Weekend Update – November 6, 2016

Some days we really have no clue as to what made the market move as it did, but nothing bothers us more than not knowing the reasons for everything.

We tend to like neat little answers and no untied bundles.

It starts early in life when we begin to ask the dreaded “Why?” question.

We want answers at an early stage in life even when we have no capacity to understand those answers. We also often make the mistake of querying the wrong people to answer those questions, simply on the basis of their ready availability and familiarity.

Those on the receiving end of  questions usually feel some obligation to provide an answer even if poorly equipped to do so.

While the market has now gone into a 9 consecutive day decline, it seems only natural to wonder why that’s been happening and of course, some people, have to offer their expert explanation.

It is of course understandable that the question is posed, as earnings haven’t been terrible and neither have economic data. Yet, a 9 day decline hasn’t happened since 1980 and has taken the market into a stealth 5% decline.

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Weekend Update – August 28, 2016

I’m not entirely certain I understood what happened on Friday.

While it’s easy to understand the “one – two” punch, such as memorialized in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “Sixteen Tons,” it’s less easy to understand what has happened when a gift is so suddenly snatched away.

After not having attended the previous year’s Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank hosted soiree in Jackson Hole, this year Janet Yellen was there.

She was scheduled to speak on Friday morning and the market seemed to be biding its time all through the week hoping that Friday would bring some ultimate clarity.

Most expected that she would strike a more hawkish tone, but would do so in a way as to offer some comfort, rather than to instill fear, but instead of demonstrating that anticipation by buying stocks earlier in the week, traders needed the news and not the rumor.

The week was shaping up like another in a string of weeks with little to no net movement. Despite the usual series of economic reports and despite having gone through another earnings season, there was little to send markets anywhere.

Most recently, the only thing that has had any kind of an impact has been the return of the association between oil prices and the stock market and we all know that the current association can’t be one that’s sustainable.

So we waited for Friday morning.

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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 – February 21, 2016

 If you can remember as far back at the 1970s and even the early part of the 1980s, it still has to be hard to understand how we could possibly live in a world where we would want to see inflation.

It’s hard to think that what we thought was bad could actually sometimes be good medicine.

But when you start thinking about the “lost decades” in Japan, it becomes clear that there may be a downside to a very prolonged period of low interest rates.

Sometimes you just have to swallow a bitter pill.

And then, of course, we’re all trying to wrap our minds around the concept of negative interest rates. What a great deal when bank depositors not only get to fund bank profits by providing the capital that can be loaned out at a higher rate of interest than is being received on those deposits, but then also get to pay banks for allowing them to lend out their money.

For savers, that could mean even more bad medicine in order to make the economy more healthy, by theoretically creating more incentive for banks to increase their lending activity.

From a saver’s perspective one dose of bad medicine could have you faced with negative interest rates in the hope that it spurs the kind of economic growth that will lead to inflation, which always outpaces the interest rates received on savings.

That is one big bitter pill.

While the Federal Reserve has had a goal of raising interest rates to what would still be a very reasonable level, given historical standards, the stock market hasn’t been entirely receptive to that notion. The belief that ultra-low interest rates have helped to spur stock investing, particularly as an alternative to fixed income securities makes it hard to accept that higher interest rates might be good for the economy, especially if your personal economy is entirely wrapped up in the health of your stocks.

In reality, it’s a good economy that typically dictates a rise in interest rates and not the other way around.

That may be what has led to some consternation as the recent increase in interest rates hasn’t appeared to actually be tied to overt economic growth, despite the repeated claims that the FOMC’s decisions would be data driven.

Oil continued to play an important role in stock prices last week and was a good example of how actions can sometimes precede rational thought, as oil prices surged on the news of an OPEC agreement to reduce production. The fact that neither Iran nor Venezuela agreed to that reduction should have been a red flag arguing against the price increase, but eventually rational thought caught up with thought free reflexes.

While oil continued to play an important role in stock prices, there may have been more to account for the recovery that has now seen February almost completely wipe out it’s  2016 DJIA loss of  5.6%.

