Weekend Update – November 24, 2013

Sometimes the strategy is self-defense. Sometimes it’s just doing what you need to do to keep beta at bay.

I don’t know about other people, but I’m getting a little more nervous than usual watching stocks break the 16000 level on the Dow Jones and the 1800 level on the S&P 500.

What’s next 5000 NASDAQ? Well that’s not so ludicrous. All it would take is 4 years of 6% gains and we would could set the time machine back to a different era.

In hindsight I know what I would do at the 5000 level.

For those old enough to remember the predictions of Dow 35000 all we need is a repeat of the past 56 months and we’re finally there and beyond.

This being a holiday shortened trading week adds a little bit to the stress level, because of the many axioms you hear about the markets. The one that I believe has as much validity as the best of them is that low volume can create artificially large market moves. When so many are instead focusing on the historical strength of markets during the coming week, I prefer to steer clear of any easy guide to riches.

When faced with a higher and higher moving market you could be equally justified in believing that momentum is hard to stop as you could believe that an inflection point is being approached. The one pattern that appears clear of late is that a number of momentum stocks are quickly decelerating when faced with challenges.

When I find myself a little ill at ease with the market’s height, I focus increasingly on “beta,” the measure of a stock’s systemic risk compared to the overall market. I want to steer clear of stock’s that may reasonably be expected to be more volatile during a down market or expectations of a declining market.

As a tool to characterize short term risk beta can be helpful, if only various sources would calculate the value in a consistent fashion. For example, Tesla (TSLA), which many would agree is a “momentum” stock, can be found to have a beta ranging from 0.33 to 1.5. In other words, depending upon your reference source you can walk away believing that either Tesla is 50% more volatile than the market or 67% less volatile.

Your pick.

While “momentum” and “beta” don’t necessarily have correlation, common sense is helpful. Tesla or any other hot stock du jour, despite a reported beta of 0.33, just doesn’t seem to be 67% less volatile than the overall market, regardless of what kind of spin Elon Musk might put on the risk.

During the Thanksgiving holiday week I don’t anticipate opening too many new positions and am focusing on those with low beta and meeting my common sense criteria with regard to risk. Having had many assignments to close out the November 2013 option cycle I decided to spread out my new purchases over successive weeks rather than plow everything back in at one time and risk inadvertently discovering the market’s peak.

Additionally, I’m more likely to look at either expanded option possibilities or monthly options, rather than the weekly variety this week. In part that’s due to the low premiums for the week, but also to concerns about having positions with options expiring this week caught in a possible low volume related downdraft and then being unable to find suitable new option opportunities in future weeks. If my positions aren’t generating revenue they’re not very helpful to me.

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).

While eschewing risk may be in order when you think a market top is at hand, sometimes risky behavior can be just the thing when it comes to assembling a potentially profitable mix of stocks. In this case the risky behavior comes from the customers of Lorillard (LO), Philip Morris (PM) and Molson-Coors (TAP).

With word that Europeans may finally be understanding the risks associated with tobacco and may be decreasing use of their ubiquitously held cigarettes, Philip Morris shares had a rough week. The 6% drop accompanying what should be good news from a public health perspective brings shares back to a much more inviting level. Shares did successfully test an $85 support level and subsequently bounced back a bit too much for my immediate interest, but I would welcome another move toward that level, particularly as I would prefer an entry cost right near a monthly strike level.

Lorillard, on the other hand, has essentially no European exposure, but perhaps in sympathy gave up just a little bit from its 52 week high after a sustained run higher over the past 6 weeks. While there is certainly downside risk in the event of a lower moving market, shares do go ex-dividend this week and think of all of those people lighting up after a hearty Thanksgiving meal. The near term risk factors identified for Europe aren’t likely to have much of an impact in the United States market, where the only real risk factors may be use of the products.

That Thanksgiving meal may very well be complemented with a product from Molson Coors. I imagine there will also be those using a Molson Coors product while using a Lorillard product, perhaps even dousing one in the other. Shares, which are down nearly 5% from its recent highs go ex-dividend this week. Because of the strike prices available, Molson Coors is one position that I may consider using a November 29, 2013 option contract, as many more strike levels are available, something that is useful when attempting to capture both a decent option premium and the dividend, while also enticing assignment of shares.

