Weekend Update – December 7, 2014

Trying to listen to the President put forth some statistics regarding the employment situation in the United States this past week was difficult, as my attention was captured by the festive holiday backdrop.

Holding a prominent position next to our nation’s flag was what appeared to be a symbol that perhaps reflected official endorsement of Bacchanalian celebrations, together with the more traditionally accepted holiday decorations. Enlarging the photo did nothing to re-direct my imagination.

The President’s exploring the good news contained in the Employment Situation Report and trumpeting the trend in employment statistics may have been his muted version of a Bacchanalian victory lap, of sorts.

Focusing on that background item for as long as I did in wonderment caused me to lose sight of what should probably be recognized, as Friday’s Employment Situation Report indicated the addition of more than 300,000 new jobs in the past month, as well as a substantial upward revision to the previous month.

I guess that I wasn’t alone in losing focus about what’s been going on in the economy, as later that day during one of their now ubiquitous polls, CNBC viewers were asked whether President Obama was good for the stock market.

I suppose the answer may depend on the criteria one uses to define “good.” as well as whether one believes that things would have been better without him or his economic policies, or whether their time frame is forward or backward looking. read more

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Weekend Update – December 8, 2013

Sometimes good things can go good.

Anyone who remembers the abysmal state of television during the turn of this century recalls the spate of shows that sought to shock our natural order and expectations by illustrating good things gone bad. There were dogs, girls, police officers and others. They appealed to viewers because human nature had expectations and somehow enjoyed having those expectations upended.

That aspect of human nature can be summed up as “it’s fun when it happens to other people.”

For those that loved that genre of television show, they would have loved the stock markets of the last few years, particularly since the introduction of Quantitative Easing. That’s when good news became bad and bad news became good. Our ways of looking at the world around us and all of our expectations became upended.

Like everyone else, I blame or credit Quantitative Easing for everything that has happened in the past few years, maybe even the continued death of Disco. Who knew that pumping so much money into anything could possibly be looked at in a negative way despite having possibly saved the free world’s economies? While many decried the policy, they loved the result, in a reflection of the purest of all human qualities – the ability to hate the sinner, but love the sin.

Then again, I suppose that stopping such a thing could only subsequently be considered to be good, but rational thought isn’t a hallmark of event and data driven investing.

With so many believing that all of the most recent gains in the market could only have occurred with Federal Reserve intervention, anything that threatens to reduce that intervention has been considered as adverse to the market’s short term performance. That means good news, such as job growth, has been interpreted as having negative consequences for markets, because it would slow the flow. Bad news simply meant that the punch bowl would continue to be replenished.

For the very briefest of periods, basically lasting during the time that it wasn’t clear who would be the successor to Ben Bernanke, the market treated news on its face value, perhaps believing that in a state of leadership limbo nothing would change to upset the party.

It had been a long time since good news resulted in a market responding appropriately and celebrating the good fortune by creating more fortunes. This past week started with that annoying habit of taking news and believing that only a child’s version of reverse psychology was appropriate in interpreting information, but the week ended with a more adult-like response, perhaps a signal that the market has come to peace with idea that tapering is going to occur and is ready to move forward on the merits of news rather than conjecture of mass behavior.

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

Coming off a nearly 200 point advance on Friday what had initially looked like relative bargains were now pricey in comparison and at risk to retrace their advances.

While last week was one in which dividends were a primary source of my happiness, unfortunately this week is not likely to be the same. As in life where I just have to get by on my looks, this week I’ll have to get by on new purchases that hopefully don’t do anything stupid and have a reasonable likelihood of being assigned or having their calls rolled over to another point in the near future. The principle reason for that is that most of the stocks going ex-dividend this week that have some appeal for me only have monthly options available. Since I’m already overloaded on options expiring at the end of the this monthly cycle my interests are limited to those that have weekly options. With volatility and subsequently premiums so low, as much as I’d like to diversify by using expanded options, they don’t offer much solace in their forward week premiums.

While the energy sector may be a little bit of a mine field these days, particularly with Iran coming back on line, Williams Companies (WMB) fits the profile that I’ve been looking for and is especially appealing this week as it goes ex-dividend. Williams has been able to trade in a range, but takes regular visits to the limits of the range and often enough to keep its option premium respectable. With no real interest in longer term or macro-economic issues, I see Williams for what it has reliably been over the course of the past 16 months and 9 trades. Despite its current price being barely 6% higher than my average cost of shares, it has generated about 35% in premiums, dividends and share appreciation.