What may have also helped is the belief, some of which came from the FOMC minutes, that the strategy that many thought would call for small, but regular interest rate increases through 2016 may have become less likely.

The stock market looked at any reason for an increase in interest rates as being bad medicine. So it may not have been too surprising that the 795 point three day rise in the DJIA came to an abrupt stop with Fridays release of the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) which may provide the FOMC with the data to justify another interest rate increase.

Bad medicine, for sure to stock investors.

But the news contained within the CPI may be an extra dose of bad medicine, as the increase in the CPI came predominantly from increases in rents and healthcare costs.

How exactly do either of those reflect an economy chugging forward?

That may be on the mind of markets as the coming week awaits, but it may be the kind of second thought that can get the market back on track to continue moving higher, similar to the second thoughts that restored some rational action in oil markets last week.

You might believe that a rational FOMC wouldn’t increase interest rates based upon rents and healthcare costs if there is scant other data suggesting a heating up of the economy, particularly the consumer driven portion of the economy.

While rents may have some consumer driven portion, it’s hard to say the same about healthcare costs.

Ultimately, the rational thing to do is to take your medicine, but only if you’re sick and it’s the right medicine.

If the economy is sick, the right medicine doesn’t seem to be an increase in interest rates. But if the economy isn’t sick, maybe we just need to start thinking of increasing interest rates as the vitamins necessary to help our system operate more optimally.

Hold your nose or follow the song’s suggestion and take a spoonful of sugar, but sooner or later that medicine has to be taken and swallowed.

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

It’s not so easy to understand why General Motors (GM) is languishing so much these days.

As bad as the S&P 500 has been over the past 3 months, General Motors has been in bear territory, despite continuing good sales news.

What has been especially impressive about General Motors over the past few years is how under its new leadership its hasn’t succumbed or caved in as legal issues and potentially very damaging safety related stories were coming in a steady stream.

I already own some shares of General Motors, but as its ex-dividend date is approaching in the next few weeks, I’m considering adding shares, but rather than selling weekly options, would be more inclined to sell the monthly March 2016 option in an effort to pocket a more substantial premium, the generous dividend and perhaps some capital gains in those shares.

I wrote about Best Buy (BBY) last week and a potential strategy to employ as both earnings and its ex-dividend date were upcoming.

This week is the earnings event, but the ex-dividend date has yet to be announced.

The strategy, however, remains the same and still appears to have an opportunity to be employed.

With an implied move of 8% next week, there may be an opportunity to achieve a weekly 1% ROI by selling put options at a strike 10% below Friday’s closing price.

The risk is that Best Buy has had earnings related moves in the past that have surprised the seers
in the options market. However, if faced with assignment, with one eye fixed on any upcoming announcement of its ex-dividend date, one can either seek to rollover those puts or take ownership of shares in order to secure its dividend and subsequently some call options, as well.

Alternatively, if a little risk adverse, one can also consider the sale of puts after earnings, in the event that shares slide.

Also mentioned last week and seemingly still an opportunity is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). It, too, announces earnings this week and has yet to announce its upcoming ex-dividend date.

Its share price was buoyed last week as the broader market went higher, but then finished the week up only slightly for the week.

Since the company only has monthly option contracts available, I would look at any share purchase in terms of a longer term approach, in the event that shares do go lower after earnings are announced.

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent history is that of its shares not staying lower for very long, so the use of a longer term contract at a strike envisioning some capital appreciation of shares could give a very satisfactory return, with relatively little angst. As a reminder, Sinclair Broadcasting isn’t terribly sensitive to oil prices or currency fluctuations and can only benefit from a continued low interest rate environment.

It’s hard now to keep track of just how long the Herbalife (HLF) saga has been going on. My last lot of shares was assigned 6 months ago at $58 and I felt relieved to have gotten out of the position, thinking that some legal or regulatory decision was bound to be coming shortly.

And now here we are and the story continues, except that you don’t hear or read quite as much about it these days. Even the most prolific of Herbalife-centric writers on Seeking Alpha have withdrawn, particularly those who have long held long belief in the demise of the company.