Speaking of risky behavior, the one exception to the central theme of staying away from high beta names is the consideration of adding shares of Walter Energy (WLT). While the last 9 months have seen its shares plummet, the last three months have been particularly exciting as shares had gone up by as much as 75%. For those with some need for excitement this is certainly a candidate, with a beta value 170% greater than the average of all other recommended positions this week, the stock is no stranger to movement. But speaking of movement, although I don’t look at charts in any depth, there appears to be a collision in the making as the 50 dma is approaching the 200 dma from below. Technicians believe that is a bullish indicator. Who knows. What I do know is that the coal, steel and iron complex, despite a downgrade this past Friday of the steel sector, has been building a higher base and I believe that the recent pullback in Walter Energy is just a good opportunity for a quick trade, perhaps using the sale of puts rather than covered calls.

While not falling into the category of risky behavior, Intel’s (INTC) price movement this week certainly represents odd behavior. Not being prone to exceptionally large moves of late on Thursday it soared 3%, which by Intel’s standards really is soaring. It then fell nearly 6% the following day. While the fall was really not so odd given that Intel forecast flat revenues and flat operating profits, it was odd that the price had gone up so much the previous day. Buying on Thursday, in what may have been a frenzied battle for shares was a nice example of how to turn a relatively low risk investment into one that has added risk.

But with all of the drama out of the way Intel is now back to a more reasonable price and allows the ability to repurchase shares assigned the previous week at $24 or to just start a new position.

While I would have preferred that Joy Global (JOY) had retreated even further from its recent high, its one year chart is a nearly perfect image of shares that had spent the first 6 months of the year above the current price and the next 6 months below the current price, other than for a brief period in each half year when the relationship was reversed. Joy GLobal is an example of stock have a wide range of beta reported, as well, going from 1.14 to 2.17. However, it has also traded in a relatively narrow range for the past 6 months, albeit currently near the high end of that range.

With earnings scheduled later in the December 2013 option cycle there is an opportunity to attempt to thread a needle and capture the dividend the week before earnings and avoid the added risk. However, I think that Joy Global’s business, which is more heavily reliant on the Chinese economy may return to its recent highs as earnings are delivered.

Lowes (LOW) reported earnings this past week, and like every previous quarter since the dawn of time the Home Depot (HD) versus Lowes debate was in full force and for yet another quarter Lowes demonstrated itself to be somewhat less capable in the profit department. However, after its quick return to pricing reality, Lowes is once again an appealing portfolio addition. I generally prefer considering adding shares prior to the ex-dividend date, but the share price slide is equally compelling.

Hewlett Packard (HPQ) is one of those stragglers that has yet to report earnings, but does so this week. Had I known 35 years ago that a classmate would end up marrying its future CEO, I would likely not have joined in on the jokes. It is also one of those companies that I swore that I would never own again as it was one of my 2012 tax loss positions. I tend to hold grudges, but may be willing to consider selling puts prior to earnings, although the strike price delivering a 1% ROI, which is my typical threshold, is barely outside of the implied price move range of 8%. It’s not entirely clear to me where Hewlett Packard’s future path may lead, but with a time perspective of just a week, I’m not overly concerned about the future of the personal computer, even if Intel’s forecasts have ramifications for the entire industry.

Lexmark (LXK) is a company that I like to consider owning when there is also an opportunity to capture a dividend. That happens to be the case this week. When it announced that it was getting out of the printer business investors reacted much as you would have imagined. They dumped shares, which for most people are electronically maintained and not in printed form. After all, why own a printer company that says that printers are a dead end business? Who knew that Lexmark had other things in mind, as it has done quite nicely focusing on business process and content management solutions. While it has been prone to large earnings related moves or when shocking the investment community with such news as it was abandoning its most recognizable line of business, it has also been a rewarding position, owing to dividends and option premiums. However, always attendant is the possibility of a large news related move that may require some patience in awaiting recovery.

