Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

The "What If" game is about as fruitless as it gets, but is also as much a part of human nature as just about anything else.

How else could I explain having played that game at a high school reunion?

That may explain the consistent popularity of that simple question as a genre on so many people’s must read lists as the New Year begins.

Historical events lead themselves so beautifully to the "What If" question because the cascading of events can be so far reaching, especially in an interconnected world.

Even before that interconnection became so established it didn’t take too much imagination to envision far reaching outcomes that would have been so wildly different around the world even a century or more later.

Imagine if the Union had decided to cede Fort Sumpter and simply allowed the South to go its merry way. Would an abridged United States have been any where near the force it has been for the past 100 years? What would that have meant for Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel and every other corner of the world?

Second guessing things can never change the past, but it may provide some clues for how to approach the future, if only the future could be as predictable as the past.

Looking back at 2015 there are lots of "what if" questions that could be asked as we digest the fact that it was the market’s worst performance since 2008.

In that year the S&P 500 was down about 37%, while in 2015 it was only down 0.7%. That gives some sense of what kind of a ride we’ve been on for the past 7 years, if the worst of those years was only 0.7% lower.

But most everyone knows that the 0.7% figure is fairly illusory.

For me the "what if" game starts with what if Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and a handful of others had only performed as well as the averages.

Of course, even that "what if" exercise would continue to perpetuate some of the skew seen in 2015, as the averages were only as high as they were due to the significant out-performance of a handful of key constituent components of the index. Imagining what if those large winners had only gone down 0.7% for the year would still result in an index that wouldn’t really reflect just how bad the underlying market was in 2015.

While some motivated individual could do those calculations for the S&P 500, which is a bit more complex, due to its market capitalization calculation, it’s a much easier exercise for the DJIA.

Just imagine multiplying the 10 points gained by Microsoft , the 30 pre-split points gained by Nike (NKE), the 17 points by UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the 26 points by McDonalds (MCD) or the 29 points by Home Depot (HD) and suddenly the DJIA which had been down 2.2% for 2015, would have been another 761 points lower or an additional 4.5% decline.

Add another 15 points from Boeing (BA) and another 10 from Disney (DIS) and we’re starting to inch closer and closer to what could have really been a year long correction.

Beyond those names the pickings were fairly slim from among the 30 comprising that index. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better and the NASDAQ 100, up for the year, was certainly able to boast only due to the performances of Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet and Facebook (FB).

Now, also imagine what if historically high levels of corporate stock buybacks hadn’t artificially painted a better picture of per share earnings.

That’s not to say that the past year could have only been much worse, but it could also have been much better.

Of course you could also begin to imagine what if the market had actually accepted lower energy and commodity prices as a good thing?

What if investors had actually viewed the prospects of a gradual increase in interest rates as also being a good thing, as it would be reflective of an improving, yet non-frothy, economy?

And finally, for me at least, What if the FOMC hadn’t toyed with our fragile emotions and labile intellect all through the year?

Flat line years such as 2015 and 2011 don’t come very often, but when they do, most dispense with the "what if" questions and instead focus on past history which suggests a good year to follow.

But the "what if" game can also be prospective in nature, though in the coming year we should most likely ask similar questions, just with a slight variation.

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

What if money is running dry to keep the buyback frenzy alive?

Or, what if corporate earnings actually reflect greater consumer participation?

You may as well simply ask what if rational thought were to return to markets?

But it’s probably best not to ask questions when you may not be prepared to hear the answer.

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

For those, myself included, who have been expecting some kind of a resurgence in energy prices and were disbelieving when some were calling for even further drops only to see those calls come true, it’s not really clear what the market’s reaction might be if that rebound did occur.

While the market frequently followed oil lower and then occasionally rebounded when oil did so, it’s hard to envision the market responding favorably in the face of sustained oil price stability or strength.

I’ve given up the idea that the resurgence would begin any day now and instead am more willing to put that misguided faith into the health of financial sector stocks.

Unless the FOMC is going to toy with us further or the economy isn’t going to show the kind of strength that warranted an interest rate increase or warrants future increases, financials should fare well going forward.

This week I’m considering MetLife (MET), Morgan Stanley and American Express (AXP), all well off from their 2015 highs.