For those having paid attention, rumors of the demise of the company had been greatly exaggerated over the past few years.

While that demise, or at least crippling blow to its business model may still yet come to be a reality, Herbalife reports earnings this week and I am once again considering the sale of put options.

With an implied move of 14.3%, based upon Friday’s closing the price, the options market believes that the lower floor on the stock’s price will be about $41.75.

A 1.4% ROI on the sale of a weekly option may possibly be obtained at a strike price that is 20.4% below Friday’s close.

For me, that seems to be a pretty fair risk – reward proposition, but the risk can’t be ignored.

Since Herbalife no longer offers a dividend, if faced with the possibility of share ownership, I would try to rollover the puts as long as possible to avoid taking possession of shares.

While doing so, I would both hold my breath and cross my fingers.

Finally, as far as stocks go, Corning (GLW) has had a good year, at least in relative terms. It’s actually about 1.5% higher, which leaves both the DJIA and S&P 500 behind in the dust.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and I’m reminded that I haven’t owned those shares in more than 5 years, even as it used to be one of my favorites.

With its recently reported earnings exceeding expectations and with the company reportedly on track with its strategic vision, despite declining LCD glass prices, it is offering an attractive enough premium to even gladly accept early assignment in a call buyer’s attempt to capture the dividend.

With the ex-dividend date on Tuesday, an early assignment would mean that the entire premium would reflect only a single day of share ownership and the opportunity to deploy the ensuing funds from the assignment into another position.

However, even if not assigned early, the premiums for the weekly options may make this a good position to consider rolling over on a serial basis if that opportunity presents itself.

Those kind of recurring income streams can offset a lot of bitterness.

Traditional Stocks:  General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend:   Corning (2/23 $0.135)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:   BBY (2/25 AM), Herbalife (2/26 PM, Sinclair Broadcasting (2/24 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 – February 14, 2016

It’s not only campaigns that are going negative.

After having watched the latest in political debates on both sides of the aisle, the negative finally coming to the surface should no longer come as a surprise.

Maybe the real surprise should have been just how long the professional politicians on both sides were able to keep that negativity mostly bottled up.

There’s certainly nothing illegal about engaging in a negative political campaign and we have heard time and time again that politicians pursue that unsavory strategy because it works.

It’s also a strategy that’s not unique to the United States. The last unicorn was apparently spotted in Canada and ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, was frequently called “Tony Bliar.”

Maybe the fact that such an approach works is why central banks around the world are increasingly giving some thought to going negative.

Negative interest rates are now all the rage after the Bank of Japan had already gone in that direction a few weeks ago.

This week there was at least some suggestion that particular strategy wasn’t entirely off the table in the United States as some are beginning to question just what arrows the Federal Reserve has left in its quiver in the event of an economic slowdown.

Janet Yellen, during her two day mandated session in front of Congressional committees this week said that she didn’t even know whether the Federal Reserve had the legal authority to implement negative interest rates in the United States, but that didn’t stop the worries over what such a scenario would mean with regard to the economy that drove it there.

While oil continued to be the major stock market mover for 2016, this week had some diversification as precious metals began to soar and interest rates continued to plunge.

Who would have predicted this just a couple of months ago when the FOMC saw it fit to begin a slow increase in interest rates?

But just as the week was looking as if it would create a February 2016 that would have us pining for the good old days of January 2016, oil rebounded and Jamie Dimon came to the rescue with a $26 million expression of confidence in the banking system.

Even in the economy of Djibouti, $26 million isn’t that big of a deal, but when Dimon elected to purchase shares in the open market for only the 3rd time in his tenure at JP Morgan Chase, it may have been the first vote of confidence in anything in 2016.

Fortunately, we have a holiday shortened trading week ahead to help us digest the gains seen on Friday that left the S&P 500 only 0.9% lower on the week.

While we’ve had a recent run of strong week ending trading sessions, there hasn’t been much in the way of staying power. Maybe a long weekend will help.

What the day off will also do is to give us a chance to actually try to understand the significance of negative interest rates even as the market seemed concerned just a couple of days earlier that a March 2016 interest rate hike wasn’t off the table.