Finally, I find myself thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY) again this week, just as last week and 10 other times this past year. Perhaps I’m just obsessed with another CEO related missed opportunity. Shares didn’t fare too well based upon an analyst’s report that downgraded the company saying that shares were “range bound at $49-$54.” While that may have been the equivalent of a death siren, for me that was just validation of what had been behind the decision to purchase and repurchase shares of eBay on a regular basis. While being range bound is an anathema to most stock investors, it is a dream come true to a covered option writer.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, Intel, Lowes, Philip Morris

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Lexmark (ex-div 11/26), Lorillard (ex-div 11/26), Molson-Coors (ex-div 11/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Hewlett Packard (11/26 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 – November 10, 2013

Is there life after momentum slows?

There was no shortage of stocks taking large price hits last week, as earnings season had already begun its slowdown phase. However, for some of the better known momentum stocks the slightest mis-steps were all the reason necessary to flee with profits.

For those who live long enough, it should never come as a surprise that some things are just destined to slow down.

Momentum fits into that category, although based on the past week it’s more of a question of falling down than slowing down for some.

After the fact, no one seemed to be surprised.

In a week that saw a decrease in the ECB’s main lending rate that was widely described as being a “surprise'” later in the day came reports that most economists expected the cut. The market clearly didn’t, however, as the economists may have neglected to pass on their views.

And then there was a surprisingly large increase in non-farm payroll jobs. Somehow everyone was taken off guard and the market responded by interpreting good news as good news and finished the week with a flourish.

What surprised me, however, was that there was such a disconnect between the anticipated numbers and the actual report, which covered the period of the government shutdown. The disconnect had to do with methodology, as forecasts didn’t take into account that government statistics considered furloughed employees to be employed, since they were to receive back, through legislative action.

Oops.

In effect, Friday’s rally was based on a misunderstanding of methodology. It will also certainly be interesting to see what impact Ben Bernanke’s statement after the market’s close may have on Monday’s trading.

I think the unemployment rate probably understates the degree of slack in the labor market. I think the employment-population ratio overstates it somewhat, because there are important downward trends in participation

Unfortunately, Friday’s gains complicate the goal of finding bargain priced stocks in the coming week, but with a little water having been thrown on the fire there may be opportunity yet.

Everyone, including me, likes to look for clues and cues that have predictive value. Parallels are drawn at every opportunity to what we know from the past in the expectation that it can foretell the future.

For some the sudden increase in IPOs coming to market and the sudden fall of many momentum stocks heralds a market top. In hindsight, if it does occur, it will be regarded as “no surprise.” If it doesn’t occur within the attention span of most paying attention it will simply be conveniently ignored.

For others the reversal of fortune may represent values and not value traps.

But no matter what the case there is life after momentum slows. It’s just a question of accommodation to new circumstances.

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).

eBay (EBAY) like so many stocks that I consider tends to trade in a range. While eBay is often criticized for being “range bound” there is some comfort in knowing that it is less likely to offer an unwanted surprise than many other stocks. My shares were assigned this past week and are now trading at the upper range of where I may normally initiate a position. However, having owned shares on ten separate occasions this year I would be anxious to do so again on the slightest of pullbacks.

Although hardly a momentum stock, Mondelez (MDLZ) had some earnings woes this past week, although it did recover a bit, perhaps simply being carried along by a rallying market. Shares are still a little higher than I would like for an entry point, but I expect that as a short term selection it will match market performance, while in a market turn-down it will exceed performance.

Fastenal (FAST) is another fairly sedate company, yet its stock often has some large moves. I see Fastenal as a leading indicator of economic activity, but also very sensitive to the economy. I think its most recent price weakness will be reversed as the impact of a resolution of the government’s shutdown trickles down to the economy. I currently own shares with a contract set to expire this week, but at this price am considering doubling down on what in essence can be a weekly option contract during the final week of the November 2013 cycle.