MetLife, down 12% during 2015 is actually the best performer of that small group. As with Morgan Stanley, almost the entirety of the year’s loss has come in the latter half of the year when the S&P 500 was performing no worse than it had during the first 6 months of the year.

Both Morgan Stanley and MetLife have large enough option premiums to consider the sale of the nearest out of the money call contracts in an attempt to secure some share appreciation in exchange for a somewhat lo0wer option premium.

In both cases, I think the timing is good for trying to get the best of both worlds, although Morgan Stanley will be among the relatively early earnings reports in just a few weeks and still hasn’t recovered from its last quarter’s poorly received results, so it would help to be prepared to manage the position if still held going into earnings in 3 weeks.

By contrast, American Express reports on that same day, but all of 2015 was an abysmal one for the company once the world learned that its relationship with Costco (COST) was far more important than anyone had believed. The impending loss of Costco as a branded partner in the coming 3 months has weighed heavily on American Express, which is ex-dividend this week.

I would believe that most of that loss in share has already been discounted and that disappointments aren’t going to be too likely, particularly if the consumer is truly making something of a comeback.

There has actually been far less press given to retail results this past holiday season than for any that I can remember in the recent and not so recent past.

Most national retailers tend to pull rabbits out of their hats after preparing us for a disappointing holiday season, with the exception of Best Buy (BBY), which traditionally falls during the final week of the year on perpetually disappointing numbers.

Best Buy has already fallen significantly in th e past 3 months, but over the years it has generally been fairly predictable in its ability to bounce back after sharp declines, whether precipitous or death by a thousand cuts.

To my untrained eye it appears that Best Buy is building some support at the $30 level and doesn’t report full earnings for another 2 months. Perhaps it’s its reputation preceding it at this time of the year, but Best Buy’s current option premium is larger than is generally found and I might consider purchasing shares and selling out of the money calls in the anticipation of some price appreciation.

Under Armour (UA) is in a strange place, as it is currently in one of its most sustained downward trends in at least 5 years.

While Nike, its arch competitor, had a stellar year in 2015, up until a fateful downtrend that began in early October, Under Armour was significantly out-performing Nike, even while the latter was some 35% above the S&P 500’s performance.

That same untrained eye sees some leveling off in the past few weeks and despite still having a fairly low beta reflecting a longer period of observation than the past 2 months, the option premium is continuing to reflect uncertainty.

With perhaps some possibility that cold weather may finally be coming to areas where it belongs this time of the year, it may not be too late for Under Armour to play a game of catch up, which is just about the only athletic pursuit that I still consider.

Finally, Pfizer (PFE) has been somewhat mired since announcing a planned merger, buyout, inversion or whatever you like to have it considered. The initially buoyed price has fallen back, but as with Dow Chemical (DOW) which has also fallen back after a similar merger announcement move higher, it has returned to the pre-announcement level.

I view that as indicating that there’s limited downside in the event of some bad news related to the proposed merger, but as with Dow Chemical, Best Buy and Under Armour, the near term option premium continues to reflect perceived near term risk.

Whatever Pfizer;’s merger related risk may be, I don’t believe it will be a near term risk. From the perspective of a call option seller that kind of perception in the face of no tangible news can be a great gift that keeps giving.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (1/6 $0.29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

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Weekend Update – September 6, 2015

Stop and take a break.

I’ve been doing just that, taking a break, for about the past 5 years, but sometimes I think that I’m working harder than ever.

Lately, however, I don’t feel as if I’m on a forward path so it may be time to do exactly what the Chinese stock markets did last week and what the US stock markets are doing this coming week.

They both took some time off and perhaps it was timed to perfection. After a 42% decline in Shanghai in less than 10 weeks and a 10% drop in the S&P 500 in 6 weeks, it was definitely time to take a breather and smell the dying flowers.

China took a couple of days off for celebrations ostensibly commemorating the end of World War II. While doing so they may also have wanted to show the nation and the world just how together they have things and just how much in control they really are at a time when the image is becoming otherwise.

After all, if the Faustian Bargain in place can no longer deliver on the promise of a higher standard of living, the message of an all powerful government has to be reinforced, lest people think they can opt out of the deal and choose democracy instead. 

Continue reading “Stop and Take a Break” on Seeking Alpha

 

 

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Weekend Update – April 20, 2014

I really didn’t see this past week coming at all.