Another ex-dividend stock this week is Macys (M). Retail is another minefield of late, but Macys has not only been faring better than most of the rest, it has also just hit its year’s high this past week. Ordinarily that would send me in the opposite direction, particularly given the recent rise. With the critical holiday shopping season in full gear, some will have their hopes crushed, but someone has to be a winner. Macys has the generic appeal and non-descript vibe to welcome all comers. While I wouldn’t mind a quick dividend and option premium and then exit, it is a stock that I could live with for a longer time, if necessary.

Citibank (C) is no longer quite the minefield that it had been. It may be an example of a good stock, gone bad, now gone good again. When I look at its $50 price it reminds me of well known banking analysts Dick Bove, who called for Citibank to hold onto the $50 price as the financial meltdown was just heating up. Fast forward five years and Bove was absolutely correct, give or take a 1 to 10 reverse split.

But these days Citibank is back, albeit trading with more volatility than back in the old days. I’m under-invested in the financial sector, which didn’t fare well last week. If the contention that this is a market that corrects itself through its sector rotation, then this may be a time to consider loading up on financials, particularly as there are hints of interest rate rises. Citibank’s beta inserts some more excitement into the proposition, however.

Like many others, Dow Chemical (DOW) took its knocks last week before recovering much of its loss. Also like many that I am attracted toward, it has been trading in a price range and has been thwarted by attempts to break out of that range. Mindful of a market that is pushing against its highs, this is a stock that I don’t mind owning for longer than most other holdings, if necessary. The generous dividend helps the patient investor wait on the event of a price reversal. For those a little longer term oriented, Dow Chemical may also be a good addition for a portfolio that sells LEAPs.

Like all but one of this week’s selections, I have owned shares of International Paper (IP) on a number of occasions in the past year. While shares are now well off of their undeserved recent lows there is still ample upside opportunity and shares seemed to have created support at the $45 level. My preference, as with some other stocks on this week’s list is that a little of the past week’s late gains be retraced, but that’s not a necessary condition for re-purchasing International Paper.

Baxter International (BAX) has been also in a trading range of late having been boxed in by worries related to competition in its hemophilia product lines to concerns over the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. Also having recovered some of its past week’s losses it, too, is trading at the mid-point of its recent range and doesn’t appear to have any near term catalysts to see it break below its trading range. The availability of expanded options provide some greater flexibility when holding shares.

Joy Global (JOY) had been on an upswing of late but has subsequently given back about 5% from its recent high. It reports earnings this week and its implied price move is nearly 6%. However, its option pricing doesn’t offer premiums enhanced by earnings for any strike levels beyond that are beyond the implied move. While a frequent position, including having had shares assigned this past week, the risk/reward is not sufficient to purchase shares or sell puts prior to the earnings release. However, in the event hat shares do drop, I would consider purchasing shares if it trades below $52.50, as that has been a very comfortable place to initiate positions and sell calls.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) on the other hand, has an implied move of about 8% and can potentially return 1.1% even if the stock falls nearly 9%. In this jittery market a 9% drop isn’t even attention getting, but a 20% drop , such as LuLuLemon experienced in June 2013 does get noticed. Its shares are certainly able to have out-sized moves, but it has already weathered quite a few challenges, ranging from product recalls, the announced resignation of its CEO and comments from its founder that may have insulted current and potential customers. I don’t expect a drop similar to that seen in December 2012, but can justify owning shares in the event of an earnings related drop.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD), long a favorite of mine, is generally a fairly staid company, as far as staying out of the news for items not related to its core business. It can often trade with some volatility, especially as it has a habit of providing less than sanguine guidance and the street hasn’t yet learned to ignore the pessimistic outlook, as RIverbed tends to report very much in line with expectations. Recently the world of activist investors knocked on Riverbed’s doors and they responded by enacting a “poison pill.” While I wouldn’t suggest considering adding shares solely on the basis of the prompting from activist investors, Riverbed has long offered a very enticing risk/reward proposition when selling covered calls or puts. It is one of the few positions that I sometimes consider a longer term option sale when purchasing shares or rolling over option contracts.