Deere (DE) is another range bound stock, that in hindsight I should have bought on numerous occasions over the past few months. Good option premiums, a good dividend and not facing some of the same external pressures as another favorite, Caterpillar (CAT), makes Deere a perennially good selection within its sector.

I currently own shares of both Eli Lilly (LLY) and International Paper (IP), both of which go ex-dividend this week. Unlike many other stocks that I discuss, I have not owned either on multiple occasions this year and my current shares are now below their cost. Both emerged unscathed after recent earnings reports, although both are down considerably from their recent highs and both have considerably under-performed the S&P 500 from the time for its first in a series of market highs on May 21, 2013. That latter criterion is one that I have been using with some regularity as the market has continued to reach new highs in an effort to identify potential late comers to the party.

Which finally brings me to the momentum stocks that have my attention this week, some of which may be best approached through the sale of put options and may be best avoided in a weakening market.

Much has been said of the “ATM effect” on Facebook (FB), as speculation that investors were selling Facebook shares to raise money to buy Twitter (TWTR) shares. Following an abrupt reversal during its conference call when there was a suggestion that adolescents were reducing their Facebook use shares have just not regained their traction. Sometimes it’s just profit taking and not driven by the allure of a newer stock in town. But assuming that the “ATM effect” has some validity and with a large gap between the Twitter IPO price and its 7% lower price on its first full day of trading, I can’t imagine now taking the opportunity to sell Facebook in order to purchase Twitter shares. On its own merits Facebook may be a momentum stock that has a cushion of protection until its next earnings report, unless an errant comment gets in the way, again.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) is much higher than the level at which I last owned shares at $21. Waiting for a return has been fruitless and as a result, rather than having owned shares on 15 occasions, as in 2012, thus far, I’ve only had five bouts of ownership. With the melodrama surrounding its founder and ex-CEO in its past, Chesapeake may begin trading a bit more on fundamentals rather than hopes for a return to its glory days. at such, its price action may be less unidirectional than it has been over the past four months. After last week’s earnings report related drop, while still higher than I would like, I think there may be reason to consider a new entry, perhaps through the sale of put options.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is a stock that has been testing my patience through the year. More precisely, however, I’ve had no real issue with Freeport McMoRan’s leadership, in fact, given metal prices, it has done quite well. What I don’t understand is how it has been taking so long for markets to appreciate its strategic initiatives and long term strategies. For much of the year my shares have been non-performing, other than for dividend payments, but with a recent run higher some are generating option premium income streams. Despite the run higher, I am considering adding more shares as the entire metals complex has been showing strength and some stability, as well.

Finally, while I’ve said before that I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, a recent experience with Tesla (TSLA) was perhaps a good reason to at least acknowledge that charts can allow you to look at the past.

While it’s probably always a good week to be Elon Musk, relatively speaking last week wasn’t so good, as both Tesla and Solar City (SCTY) were treated harshly after earnings were released. The spin put around another reported car fire that its resultant heat could be garnered to power several mud huts didn’t give shares much of a boost, perhaps because that might have cannibalized SolarCity sales, with the two companies likely having much overlap in ownership.

Tesla reported earnings last week and took a drubbing through successive days.

A reader of last week’s article asked:

“George, what are your thoughts on a sale of Puts on TSLA which reports Tuesday?”

My response was:

“TSLA isn’t one that I follow, other than watching in awe.

But purely on a glance at this week’s option pricing the implied volatility is about 12% and you can get a 1% ROI on a strike that’s about 17% lower, currently $135

It looks as if it may have price support in the $134-$139 range, but it’s hard to know, because its ascent has been so steep that there may not be much of a real resting point.

In a very speculative portion of my portfolio I might be able to find some money to justify that trade.”

As it turned out Tesla closed the week at $137.95 and now has my attention. You do have to give some credit to its chart on that one. WIth disappointment over its sales, supply chain issues and reports of car fires and even Elan Musk suggesting that “Tesla’s stock price is more than we have any right to deserve,” it has fallen by nearly 21% from the time of that comment, barely 2 weeks prior to earnings. Although to be entirely fair shares did fully recover from a 7.5% decline in the aftermath of the statement in advance of earnings.