Coming off of an absolutely abysmal week that saw the market refuse to follow up good news with further gains and instead plunging some 400 points in 2 days there were so many reasons to believe that markets were finally headed lower and for more than just a quick dip.

While I strongly believe in not following along with the crowd there has to be some bit of you that tells the rest of you not to completely write off what the crowd is thinking or doing. On horse racing, for example, the favorite does still have its share of wins and the Cinderella long short story just doesn’t happen as often as everyone might wish.

To completely ignore the crowd is courting disaster. At least you can occasionally give the crowd their due.

But this past week wasn’t the week to have done so. This was absolutely the week to have ignored virtually everyone. Unfortunately, this was also the week that I chose not to do so and went along with the crowd. The argument seemed so compelling, but that probably should have been the first clue.

What made this past week so unusual was that hardly anyone tried to offer a reason for the inexplicable advance forward. Not only did the market climb strongly, but it even reversed a late day attempt to erase large gains and ended up closing at its highs for the day. We haven’t seen anything like that lately, as instead we’ve seen so many gains quickly evaporate. For the most part I felt like an outsider because i didn’t open very many new positions last week, but it was rewarding enough to have heard such little pontification, as few wanted to admit that the unexpected had occurred.

With the S&P 500 now less than 2% from its high, it does make you wonder whether the concept of a correction being defined on the basis of a 10% decline is relevant anymore. Although its much better to think in terms of relative changes, as expressed by percentages, but perhaps our brains are wired to better understand absolute movements. Maybe we interpret a 400 point move as being no different from any other 400 point move, regardless of what the baseline is for either and simply take the move as a signal to reverse.

It’s tempting to think that perhaps we’re simply returning to the recent pattern of small drops on the order of 5% and then returning to unchecked climbs to new records. Of course, that would be in the realm of the "expected."

I have little expectation for what the next week may bring, as trying to figure out what is now driving the markets seems very futile of late. While I don’t think of "going along for the ride" as a very satisfying strategy I may be content to do so if the market continues moving higher for no apparent reason. But without any real indication of a catalyst I’m not terribly excited about wholeheartedly endorsing the move higher in a tangible way.

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

Not all stocks shared in last week’s glory. JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Unitedhealth Group (UNH) in part accounted for the DJIA lagging the S&P 500 for the week.

JP Morgan and Unitedhealth both felt some backlash after some disappointing earnings reports. For JP Morgan, however, it has been about a year since there’s actually been anything resembling good news and yet its stock price, up until the past week had well out-performed the S&P 500. I’ve been waiting for a return to a less pricey entry point and after the past week it’s arrived following a 9% drop this month. With little reason to believe that there’s any further bad news ahead it seems to offer low enough risk for its reward even with some market weakness ahead.

Unitedhealth Group’s decline was just slightly more modest than that of JP Morgan and it, too, has returned to a price level that I wouldn’t mind owning shares. I haven’t done so with any regularity but the entry price is getting less expensive. As more news emerges regarding the Affordable Care Act there is potential for Unitedhealth Group to go in either direction. While its most recent earnings disappointed, there may be some optimism as news regarding enrollments by younger people.

Fastenal (FAST) is a company that I like very much, but am a little reluctant to purchase shares at this level, if not for the upcoming dividend that I would like to capture. I’ve long thought of Fastenal as a proxy for the economy and lately shares have been trading near the upper end of its range. While that may indicate some downside weakness, Fastenal has had good resilience and has been one of those monthly contracts that I haven’t minded rolling over in the past, having owned shares 5 times in the past 6 months.

You probably can’t get much more dichotomous than Kohls (KSS) and Abercrombie and FItch (ANF). While Kohls has reliably sat its current levels and doesn’t live and die by fads and arrogance, Abercrombie has had its share of ups and downs and always seems to find a way to snatch defeat from victory. Yet they are both very good covered option trades.

With Kohls having recently joined Abercrombie in the list of those stocks offering expanded weekly options it is an increasing attractive position that offers considerable flexibility, good option premiums and a competitive dividend.

Abercrombie, because of its volatility tends to offer a more attractive option premium, but still offers an attractive enough dividend. Following some recent price weakness I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts of Abercrombie and might be willing to take assignment of shares, if necessary, rather than rolling over put contracts.