Finally, and this is certainly getting to be a broken record, but eBay (EBAY) has once again fulfilled prophecy by trading within the range that was used as an indictment of owning shares. For yet another week I had two differently priced lots of eBay shares assigned and am anxious to have the opportunity to re-purchase if they approach $52, or don’t get higher than $52.50. While there may be many reasons to not have much confidence in eBay to lead the market or to believe that its long term strategy is destined to crumble, sometimes it’s worthwhile having your vision restricted to the tip of your nose.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Macys (ex-div 12/11), Williams Co (ex-div 12/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/11 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (12/12 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 – November 3, 2013

Some things are just unappreciated until they’re gone.

If you can remember those heady days of 2007, it seemed as if every day we were hitting new market highs and everyone was talking about it when not busy flipping houses.

Some will make the case that is the perfect example of a bubble about to burst, similar to when a bar of gold bullion appears on the cover of TIME magazine, just in time to mark the end of a bull run.

On the other hand, when everyone is suddenly talking about perhaps currently being in a bubble it may be a good time to plan for even more of a good thing.

That’s emblematic of the confusion swirling in our current markets. Earnings are up. Better than expected by most counts, yet revenues are down. The stock market can do only one thing and so it goes higher.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, 2013 has been a year of hitting record after record. Yet the buzz is absent, although house flipping is back. Not that I go to many social events but not many are talking about how wild the market has been. That’s markedly different from 2007.

Listening to those who purport to know about human behavior and markets, that means that we are not yet in a stock market bubble and as such, the market will only go higher, yet that’s at odds with the rampant bubble speculation that is being promoted in some media.

I’m a little more cynical. I see the paucity of excitement as being reflective of investors who have come to believe that consistently higher markets are an entitlement and have subsequently lost their true value. No one seems to appreciate a new record setting close, anymore. The belief in the right to a growing portfolio is no different from the right to use a calculator on an exam. Along with that right comes the loss of ability and appreciation of that ability.

Without spellchecker, the editors at Seeking Alpha would have a hard time distinguishing me from a third grader, but spelling really isn’t something I need to due. It’s just done for me.

While many were unprepared in 2007 because they were caught up in a bubble, 2013 may be different. In 2007 the feeling was that it could only get better and better, so why exercise caution? But in 2013 the feeling may be that there is nothing unusual going on, so what is there to be cautious about?

AS markets do head higher those heights are increasingly met with ennui instead of wonder and awe. It’s barely been more than five years since we last felt the wrath of an over-extended market but I’m certain that the new daily records will be missed once they’re gone.

As a normally cautious person when it comes to investing, but not terribly willing to sacrifice returns for caution my outlook changes with frequency as new funds find their way into my account after the previous week’s assignment of options I had sold.

This past week I didn’t have as many assignments as I had expected owing to some late price drops on Friday, so I’m not as likely to go on a spending spree this coming week, as I don’t want to dig deeply into my cash reserve. This week I’m inclined to think more in terms of dividend paying stocks and relatively few higher beta names, although opportunity is situational and Monday morning’s opening bell may bring surprise action. I appreciate surprise and for the record, I appreciate every single bit of share appreciation and income that comes my way as a gift from this market.

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

I currently own shares of MetLife (MET) and have done so several times this year. MetLife reported earnings this past week. They reported a nearly $2 billion turnaround in profits, but missed estimates, despite strength in every metric. They re-affirmed that a lower interest rate environment, as might be expected with a continuation of Quantitative Easing, could impact its assets’ performance in the coming year. That was the same news that created a buying opportunity in the previous quarter, so it should not have come as too much of a surprise. What did, however come as a surprise was the announcement that MetLife would no longer be offering earnings per share guidance. According to its CEO “we will instead expand our discussion of key financial metrics and business drivers, creating a more informed view of MetLife’s future prospects.” The price drop and it’s ex-dividend date this week make it a likely candidate for using my limited funds this week.

I’ve long believed that Robert ben Mosche, CEO of AIG (AIG) was something of a saint. Coming out of comfortable retirement in Croatia to attempt an AIG rescue, he continued on his quest even while battling cancer and still found the time to re-pay AIG’s very sizeable debt to US taxpayers. Who needs that sort of thing when you can live like royalty off the Mediterranean coast?

AIG was punished after reporting earnings this past week. It’s hard to say whether the in line earnings, but slightly lower revenue was to blame for the nearly 7% drop or whether joining forces with MetLife was to blame. Not that they literally joined forces, it’s just that ben Mosche announced that AIG will no longer comment on its “aspirational goals,” which was a way of saying that they too were no longer going to provide guidance. I haven’t owned shares in 2 months and that was at a lower price point than even after the large Friday drop, but I think the opportunity has re-arrived.