While still not knowing where the next resting point may be in the $119-$122 range, representing as much as another 13% price drop. With earnings out of the way to enhance option premiums the risk-reward proposition isn’t as skewed toward reward. However, for those looking to recapture of bit of their own momentum, despite the realization that the end may be near, a put sale can return an ROI of approximately 1.4% at a strike price nearly 6% below Friday’s close is not breached.

The nice thing about momentum slowing is that if you fall the floor isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, eBay, Fastenal, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan, Tesla

Double Dip Dividend: Eli Lilly (ex-div 11/13), International Paper (ex-div 11/13)

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.

Disclosure: I am long CAT, CHK, DE, FAST, FCX, IP, LLY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Weekend Update – May 12, 2013

There’s certainly no way to deny the fact that this has been an impressive first 4 months of the year. The recently touted statistic was that after 4 months and one week the market had gone up 13%.

To put that into the perspective the statistic wanted you to have, the statistical factoid added that for all of 2012 the market was up only 7.2%. That certainly tells you not only how impressive this gain has been but how 2013 will undoubtedly leave 2012 in the dust.

What is left unmentioned is that in 2012, in a period of only 3 months and 1 week the market was up 12.9%.

What happened? Could that happen again? Those are questions asked by someone who turned cautious when the market was up less than 8% in 2013 and wasn’t adequately cautious in 2012.

SInce 1970, the S&P 500 has finished the year with gains of greater than 14% on a total of 16 occasions, so there could easily be more to come. That can easily be a justifiable perspective to hold unless you also look at the margins by which 14% was exceeded. In that event, the perspective becomes less compelling. It’s still possible to end the year substantially higher than 14%, just not as likely as such a great start might suggest.

But remember, statistics don’t mislead people. People mislead people.

There was little to no substantive news this past week as the market just continued on auto-pilot. If you owned shares of any of the stocks that had super-sized moves after earnings, such as Tesla (TSLA) or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), that was news enough. But for the rest of us it was quiet.

What was interesting, however, was the behavior of the market during the final hour of Thursday’s trading.

That period marked a turnaround sending the market quite a bit lower, at least based on recent standards when only higher seems to be the order of the day. Initially, the drop was ascribed to a strengthening of the dollar and further drop in gold. Those, however, had been going on for a while, having started earlier in the trading session.

What came to light and whose timing was curiously coincident with the market change in direction was a rumor of a rumor that someone from within JP Morgan (JPM) was suggesting that the Federal Reserve was ready to begin tapering its Treasury purchases, those signaling the beginning of an end to Quantitative Easing.

For the growing throng that believe that QE has been responsible for the market’s climb higher, life after QE couldn’t possibly be rosy.

First comes an errant AP Tweet, then an unconfirmed rumor of a rumor. Those incidents would seem to indicate vulnerability or at least an Achilles heel that could stand in the way of this year becoming the 17th in the list.

Easily said, but otherwise, there’s really not much else on the radar screen that appears poised to interfere with the market’s manifest destiny. Unless of course, Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve has indeed mapped out a strategy for winding down QE, transforms rumor into potential reality.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details). Additionally, as the week unwinds, I may place relatively greater emphasis on dividend paying stocks and give greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in the event that 2012 is the order of the day.

This week’s selections seem to have more healthcare stocks than usual. I know that healthcare may have already run its course as it was a market leader through the first 4 months of 2012, but some individual names haven’t been to the party or have recently fallen on hard times.

Amgen (AMGN) didn’t react terribly well following its recent earnings report, having fallen 6%. That’s not to say that it hadn’t enjoyed a nice gain in 2013. However, it does offer an attractive short term option premium, despite also being ex-dividend this week. That’s a combination that I like, especially when I still remain somewhat defensive in considering opening new positions.

Eli Lilly (LLY) is also trading ex-dividend this coming week. It has under-performed the S&P 500 this year, but still, a 10% gain YTD isn’t a bad four months of work. It has fallen about 7% since reporting its most recent quarter’s earnings.