This week there are a number of companies reporting earnings that may warrant some consideration. A more complete list of those for the coming week are included in an earlier article that looks at opportunities in selling put contracts in advance of, or after earnings. Of the companies included in that article the ones that I’ll most likely consider this week are Cree (CREE), Facebook (FB) and Deckers (DECK).

All are volatile enough in the own rights, but especially so with earnings to be released. I have repeatedly sold puts on Cree over the past few months with last week having been the first in quite a while not having done so. It can be an explosive mover after earnings, just as it can be a seemingly irrational mover during daily trading. It has, however, already fallen approximately 8% in the past month. My particular preference when considering the sale of puts is to do so following declines and Cree certainly fulfills that preference, even though my target ROI comes only at a strike level that is at the very edge of the range defined by its implied volatility.

Deckers has only fallen 5% in the past month and it, too can be explosive at earnings time. As with Cree, for those that are adventurous, the sale of deep out f the money puts can offer a relatively lower risk way of achieving return on investment objectives. In this case, while the implied volatility is 10.1%, a share drop of less than 13.2% can still return a weekly 1% ROI.

Facebook has generally performed well after earnings announcements. Even the past quarter, when the initial reaction was negative, shares very quickly recovered and surpassed their previous levels. As with all earnings related trades entered through the sale of puts my goal is to not own shares at a lower price, but rather to avoid assignment by the rollover of put contracts, if necessary, in the hope of waiting out any unforeseen price declines and eventually seeing the put contracts expire, while having accumulated premiums.

Finally, it seems as if there’s hardly a week that I don’t think about adding or buying shares of Coach (COH). Having already owned it on 5 occasions in 2014 and having shares assigned again this past week, it’s notable for its stock price having essentially stayed in place. That’s what continually makes it an attractive candidate.

This week, however, there is a little more risk if shares don’t get assigned, as earnings are reported next week and Coach has been volatile at earnings for the past two years.

For that reason, this week, Coach may best be considered as a trade through the sale of puts with the possible need to rollover the puts if assignment seems likely. That rollover, if necessary, would then probably be able to be done at a lower strike price as the implied volatility will be higher in the week of earnings.

Traditional Stocks: Momentum Stocks: JP Morgan, Kohls, United Healthcare

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Coach

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 4/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (4/22 PM), Deckers (4/24 PM), Facebook (4/23 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 – January 19, 2014

As you get older you realize certain truths and realities and they aren’t always warm and fuzzy.

One of those realities is that often many years of marriage come to an end once the children have left the household. Without the diversion of children always in need comes the realization that there is nothing of substance to hold together a failing foundation. Sometimes the realization is there, but swept under the rug as other events take precedence, but you always know that someday reality can no longer be delayed.

With my youngest child having graduated college that appears to be the story that we’ve heard on multiple occasions from like aged acquaintances and friends. Like most everything else in life there are parallels to the stock market.

We now find ourselves in a market faced with certain realities but without the diversions offered by European monetary crises, sequestration, fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, quantitative easing, credit downgrades and budgetary deadlines. Those diversions conveniently removed focus from the very foundation upon which stocks find their fair price and to which markets have traditionally responded.

All that is now left behind is earnings and it’s not a pretty prospect.

Perhaps in a manner similar to those in long standing unions who suddenly suffer from improved judgment following a youth blinded by the superficial, the market went through a period of not being terribly discerning and always finding reason to go higher. Interpreting economic news to be something other than what it is has its counterpart in idealizing the idea more than the hard facts.

The reality that is being faced is that of earnings and the failing of earnings to support an ongoing rise in the stock market.

Early suggestions that this earnings season would result in a 6% increase could only be the result of optics as publicly held shares have diminished through massive stock buybacks. However, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that the abysmal state of retail earnings has to have some meaning with regard to the ability of individuals to find discretionary spending within their reality.

As with the past two quarters with the big money financial centers reporting positive earnings, there is little reason to believe that will extend to the other members of the S&P 500 as they begin their reporting in earnest this week.

I’m prepared for the reality, but I still like the fantasy, so I expect to continue playing along this week, just a little more mindful of the obstacles that have a lot of catching up to do.

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).