Wells Fargo (WFC) goes ex-dividend this week and as much as I’ve silently prayed for its share price to drop back to levels that I last owned them, it just hasn’t worked out that way. To a large degree Wells Fargo has stayed above the various banking controversies and has deflected much of the blame and scrutiny accorded others. At some point it becomes clear that prices aren’t likely to drop significantly in the near term, so it may be time to capitulate and get back on the wagon. However, what does give me some solace is that shares have trailed the S&P 500 during the three time frames that I have been recently using, each representing a near term top of the market; May 21, August 2 and September 19, 2013.

In the world of big pharma, Merck (MRK) has shared in little of the price strength seen by some others. In fact, of late, the best Merck has been able to do to prompt its shares higher have all come on the less constructive side of the ledger. Only the announcement of workforce reductions and other cost cutting steps have been viewed positively.

But at some point a value proposition is created which isn’t necessarily tied to pipelines or other factors pertinent to long term price health. In this case, a quick 7% price drop is enough to warrant consideration of a company paying an attractive dividend and offering appealing enough option premiums to sustain interest in shares even if they stagnate while awaiting the next price catalysts. Besides, if you’re selling covered calls, there’s nothing better than share price stagnation.

What is a week without drawing comparisons between Michael Kors (KORS) and Coach (COH)? Coach has become everyone’s favorite company to disparage, although on any given day it may exchange places with Caterpillar. Kors, is of course, the challenger that has displaced Coach in the hearts of investors and shoppers. Having sold Coach puts in advance of earnings and then purchasing shares even after those expired, those were assigned this past week. However, at this price level Coach is still an appealing covered option purchase and well suited for a short term strategy, even if there is validity to the thesis that it is ceding ground to Kors.

Kors, on the other hand, is doing everything right, including entering the S&P 500. It’s hard not to acknowledge its price ascent, even after a large secondary offering. While I know nothing of fashion and have no basis by which to compare Coach and Kors, I do know that as Kors reports earnings this week the option market is implying approximately 7.5% price move in either direction. However, anything less than a 10% decline in price can still deliver a 1% ROI

Williams Companies (WMB) is one of those companies that seems to fly under the radar. Although I’ve owned shares many times there has never been a reason compelling me to do so on the basis of its business fundamentals. Instead, ownership has always been prompted by an upcoming dividend or a sudden price reversal. In this case I just had shares assigned prior to earnings, which initially saw a big spike in price and then an equally large drop, bringing it right back to the level that I have found to be a comfortable entry point.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reported earnings last week and I did not purchase additional shares or sell puts, as I thought I might. Too bad, because the company acquitted itself well and shares moved higher. I think that shares are just starting and while RIverbed Technology has probably been my most lucrative trading partner over the years, purely on the basis of option premiums, this time around I am unlikely to write call options on all new shares, as I think $18 is the next stop before year end, particularly if the overall market doesn’t correct.

What can anyone add to the volumes that have been said about Apple (AAPL) and Intel (INTC)? Looking for insights is not a very productive endeavor, as the only new information is likely to currently exist only as insider information. Both are on recent upswings and both have healthy dividends that get my attention because of their ex-dividend dates this week. Intel offers nothing terribly exciting other than its dividend, but has been adding to its price in a stealth fashion of late, possibly resulting in the assignment of some of my current shares that represent one of the longest of my holdings, going back to September 2012. While I have always liked Intel it hasn’t always been a good covered call stock because when shares did drop, such as after earnings, the subsequent price climbs took far too long to continually be able to collect option premiums. However, without any foreseeable near term catalysts for a significant price drop it offers some opportunities for a quick premium, dividend and perhaps share appreciation, as well.

Finally, in its short history of paying dividends Apple’s shares have predominantly moved higher after going ex-dividend, although there was one notable exception. Given the factors that may be supporting Apple’s current price levels, including pressure from activist investors and Apple’s own buybacks, I’m not overly concerned about the single historical precedence and think that the triumvirate of option premium, dividend and share appreciation makes it a good addition to even a conservative portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Merck, Williams Companies

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Apple (ex-div 11/6), Intel (ex-div 11/5), MetLife (ex-div 11/6), Wells Fargo (ex-div 11/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (11/5 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 – October 27, 2013

Watching Congressional testimony being given earlier this week by representatives of the various companies who were charged with the responsibility of assembling a functioning web site to coordinate enrollment in the Affordable Care Act it was clear that no one understood the concept of responsibility.