Merck (MRK) isn’t joining the ex-dividend parade this week, but will do so during the June 2013 option cycle for those a little more long term oriented than I typically tend to be. However, during a period of having repositioned myself defensively, the longer term options have utility and can provide a better price cushion in the event of adverse market moves.

I’ve owned shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) only once since the spin-off of its refinery arm, Phillips 66 (PSX). It used to be a very regular part of my portfolio prior to that occasion. The parent certainly hasn’t fared as well as the child in the 15 months since Phillips 66 has traded as a public company. The 80% difference in return is glaring. But like so many stocks, I think Phillips 66 isn’t priced for a new purchase, while Conoco Phillips represents some opportunity. Additionally, though not yet announced, there should be a dividend forthcoming in the next week or two.

I don’t recall why I didn’t purchase shares of Marathon Oil (MRO) last week after a discussion of its merits, but it probably had to do with the limited buying I was doing across the board. It reported earnings last week, perhaps that was a risk factor that didn’t have commensurate reward in the option premiums offered. But this week, with that risk removed, it goes ex-dividend and the consideration begins anew.

Although I already own shares of JP Morgan, I would consider adding to that position. Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue of separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, there’s not too much disagreement that Jamie Dimon will forever be remembered as one of the supporting pillars during and in the immediate aftermath of our financial meltdown. The recent spate of diversions has kept JP Morgan from keeping pace with the S&P 500 during 2013, but I believe it is capable of cutting that gap.

Autodesk (ADSK) reports earnings this week and is down about 4% from its recent high. I often like to consider earnings trades on shares that are already down somewhat, however, shares are up quite a bit in the past 3 weeks. While the options market was implying about a 6% move upon earnings, anything less than a 7% move downward could offer a 1.1% option premium for the week’s exposure to risk.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those rare companies that haven’t kept up with market lately. That’s been especially true since its recent stock split. Although it does offer a an attractive weekly premium, the challenge may lie the possibility that shares are not assigned as the May 2013 option cycle ends, because earnings are reported during the first week of the June 2013 cycle. Barring a large downward move prior to earnings, there would certainly be ample time to re-position with another weekly or even monthly option contract prior to earning’s release.

To round off my over-exposure to the technology sector, I may consider either adding more shares of Cisco (CSCO) or selling puts in advance of this week’s earning’s report. I’ve added shares in each of three successive weeks and don’t believe that Cisco’s earnings will reflect some of the woes expressed by Oracle (ORCL). My only personal concern is related to the issue of diversification, but for the moment, technology may be the sector in which to throw caution to the wind.

US Steel (X) has been one of those stocks that I’m not terribly happy about, although that really only pertains to the current lot that I hold. Along with pretty much everything in the metals complex, US Steel hasn’t fared very well the past few months. However, I think that I am ready for a resurgence in the sector and am hoping that the sector agrees with me, or at least continues to show some strength as it has this past week.

Finally, despite having owned Facebook (FB) since the IPO and currently owning two individual lots, priced at $29 and $27.17, it remains one of my favorite new stocks. Not because I can count on it going to $30, but because I can count on it staying in a reasonable pricing neighborhood and becoming a recurrent stream of option income.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Conoco Phillips, Merck, Salesforce.com

Momentum Stocks: Facebook, US Steel

Double Dip Dividend: Amgen (ex-div 5/14), Eli Lilly (ex-div 5/14), Marathon Oil (ex-div 5/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Autodesk (5/16 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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Weekend Update – February 17, 2013

It’s all relative.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put things into perspective. Our mind wants to always compare objects to one another to help understand the significance of anything that we encounter. Having perspective, formed by collecting and remembering data and the environment that created that data helps to titrate our reaction to new events.

My dog doesn’t really have any useful perspective. He thinks that everyone is out to take what’s his and he reacts by loudly barking at everyone and everything that moves. From his perspective, the fact that the mailman always leaves after he has barked out reinforces that it was the barking that made him leave.

The stock market doesn’t really work the way human perspective is designed to work. Instead, it’s more like that of a dog. Forget about all of the talk about “rational Markets.” They really don’t exist, at least not as long as investors abandon rational thought processes.