Among those reporting earnings this week is Coach (COH) which had fallen 6.2% last week, in preparation for what has become a near regular occurrence in the past 18 months upon earnings. While its most recent past has been to shed significant value when all is bared the option market is expecting an implied move of nearly 10%, in addition to the recent weakness. While Coach has had its competitive challenges it has somehow been able to find a fairly well defined trading range, punctuated with some significant moves and periods of recovery or occasionally, decline. In 2013, I traded Coach for all earnings reports, three of which were through the sale of puts. Despite the dramatic moves following all of last year’s earnings reports, predominantly lower, Coach has been and may continue to be an erratic position that offers acceptable reward for defined risk.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) also reports earnings this week. Just a few months ago, prior to its last report, it did what many have been doing of late and offered some earnings warnings and saw shares plummet more than 20%, leaving virtually nothing more to fall. Like Coach, Cypress Semiconductor has a habit of seeing its share price gravitate back toward a set level with some regularity. Having already fallen approximately 4% in the past two weeks. While the option market is implying a 9% move this week as earnings are announced, I think that it will be much less pronounced and more likely to have some upside potential. After having shares assigned this past Friday, rather than selling puts,as I often do when earnings are at hand, I am considering the purchase of shares and sale of calls on only a portion of shares or at both the $10 and $11 levels to potentially capitalize on share appreciation.

Anadarko (APC) had a brief spike in price this past week, nearly three weeks after plummeting upon news that it might be facing a $14 billion judgment in a case involving a company that it had purchased several years ago. The spike came as Anadarko stated that it believed the judge in the case set damages that were punitive, rather than remedial and believed that the appropriate amount was more in the $2 billion range. It will likely take a long time to come to some resolution, but even at $14 billion there is certainty and the ability to move forward. As shares seem to be creating a new base I think this is a good entry point, as well as a good point to add shares to start the process of offsetting the paper losses from older shares.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK), while trading in a range of late, has also been trading with relatively large daily and intra-day moves. As a result shares enjoy generous option premiums that reflect the volatility, despite having traded in a very stable range for the past 5 months. Offering expanded weekly options I would consider selecting an expiration prior to the scheduled February 20, 2014 earnings report date.

Having already announced earnings Unitedhealth Group (UNH) added to its recent losses and is now down approximately 5% since its recent high. It appears to have some price support a dollar lower than its current price, which may be a good thing considering the unknowns that await as more news trickles in regarding registration demographics and utilization among newly enrolled health care policy holders. While I never move into a position with the idea that it will be a long term holding, I don’t hold too much concern for that unwanted possibility as it’s as likely to recover from any price drops as most anything else and could easily be justified as being a core holding.

The potential dividend choices this week share a “household theme” covering aspects of the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom, but represent different ends of the consumer spectrum when defensive investing is foremost.

While Clorox (CLX) and Colgate Palmolive (CL) may be best known for consumer staples and nothing terribly ostentatious, Williams Sonoma (WSM) offers products that are every bit as critical to some. Those who would sacrifice anything to ensure that they can purchase an oversized block of Mediterranean pink salt have money every bit as valuable as those that like bright white shirt collars and bright white teeth.

More importantly, at least for me, they have all recently under-performed the S&P 500 and all trade with a low beta at a time that I want to balance risk and still generate a reasonable income stream from premiums and dividends. While both Clorox and Colgate Palmolive have earnings reports due in the February option cycle, WIlliams Sonoma, which tends to trade with more volatility upon earnings, does not report until the end of the March 2014 cycle.

Finally, for those who really seek reckless adventure, perhaps only frolicking in a landfill brimming with its products offers more excitement than considering shares of LED light bulb maker Cree (CREE) in advance of earnings. The last time I considered an earnings related trade in Cree I didn’t recommend the purchase or sale of puts to my subscribers, but did make the put sale for my personal account. However, I did so only after earnings, believing that the 16% drop offered sufficient protection to make an out of the money put sale with relative impunity.

Like some other stocks this past week that continued to fall even days after earnings plunges, that’s what Cree did. Rolling over the puts on a few occasions, eventually taking assignment and then selling calls until its final assignment at a strike level 5% higher than the original put strike price made it worthwhile, but more thrilling than necessary.

So unnecessary that I may be ready to do so again.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate Palmolive (ex div 1/22), Clorox (ex-div 1/27), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/21 PM), Coach (1/22 AM), Cypress Semiconductor (1/22 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 17, 2013

Things aren’t always as they seem.