They did, however, understand the concept of blame and they all looked to the same place to assign that blame.

As a result there are increased calls for the firing or resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. After all, she, in essence, is the CEO.

On the other hand, it was also a week that saw one billionaire, Bill Gross, the “Bond King” of PIMCO deign to give unsolicited advice to another billionaire, Carl Icahn, in how he should use his talents more responsibly. But then again, the latter made a big splash last week by trying to convince a future billionaire, Tim Cook, of the responsible way to deal with his $150 billion of cash on hand. Going hand in hand with a general desire to impart responsibility is the tendency to wag a finger.

Taking blame and accepting responsibility are essentially the same but both are in rare supply through all aspects of life.

This was an incredibly boring week, almost entirely devoid of news, other than for earnings reports and an outdated Employment Situation Report. The torrent of earnings reports were notable for some big misses, lots of lowered guidance and a range of excuses that made me wonder about the issue of corporate responsibility and how rarely there are cries for firings or resignations by the leaders of companies that fail to deliver as expected.

For me, corporate responsibility isn’t necessarily the touchy-feely kind or the environmentalist kind, but rather the responsibility to know how to grow revenues in a cost-efficient manner and then make business forecasts that reflect operations and the challenges faced externally. It is upon an implied sense of trust that individuals feel a certain degree of comfort or security investing assets in a company abiding by those tenets.

During earnings season it sometimes becomes clear that living up to that responsibility isn’t always the case. For many wishing to escape the blame the recent government shutdown has been a godsend and has already been cited as the reason for lowered guidance even when the business related connection is tenuous. Instead of cleaning up one’s own mess it’s far easier to lay blame.

For my money, the ideal CEO is Jamie Dimon, of JP Morgan Chase (JPM). Burdened with the legacy liabilities of Bear Stearns and others, in addition to rogue trading overseas, he just continues to run operations that generate increasing revenues and profits and still has the time to accept responsibility and blame for things never remotely under his watch. Of course, the feeling of being doubly punished as an investor, first by the losses and then by the fines may overwhelm any feelings of respect.

Even in cases of widely perceived mismanagement or lack of vision, the ultimate price is rarely borne by the one ultimately responsible. Instead, those good earnings in the absence of revenues came at the expense of those who generally shouldered little responsibility but assumed much of the blame. While Carl Icahn may not be able to make such a case with regard to Apple, the coziness of the boardroom is a perfect place to abdicate responsibility and shift blame.

Imagine how convenient it would be if the individual investor could pass blame and its attendant burdens to those wreaking havoc in management rather than having to shoulder that burden of someone else’s doing as they watch share prices fall.

Instead, I aspire to “Be Like Jamie,” and just move on, whether it is a recent plunge by Caterpillar (CAT) or any others endured over the years.

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

Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW) was everyone’s favorite prior to the banking meltdown and was a perennial guest on financial news shows. His star faded quickly when Dow Chemical fell to its lows during the financial crisis and calls for his ouster were rampant. Coincidentally, you didn’t see his ever-present face for quite a while. Those calls have halted, as Liveris has steadily delivered, having seen shares appreciate over 450% from the market lows, as compared to 157% for the S&P 500. Shares recently fell after earnings and is closing in to the level that I would consider a re-entry point. Now offering weekly option contracts, always appealing premiums and a good dividend, Dow Chemical has been a reliable stock for a covered option strategy portfolio and Andrew Liveris has had a reliable appearance schedule to match.

A company about to change leadership, Coach (COH) has been criticized and just about left for dead by most everyone. Coach reported earnings last week and for a short while I thought that the puts I had sold might get assigned or be poised for rollover. While shares recovered from their large drop, I was a little disappointed at the week ending rally, as I liked the idea of a $48 entry level. However, given its price history and response to the current level, I think that ownership is still warranted, even with that bounce. Like Dow Chemical, the introduction of weekly options and its premiums and dividend make it a very attractive stock in a covered call strategy. Unlike Dow Chemical, I believe its current price is much more attractive.

I’m not certain how to categorize the CEO of Herbalife (HLF). If allegations regarding the products and the business model prove to be true, he has been a pure genius in guiding share price so much higher. Of course, then there’s that nasty fact that the allegations turned out to be true.

Herbalife reports earnings this week and if you have the capacity for potential ownership the sale of out of the money puts can provide a 1.2% return even of shares fall 17%. The option market is implying a 10% move. That is the kind of differential that gets my attention and may warrant an investment, even if the jury is still out on some of the societal issues.