It’s all about promises, projections and clairvoyance. Despite the superficial lip service given to quarterly comparisons no one really predicates their investing actions on the basis of what’s come and gone.

During earnings season one can see how all perspective may be lost. It’s hard to account for sudden and large price moves when there’s little new news. Although I can understand the swift reaction resulting in a 20% drop when Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) announced that it was slashing its dividend, filing for a secondary stock offering and also creating a new class of mandatory convertible shares, I can’t quite say that the same understanding exists when Generac (GNRC) drops 10% following earnings and guidance that was universally interpreted as having “waved no red flags.”

Of course, the use of perspective and especially logic based upon perspective,  can be potentially costly. For example, it’s been my perspective that Cliffs and Walter Energy (WLT) often follow a similar path.

What has been true for the past year has actually been true for the past five years. So it came as a surprise to me, at least from my perspective that the day after Cliffs Natural plunged nearly 20%, that Walter Energy, which reports earnings on February 20, 2013 would rise 6% in the absence of any news. From my perspective, that just seemed irrational.

But of course, perspective, by its nature has to be individually based. That may explain why Forbes, using its unique perspective on time, published an article on February 12, 2013, just hours before Cliffs released its earnings, that it had been named as the “Top Dividend Stock of the S&P Metals and Mining Select Industry Index”, according to Dividend Channel. In this case, Cliffs was accorded that august honor for its “strong quarterly dividend history.”

Apparently, history doesn’t extend back to 2009, when the dividend was cut by 55%, but it’s all in your perspective of things. I’m not certain where Cliffs stands in the ratings 24 hours later.

What actually caught my attention the most this past week is how performance can take a back seat to  perspectives on liability, especially in the case of Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG). On Thursday, it was announced that a Federal judge approved a mere $400 million criminal settlement against it for its seminal part in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That’s in addition to the already $1 Billion in fines it has been assessed. In return, Transocean climbed nearly 4%, while it’s frenemy Halliburton, on no news of its own climbed 6%. Poor British Petroleum (BP) which has already doled out over $20 Billion and is still on the line for more, could only muster an erasure of its early 2% decline. For Transocean, at least, the perception was that the amount wasn’t so onerous and that the end of liability was nearing.

From one perspective reckless environmental action may be a good strategy to ensure a reasonably healthy stock performance. At least that’s worked for Halliburton, which has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 24, 2010, the date of the accident.

I usually have one or more of the “Evil Troika” in my portfolio, but at the moment, only British Petroleum is there, at its lagged its mates considerably over the past weeks. Sadly, Transocean will no longer be offering weekly options, so I’m less likely to dabble in its shares, even as Carl Icahn revels in the prospects of re-instating its dividend.

Perhaps the day will come when stocks are again measured on the basis of real fundamentals, like the net remaining after revenues and expenses, rather than distortions of performance and promises of future performance, but I doubt that will be the case in my lifetime.

In fact, the very next day on Friday, both Transocean and Walter Energy significantly reversed course. On Friday, the excuse for Transocean’s 5% drop was the same as given for Thursday’s 4% climb. Walter Energy was a bit more nebulous, as again, there was no news to account for the 3% loss.

So what’s your perspective on why the individual investor may be concerned?

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

Technology stocks haven’t been blazing the way recently, as conventional wisdom would dictate as a basic building block for a burgeoning bull market. My biggest under-performing positions are in technology at the moment, patiently sitting on shares of both Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Despite Tuesday’s ex-dividend date for Microsoft, I couldn’t bear to think of adding shares. However, despite a pretty strong run-up on price between earnings reports, Cisco (CSCO) looks mildly attractive after a muted response to its most recent earnings report. Even if its shares do not move, the prospect of another quiet week yet generating reasonable income on the investment for a week is always appealing.

Although I was put shares of Riverbed Technology (RVBD) this week, which is not my favorite way of coming to own shares, it’s a welcome addition and I may want to add more shares. That’s especially true now that Cisco, Oracle (ORCL) and Juniper (JNPR) have either already reported or won’t be reporting their own earnings during the coming option cycle. With those potential surprises removed from the equation there aren’t too many potential sources of bad news on the horizon. The healing from Riverbed’s own fall following earnings can now begin.