As I listened to Janet Yellen face her Senate inquisitors as the hearing process began for her nomination as our next Federal Reserve Chairman, the inquisitors themselves were reserved. In fact they were completely unrecognizable as they demonstrated behavior that could be described as courteous, demur and respectful. They didn’t act like the partisan megalomaniacs they usually are when the cameras are rolling and sound bites are beckoning.

That can’t last. Genteel or not, we all know that the reality is very different. At some point the true colors bleed through and reality has to take precedence.

Closing my eyes I thought it was Woody Allen’s sister answering softball economic questions. Opening my eyes I thought I was having a flashback to a curiously popular situational comedy from the 1990s, “Suddenly Susan,” co-starring a Janet Yellen look-alike, known as “Nana.” No one could possibly sling arrows at Nana.

These days we seem to go back and forth between trying to decide whether good news is bad news and bad news is good news. Little seems to be interpreted in a consistent fashion or as it really is and as a result reactions aren’t very predictable.

Without much in the way of meaningful news during the course of the week it was easy to draw a conclusion that the genteel hearings and their content was associated with the market’s move to the upside. In this case the news was that the economy wasn’t yet ready to stand on its own without Treasury infusions and that was good for the markets. Bad news, or what would normally be considered bad news was still being considered as good news until some arbitrary point that it is decided that things should return to being as they really seem, or perhaps the other way around..

While there’s no reason to believe that Janet Yellen will do anything other than to follow the accommodative actions of the Federal Reserve led by Ben Bernanke, political appointments and nominations have a long history of holding surprises and didn’t always result in the kind of comfortable predictability envisioned. As it would turn out even Woody Allen wasn’t always what he had seemed to be.

Certainly investing is like that and very little can be taken for granted. With two days left to go until the end of the just ended monthly option cycle and having a very large number of positions poised for assignment or rollover, I had learned the hard way in recent months that you can’t count on anything. In those recent cases it was the release of FOMC minutes two days before monthly expiration that precipitated market slides that snatched assignments away. Everything seemed to be just fine and then it wasn’t suddenly so.

As the markets continue to make new closing highs there is division over whether what we are seeing is real or can be sustained. I’m tired of having been wrong for so long and wonder where I would be had I not grown cash reserves over the past 6 months in the belief that the rising market wasn’t what it really seemed to be.

What gives me comfort is knowing that I would rather be wondering that than wondering why I didn’t have cash in hand to grab the goodies when reality finally came along.

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).

Sometimes the most appealing purchases are the very stocks that you already own or recently owned. Since I almost exclusively employ a covered option strategy I see lots of rotation of stocks in and out of my portfolio. That’s especially true at the end of a monthly option cycle, particularly if ending in a flourish of rising prices, as was the case this week.

Among shares assigned this past week were Dow Chemical (DOW), International Paper (IP), eBay (EBAY) and Seagate Technology (STX).

eBay just continues to be a model of price mediocrity. It seems stuck in a range but seems to hold out enough of a promise of breaking out of that range that its option premiums continue to be healthy. At a time when good premiums are increasingly difficult to attain because of historically low volatility, eBay has consistently been able to deliver a 1% ROI for its near the money weekly options. I don’t mind wallowing in its mediocrity, I just wonder why Carl Icahn hasn’t placed this one on his radar screen.

International Paper is well down from its recent highs and I’ve now owned and lost it to assignment three times in the past month. While that may seem an inefficient way to own a stock, it has also been a good example of how the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole when tallying the profits that can arise from punctuated ownership versus buy and hold. Having comfortably under-performed the broad market in 2013 it doesn’t appear to have froth built into its current price

Although Dow Chemical is getting near the high end of the range that I would like to own shares it continues to solidify its base at these levels. What gives me some comfort in considering adding shares at this level is that Dow Chemical has still under-performed the S&P 500 YTD and may be more likely to withstand any market downturn, especially when buoyed by dividends, option premiums and some patience, if required.