In the world of coffee, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) blamed K-Cups and guided toward the lower end of estimates. Investors didn’t care for that news, but they soon got over it. The category leader, Starbucks (SBUX) reports earnings this week. I still consider Howard Schultz’s post-disappointing earnings interview of 2012 one of the very best in addressing the issues at hand. But it’s not Starbucks that interests me this week. It’s Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). Itself having had some questionable leadership, it restored some credibility with the appointment of its new CEO and strengthening its relationships with Starbucks. Shares have fallen about 25% in the past 6 weeks and while not reporting its own earnings this week may feel some of the reaction to those from Starbucks, particularly as Howard Schultz may characterize the nature of ongoing alliances. Green Mountain shares have returned to a level that I think the adventurous can begin expressing interest. I will most likely do so through the sale of puts, with a strike almost 5% out of the money being able to provide a 1.2% ROI. The caveat is that CEO Brian Kelley may soon have his own credibility tested as David Einhorn has added to his short position and has again claimed that there are K-cup sales discrepancies. Kelley did little to clear up the issue at a recent investor day meeting.

Baxter International (BAX) has held up reasonably well through all of the drama revolving around the medical device tax and the potential for competition in the hemophilia market by Biogen Idec (BIIB). WIth earnings out of the way and having approached its yearly low point I think that it is ready to resume a return to the $70 range and catching up to the S&P 500, which it began to trail in the past month when the issues of concern to investors began to take root.

MetLife (MET) has settled into a trading range over the past three months. For covered calls that is an ideal condition. It is one of those stocks that I had owned earlier at a much lower price and had assigned. Waiting for a return to what turned out to be irrationally low levels was itself irrational, so I capitulated and purchased shares at the higher level. In fact, four times in the past two months, yielding a far better return than if shares had simply been bought and held. Like a number of the companies covered this week it has that nice combination of weekly option contracts, appealing premiums and good dividends.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reports earnings this week, along with Seagate Technology (STX). Riverbed is a long time favorite of mine and has probably generated the greatest amount of premium income of all of my past holdings. However, it does require some excess stomach lining, especially as earnings are being released. I currently own two higher cost lots and uncharacteristically used a longer term call option on those shares locking in premium in the face of an earnings report. However, with recent price weakness I’m re-attracted to shares, particularly when a 3 week 1.7% ROI can be obtained even if shares fall by an additional 13%. In general, I especially like seeing price declines going into earnings, especially when considering the sale of puts just in advance of earnings. Riverbed Technology tends to have a history of large earnings moves, usually due to providing pessimistic guidance, as they typically report results very closely aligned with expectations.

Seagate Technology reports earnings fresh off the Western Digital (WDC) report. In a competitive world you might think that Western Digital’s good fortunes would come at the expense of Seagate, but in the past that hasn’t been the case, as the companies have traveled the same paths. With what may be some of the surprise removed from the equation, you can still derive a 1% ROI if Seagate shares fall less than 10% in the earnings aftermath through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

ConAgra (CAG) and Texas Instruments (TXN) both go ex-dividend this week. I think of them both as boring stocks, although Texas Instruments has performed nicely this year, while ConAgra has recently floundered. On the other hand, Texas Instruments is one of those companies that has fallen into the category of meeting earnings forecasts in the face of declining revenues by slashing worker numbers.

Other than the prospect of capturing their dividends I don’t have deeply rooted interest in their ownership, particularly if looking to limit my new purchases for the week. However, any opportunity to get a position of a dividend payment subsidized by an option buyer is always a situation that I’m willing to consider.

Finally, as this week’s allegation that NQ Mobile (NQ), a Chinese telecommunications company was engaged in “massive fraud” reminds us, there is always reason to still be circumspect of Chinese companies. While the short selling firm Muddy Waters has been both on and off the mark in the past with similar allegations against other companies they still get people’s attention. The risk of investing in companies with reliance on China carries its own risk. YUM Brands (YUM) has navigated that risk as well as any. With concern that avian flu may be an issue this year, that would certainly represent a justifiable shifting of blame in the event of reduced revenues. At its recent lower price levels YUM Brands appears inviting again, but may carry a little more risk than usual.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: ConAgra (ex-div 10/29), Texas Instruments (ex-div 10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (10/28 PM), Riverbed Technology (10/28 PM), Seagate Technology (10/28 PM)

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

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Weekend Update – August 4, 2013

To summarize: The New York Post rumors, “The Dark SIde” and the FOMC.