MetLife (MET) is, to me a metaphor for the stock market itself. Instead of ups and downs, it’s births and deaths. Like other primordial forms of matter, such as cockroaches, life insurance will survive nuclear holocaust. That’s an unusual perspective with which to base an investing decision, but shares seem to have found a comfortable trading range from which to milk premiums.

Aetna (AET) on the other hand, may just be a good example of the ability to evolve to meet changing environments. Regardless of what form or shape health care reform takes, most people in the health care industry would agree that the health care insurers will thrive. Although Aetna is trading near its yearly high, with flu season coming to an end, it’s time to start amassing those profits.

It’s not easy to make a recommendation to buy shares of JC Penney (JCP). It seems that each day there is a new reason to question its continued survival, or at least the survival of its CEO, Ron Johnson, who may be as good proof as you can find that the product you’re tasked with selling is what makes you a “retailing genius.” But somehow, despite all of the extraneous stories, including rumored onslaughts by those seeking to drive the company into bankruptcy and speculation that Bill Ackman will have to lighten up on his shares as the battle over Herbalife (HLF) heats up, the share price just keeps chugging along. I think there’s some opportunity to squeeze some money out of ownership by selling some in the money options and hopefully being assigned before earnings are reported the following week.

The Limited (LTD) is about as steady of a retailer as you can find. I frequently like to have shares as it is about to go ex-dividend, as it is this coming week. With only monthly options available, this is one company that I don’t mind committing to for that time period, as it generally offers a fairly low stressful holding period in return for a potential 2-3% return for the month.

While perhaps one may make a case that Friday’s late sell-off on the leak of a Wal-Mart (WMT) memo citing their “disastrous” sales might extend to some other retailers, it’s not likely that the thesis that increased payroll taxes was responsible, also applied to The Limited, or other retailers that also suffered a last hour attack on price. Somehow that perspective was lacking when fear was at hand.

McGraw Hill (MHP) has gotten a lot of unwanted attention recently. If you’re a believer in government led vendettas then McGraw Hill has some problems on the horizon as it’s ratings agency arm, Standard and Poors, raised lots of ire last year and is being further blamed for the debt meltdown 5 years ago. It happens to have just been added to those equities that trade weekly calls and it goes ex-dividend this week. In return for the high risk, you might get am attractive premium and a dividend and perhaps even the chance to escape with your principal intact.

I haven’t owned shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) for a few months. Shares have gone in only a single direction since the last earnings report when it skyrocketed higher. With that kind of sudden movement and with continued building on that base, you have to be a real optimist to believe that it will go even higher upon release of earnings.

What can anyone possibly add to the Herbalife saga? It, too, reports earnings this week and offers opportunity whether its shares spike up, plunge or go no where. I don’t know if Bill Ackman’s allegations are true, but I do know that if the proposition that you can make money regardless of what direction shares go is true, then I want to be a part of that. Of course, the problem. among many, is that the energy stored within the share price may be far greater than the 17% or so price drop that the option premiums can support while still returning an acceptable ROI.

Also in the news and reporting earnings this week is Tesla (TSLA). This is another case of warring words, but Elon Musk probably has much more on the line than the New York Times reporter who test drove one of the electric cars. But as with Herbalife and other earnings related plays, with the anticipation of big price swings upon earnings comes opportunity through the judicious sale of puts or purchase of shares and sale of deep in the money calls.

From my perspective these are enough stocks to consider for a holiday shortened week, although as long as earnings are still front and center, both Sodastream (SODA) and Walter Energy may also be in the mix.

The nice thing about perspective is that while it doesn’t have to be rational it certainly can change often and rapidly enough to eventually converge with true rational thought.

If you can find any.

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: JC Penney, RIverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: The Limited (ex-div 2/20), McGraw Hill (ex-div 2/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/22 AM), Herbalife (2/19 AM), Tesla (2/20 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. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

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