Unitedhealth Group (UNH) is in a good position as it’s on both sides of the health care equation. Besides being the single largest health care carrier in the United States, its purchase of Quality Software Services last year now sees the company charged with the responsibility of overhauling and repairing the beleaguered Affordable Care Act’s web site. That’s convenient, because it was also chosen to help set up the web site. It too, is below its recent highs and has been slowly working its way back to that level. Any good news regarding ACA, either programmatically or related to the enrollment process, should translate into good news for Unitedhealth

Seagate Technology simply goes up and down. That’s a perfect recipe for a successful covered option holding. It’s moves, in both directions, can however, be disconcerting and is best suited for the speculative portion of a portfolio. While not too far below its high thanks to a 2% drop on Friday, it does have reasonable support levels and the more conservative approach may be through the sale of out of the money put options.

While I always feel a little glow whenever I’m able to repurchase shares after assignment at a lower price, sometimes it can feel right even at a higher price. That’s the case with Microsoft (MSFT). Unlike many late to the party who had for years disparaged Microsoft, I enjoyed it trading with the same mediocrity as eBay. But even better than eBay, Microsoft offered an increasingly attractive dividend. Shares go ex-dividend this week and I’d like to consider adding shares after a moth’s absence and having missed some of the run higher. With all of the talk of Alan Mullally taking over the reins, there is bound to be some let down in price when the news is finally announced, but I think the near term price future for shares is relatively secure and I look forward to having Microsoft serve as a portfolio annuity drawing on its dividends and option premiums.

I’m always a little reluctant to recommend a possible trade in Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Actually, not always, only since the trades that still have me sitting on much more expensive shares purchased just prior to the dividend cut. Although in the interim I’ve made trades to offset those paper losses, thanks to attractive option premiums reflecting the risk, I believe that the recent sustained increase in this sector is for real and will continue. Despite that, I still wavered about considering the trade again this week, but the dividend pushed me over. Although a fraction of what it had been earlier in the year it still has some allure and increasing iron ore prices may be just the boost needed for a dividend boost which would likely result in a significant rise in shares. I’m not counting on it quite yet, but think that may be a possibility in time for the February 2014 dividend.

While earnings season is winding down there are some potentially interesting trades to consider for those with a little bit of a daring aspect to their investing.

Not too long ago Best Buy (BBY) was derided as simply being Amazon’s (AMZN) showroom and was cited as heralding the death of “brick and mortar.” But, things really aren’t always as they seem, as Best Buy has certainly implemented strategic shifts and has seen its share price surge from its lows under previous management. As with most earnings related trades that I consider undertaking, I’m most likely if earnings are preceded by shares declining in price. Selling puts into price weakness adds to the premium while some of the steam of an earnings related decline may be dissipated by the selling before the actual release.

salesforce.com (CRM) has been a consistent money maker for investors and is at new highs. It is also a company that many like to refer to as a house of cards, yet another way of saying that “things aren’t always as they seem.” As earnings are announced this week there is certainly plenty of room for a fall, even in the face of good news. With a nearly 9% implied volatility, a 1.1% ROI can be attained if less than a 10% price drop occurs, based on Friday’s closing prices through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

Then of course, there’s JC Penney (JCP). What can possibly be added to its story, other than the intrigue that accompanies it relating to the smart money names having taken large positions of late. While the presence of “smart money” isn’t a guarantee of success, it does get people’s attention and JC Penney shares have fared well in the past week in advance of earnings. The real caveat is that the presence of smart money may not be what it seems. With an implied move of 11% the sale of put options has the potential to deliver an ROI of 1.3% even if shares fall nearly 17%.

Finally, even as a one time New York City resident, I don’t fully understand the relationship between its residents and the family that controls Cablevision (CVC), never having used their services. As an occasional share holder, however, I do understand the nature of the feelings that many shareholders have against the Dolan family and the feelings that the publicly traded company has served as a personal fiefdom and that share holders have often been thrown onto the moat in an opportunity to suck assets out for personal gain.

I may be understating some of those feelings, but I harbor none of those, personally. In fact, I learned long ago, thanks to the predominantly short term ownership afforded through the use of covered options, that it should never be personal. It should be about making profits. Cablevision goes ex-dividend this week and is well off of its recent highs. Dividends, option premiums and some upside potential are enough to make even the most hardened of investors get over any personal grudges.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 11/20), Cliffs Natural (ex-div 11/20), Microsoft (ex-div 11/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/19 AM), salesforce.com (11/18 PM), JC Penney (11/20 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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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan