm, Whole Foods, YUM Brands

Momentum:  Las Vegas Sands, SanDisk, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (9/3), Coach (9/5)

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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Copyright 2014 TheAcsMan