This was an interesting week.

It started with the always interesting CEO of Overstock.com (OSTK) congratulating Steve Cohen, the CEO of SAC Capital, on his SEC indictment and invoking a reference to Star Wars to describe Cohen’s darkness, at least in Patrick Byrne’s estimations.

It ended with The New York Post, a one time legitimate newspaper suggesting that JC Penney (JCP) had lost the support of CIT (CIT), the largest commercial lender in the apparel industry, which is lead by the charisma challenged past CEO of The NYSE (NYX) and Merrill Lynch, who reportedly knows credit risk as much as he knows outrageously expensive waiting room and office furniture.

The problem is that if CIT isn’t willing to float the money to vendors who supply JC Penney, their wares won’t find their way into stores. Consumers like their shopping trips to take place in stores that actually have merchandise.

At about 3:18 PM the carnage on JC Penney’s stock began, taking it from a gain for the day to a deep loss on very heavy volume, approximately triple that of most other days.

Lots of people lost lots of money as they fled for the doors in that 42 minute span, despite the recent stamp of approval that George Soros gave to JC Penney shares. His money may not have been smart enough in the face of yellow journalism fear induced selling.

The very next morning a JC Penney spokesperson called the New York Post article “untrue.” It would have helped if someone from CIT chimed in and set the record straight. While the volume following the denial was equally heavy, very little of the damage was undone. As an owner of shares, Thane’s charisma would have taken an incredible jump had he added clarity to the situation.

So someone is lying, but it’s very unlikely that there will ever be a price to be paid for having done so. Clearly, either the New York Post is correct or JC Penney is correct, but only the New York Post can hide behind journalistic license. In fact, it would be wholly irresponsible to accuse the article of promoting lies, rather it may have recklessly published unfounded rumors.

By the same token, if the JC Penney response misrepresents the reality and is the basis by which individuals chose not to liquidate holdings, the word “criminal” comes to my mind. I suppose that JC Penney could decide to create a “Prison within a Store” concept, if absolutely necessary, so that everyday activities aren’t interrupted.

For the conspiracy minded the publication of an article in a “reputable” newspaper in the final hour of trading, using the traditional “unnamed sources” is problematic and certainly invokes thoughts of the very short sellers demonized by Patrick Byrne in years past.

Oh, and in between was the release of the FOMC meeting minutes, which produced a big yawn, as was widely expected.

I certainly am not one to suggest that Patrick Byrne has been a fountain of rational thought, however, it does seem that the SEC could do a better job in allaying investor concerns about an unlevel playing field or attempts to manipulate markets. Equally important is a need to publicly address concerns that arise related to unusual trading activity in certain markets, particularly options, that seem to occur in advance of what would otherwise be unforeseen circumstances. Timing and magnitude may in and of themselves not indicate wrongdoing, but they may warrant acknowledgement for an investing public wary of the process. A jury victory against Fabrice Tourre for fraud is not the sort of thing that the public is really looking for to reinforce confidence in the process, as most have little to no direct interaction with Goldman Sachs (GS). They are far more concerned with mundane issues that seem to occur with frequency.

Perhaps the answer is not closer scrutiny and prosecution of more than just high profile individuals. Perhaps the answer is to let anyone say anything and on any medium, reserving the truth for earnings and other SEC mandated filings. Let the rumors flow wildly, let CEOs speak off the top of their heads even during “quiet periods” and let the investor beware. By still demanding truth in filings we would still be at least one step ahead of China.

My guess is that with a deluge of potential misinformation we will learn to simply block it all out of our own consciousness and ignore the need to have reflexive reaction due to fear or fear of missing out. In a world of rampantly flying rumors the appearance of an on-line New York Post article would likely not have out-sized impact.

Who knows, that might even prompt a return to the assessment of fundamentals and maybe even return us to a day when paradoxical thought processes no longer are used to interpret data, such that good news is actually finally interpreted as good news.

I conveniently left out the monthly Employment Situation Report that really ended the week, but as with ADP and the FOMC, expectations had already been set and reaction was muted when no surprises were in store. The real surprise was the lack of reaction to mildly disappointing numbers, perhaps indicating that we’re over the fear of the known.