Last week’s reactions by the market to interest rates was akin to being both afraid of the dark and the light as the market understandably went back and forth in spasms of fear and relief.

Going negative usually reflects some sort of fear and a concern that more conventional approaches aren’t going to deliver the hoped for results.

It may also reflect some desperation as there comes a perception that there is nothing really to lose.

I can understand a Presidential candidate using a profanity during a public appearance and I can even understand one Presidential candidate referring to another as “a jerk.”

That kind of negativity I get, but I’m having a really hard time understanding the concept of negative interest rates.

While I understand relative negative rates during periods of high inflation, the very idea that paying to keep your money in the bank would become similar to paying someone to store your cache of gold bars is confusing to me.

Why would you do that? Why would I want to pay money to a bank just so they could make even more money by putting my money to use?

I know that it’s not quite that simple, but I would be happy if I could get a bank to lend money to me at a negative interest rate, but somehow I don’t envision the APR on credit cards reflecting that kind of environment anytime soon.

Now, if you really wanted to spur consumer spending, that may be just the way to do it. Why not apply a monthly negative interest rate to a credit card balance and the longer you keep the balance open the more likely it will disappear as the negative interest accumulates and works down your debt.

The money you don’t spend on your monthly payments could easily then be used to spur even more consumer spending.

If that isn’t a win – win, then I just don’t know what would be.

I suppose I understand the theory behind how negative interest rates may prompt banks, such as Dimon’s JP Morgan Chase (JPM) to put deposits to work by increasing their lending activity, but I wonder how the lending risk is managed as thoughts of recession are coming to the surface.

As I recall, it wasn’t that long ago that poor management of lending risk put us all at risk.

The coming week will have the release of some FOMC meeting minutes and we may get to see whether there was even the slightest consideration given to going negative.

It’s not too likely that will have come up, but as we may now be witnessing, it is possible that the FOMC’s crystal ball is no better than those owned by the least informed of us.

What was clear, however, as the market began to sink back to a “bad news is good news” kind of mentality is that negative rates weren’t the kind of bad news that anyone could embrace.

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

Among many stocks that fared well on Friday as the market found a reason to mount some rebound from the onslaught earlier in the week was Best Buy (BBY).

Best Buy’s performance was especially impressive as it opened the d
ay 6% lower following a downgrade, they ended the day more than 1% higher.

I generally don’t want to add positions after a sharp climb higher, but as Best Buy is set to report earnings during the first week of the March 2016 option cycle, I am willing to consider the sale of puts in the week prior to those earnings, as the recent volatility has its rewards reflected in the available premiums.

If faced with assignment the premiums are enhanced due to earnings and there may be good opportunity to roll the short put position over, although if doing so, some thought has to be given to the upcoming ex-dividend date likely sometime before the beginning of the April 2016 option cycle.

If faced with assignment of shares just prior to that ex-dividend date, I’d be inclined to accept that assignment in order to have both the chance to sell calls and to possibly collect the dividend, as well.

While its options are less liquid than those of Best Buy, I would consider doing the same with Weyerhauser (WY), although earnings don’t have to be contended with until the May 2016 option cycle.

With an upcoming merger expected to close sometime in the first or second quarters of 2016, Weyerhauser has badly trailed the S&P 500 since the announcement was made 3 months ago.

That is despite the belief by many that the proposed merger with Plum Creek Timber (PCL) represents a good strategic fit and offers immediate financial synergy.

At this point, I just like the low price, the relatively high option premium and the potential to take ownership of shares in order to also try and collect the generous dividend just a few weeks away.

Due to the lesser liquidity of the options, there can also be some consideration to simply doing a buy/write and perhaps selecting an out of the money strike price with an expiration after the ex-dividend date.

Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) is another that hasn’t fared terribly well in the past few months and has also under-performed the S&P 500 of late.

It is a stock that I often purchase right before an ex-dividend date, as long as its price is reasonable by its historical standards.

For me, that reasonable price is around $29. It failed to break through resistance at $33 and has fallen about 18% in February, bringing the price to where I like to consider entry.

Share price hasn’t been helped by a recent downgrade on earnings warnings and the announced buyout of The Tennis Channel.

In the meantime, Sinclair Broadcasting remains the most potent play in local television in the nation and is increasingly diversifying its assets.

With earnings and an ex-dividend date both due early in the March 2016 option cycle and with only monthly options available, this is a position that I would consider selling longer term and out of the money contracts upon, such as the $30 June 2016 contract.

Sinclair Broadcasting’s stock price history suggests that it tends not to stay depressed for more than a couple of months after having approached a near term low. Hopefully, it’s current level is that near term low, but by using a June 2016 option expiration there may be sufficient time to ride out any further decline.

Following an even stronger gain than the S&P 500’s 1.9% advance to close the week, General Electric (GE) is now almost even with the S&P 500 for 2016.

That’s not a great selling point.

General Electric seems to have just successfully tested an important support level, but that risk does remain, particularly if the overall market takes another leg down.

In that case, there may be some significant risk, as there could be another 15% downside in an effort to find some support.

Thus far, the moves in 2016 have been fairly violent, both lower and higher, with an overall net downward bias. There isn’t too much reason to believe that pattern will soon reverse itself and for that reason option premiums, such as for General Electric are higher than they have been for quite some time.

While numerous stocks can make a case that their current prices represent an attractive entry level, General Electric can certainly pick up the pieces even if there is further downside.

The worst case scenario in the event of further price declines is that the General Electric position becomes a longer term one while you collect a nice dividend and maybe some additional option premiums along the way.

T-Mobile (TMUS) reports earnings this week.

I’m struck by two things as that event approaches.

The first is what seems to be an even increasing number of T-Mobile television ads and the increasing financial burden that must be accruing as it continues to seek and woo subscribers away from its competitors.

The second comes from the option market.

I generally look at the “implied move” predicted by the option market when a company is about to report earnings. For most companies, the option premiums near the strike price are very similar for both puts and calls, particularly if the current price is very close to the strike price. However, in the case of T-Mobile, there is considerable bias on the call side.

The implied move is about 8.1%, but about 5.4% of that is from the very high call premium. The clear message is that the option market expects T-Mobile to move higher next week. It’s unusual to see that much of a declaration of faith as is being demonstrated at the moment.

When I see something like that, the oppositional side of me even thinks about buying puts if I didn’t mind the almost all or none proposition involved with that kind of a trade.

However, rational though pushes that oppositional piece of me to the side and while I generally like the idea of selling puts ahead of earnings, in this case, there may be good reason to consider the purchase of shares and the sale of calls, perhaps even deep in the money calls, depending upon the balance of risk and reward that one can tolerate.

Finally, if you’ve been following the news, you know that it wasn’t a particularly good week to have been a cruise line or perhaps to have been a cruise line passenger. While there may be lots of great things about being a passenger, it seems that we hear more and more about how either a virus or the rough seas will take its toll.

With an upcoming ex-dividend date this week and a severe price descent, Carnival (CCL) is finally looking attractive to me again after nearly 18 months of not having owned shares.

With earnings early in the April 2016 cycle th
ere are a number of different approaches in the coming week to the shares.

One approach may simply be the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of in the money February 2016 call options, which are the equivalent of a weekly option, as expiration is this Friday. In such as case, whether using the at the money or in the money strike, the intent is to at least generate option premium and perhaps the dividend, as well, while having the position exercised.

Alternatively, a larger premium can be exacted by selling a March 2016 out of the money option and more predictably ensuring the capture of the premium. With earnings coming early in the April 2016 option cycle, the more daring investor can also consider the use of even longer dated out of the money options in the hopes of getting an more substantive share gains in addition to the dividend and an earnings enhanced option premium.

I’m more inclined to go for the full journey on this one and extend my stay even if there may be some bumpiness ahead. 

Traditional Stocks: General Electric, Sinclair Broadcasting, Weyerhauser

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy

Double-Dip Dividend: Carnival (2/17 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: T-Mobile (2/17 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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