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

One of last week’s earnings related selections played true to form and dropped decidedly after earnings were released. Coach (COH) rarely disappoints in its ability to display significant moves in either direction after earnings and in this case, the disappointment was just shy of the $52.50 strike price at which I had sold weekly puts. However, with the week now done and at its new lower price, I think Coach represents a good entry point for new shares. With its newest competitor, at least in the hearts of stock investors, Michael Kors (KORS) reporting earnings this week there is a chance that Coach may drop if Kors reports better than expected numbers, as the expectation will be that it had done so at Coach’s expense. For that reason I might consider waiting until Tuesday morning before deciding whether to add Coach to the portfolio.

Although I currently own two higher priced lots of its shares, I purchased additional shares of Mosaic (MOS) after the plunge last week when perhaps the least known cartel in the world was poised for a break-up. While most people understand that the first rule of Cartel Club is that no one leaves Cartel Club, apparently that came as news to at least one member. The shares that I purchased last week were assigned, but I believe that there is still quite a bit near term upside at these depressed prices. While theories abound, such as decreased fertilizer prices will lead to more purchases of heavy machinery, I’ll stick to the belief that lower fertilizer prices will lead to greater fertilizer sales and more revenue than current models might suggest.

Barclays (BCS) is emblematic of what US banks went through a few years ago. The European continent is coming to grips with the realization that greater capitalization of its banking system is needed. Barclays got punished twice last week. First for suggesting that it might initiate a secondary offering to raise cash and then actually releasing the news of an offering far larger than most had expected. Those bits of bad news may be good news for those that missed the very recent run from these same levels to nearly $20. Shares will also pay a modest dividend during the August 2013 option cycle, but not enough to chase shares just for the dividend.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) released its earnings this past Thursday and the market found nothing to commend. On the other hand the price drop was appealing to me, as it’s not every day that you see a 5% price drop in a company of this caliber. For your troubles it is also likely to be ex-dividend during the August 2013 option cycle. While there is still perhaps 8% downside to meet its 2 year low, I don’t think that will be terribly likely in the near term. Big oil has a way of thriving, especially if we’re at the brink of economic expansion.

Safeway (SWY) recently announced the divestiture of its Canadian holdings. As it did so shares surged wildly in the after hours. I remember that because it was one of the stocks that I was planning to recommend for the coming week and then thought that it was a missed opportunity. However, by the time the market opened the next morning most of the gains evaporated and its shares remained a Double Dip Dividend selection. While its shares are a bit higher than where I most recently had been assigned it still appears to be a good value proposition.

Baxter International (BAX) recently beat earnings estimates but wasn’t shown too much love from investors for its efforts. I look at it as an opportunity to repurchase shares at a price lower than I would have expected, although still higher than the $70 at which my most recent shares were assigned. In this case, with a dividend due early in September, I might consider a September 17, 2013 option contract, even though weekly and extended weekly options are available.

I currently own shares of Pfizer (PFE), Abbott Labs (ABT) and Eli Lilly (LLY) in addition to Merck (MRK), so I tread a little gingerly when considering adding either more shares of Merck or a new position in Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), while I keep an eye of the need to remain diversified. Both of those, however, have traded well in their current price range and offer the kind of premium, dividend opportunity and liquidity that I like to see when considering covered call related purchases. As with Baxter, in the case of Merck I might consider selling September options because of the upcoming dividend.

Of course, to balance all of those wonderful healthcare related stocks, following its recent price weakness, I may be ready to add more shares of Lorillard (LO) which have recently shown some weakness. The last time its shares showed some weakness I decided to sell longer term call contracts that currently expire in September and also allow greater chance of also capturing a very healthy dividend. As with some other selections this month the September contract may have additional appeal due to the dividend and offers a way to collect a reasonable premium and perhaps some capital gains while counting the days.

Finally, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) is a repeat of last week’s earnings related selection. I did not sell puts in anticipation of the August 7, 2013 earnings report as I thought that I might, instead selecting Coach and Riverbed Technology (RVBD) as earnings related trades. Inexplicably, Green Mountain shares rose even higher during that past week, which would have been ideal in the event of a put sale.

However, it’s still not to late to look for a strike price that is beyond the 13% implied move and yet offers a meaningful premium. I think that “sweet spot” exists at the $62.50 strike level for the weekly put option. Even with a 20% drop the sale of puts at that level can return 1.1% for the week.

The announcement on Friday afternoon that the SEC was charging a former Green Mountain low level employee with insider trading violations was at least a nice cap to the week, especially if there’s a lot more to come.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Baxter International, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lorillard, Merck, Royal Dutch Shell, Safeway

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Barclays (ex-div 8/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 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.

 

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