Weekend Update – January 5, 2014

There’s a lot to be said in support of those who practice a strategy of surrounding themselves with those that suffer by comparison of whatever attribute is under consideration.

Most of us intuitively know what needs to be done if we want to make ourselves or our actions look good when under scrutiny.

The mutual fund industry had done it for years. It’s all about what you compare yourself to, although looking good raises expectations for even more of the same and most of us also know how that often works out.

As observers it’s only natural that we make our assessments on the basis of comparison to whatever standard is available. Among our many human foibles is that we often tend to be superficial and are just as likely to forego deeper analyses when faced with pleasing circumstances. We also want to go with the perceived winners in the belief that they will always be winners. Certainly the investing experience doesn’t bear out that strategy. Yesterday’s winner isn’t necessarily tomorrow’s champion.

Fresh on the heels of a 31% gain in the S&P 500, 2014 is going to have a difficult time in comparison. While maybe hoping that 2015 is going to be an abysmal year in the meantime 2014 has to contend with the obvious stress of the obligatory comparisons.

For the individual investor 2013 has ended with so many stocks at or near their highs that it’s actually very difficult to find that lesser entity for comparison purposes. Everything just looks so good that nothing really looks good, especially going forward, which is the only direction that counts. Looking at chart after chart brings up strikingly similar patterns with very little able to stand out on the basis of its own beauty. Comparing onesupermodelto the next is likely to be an empty exercise for many reasons, but ultimately it becomes clear that there are no distinguishing factors to make anyone stand out.

Without comparisons our own minds get numb. We need differences to appreciate the reality of any situation. When so many stock charts begin to look so similar it becomes difficult to discern where to start when looking for new positions.

While another human tendency is the desire to go with winners this time of the year introduces a traditional concept that looks in the opposite direction for its rewards. This is the time of the year when theDogs of the Dow Theorygets so much attention. In a year that so many stocks are higher the comparison to those that have truly underperformed is really heightened.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum andPEEcategories this week (see details). With earnings season beginning once again this week attention must also be diverted into the consideration of those reports when adding new positions and when selecting the time frame for hedging options. For that reason I’m looking increasingly at option time frames that offer some buffer in time between expiration dates and earnings dates, perhaps making greater use of expanded options and forward month expirations, as well.

This week’s potential selections varied widely in performance compared to the S&P 500 during 2013. While noDogs of the Dowcandidates are offered, some were dogs in their own right regardless of what they were being compared to at the time. But as always, since I like to hedge my bets and play on both sides of prevailing sentiment, there may be room for both outperformers and underperformers as 2014 gets underway.

While General Electric’s (GE) 33.5% gain for 2013 was laudable it essentially mirrored the S&P 500 for the year. An analyst downgrade on Friday had virtually no impact, although shares did fall nearly 2% the previous day to start the New Year. Increasingly shedding its dependence on financial divisions that helped to bring it to $6 just 5 years ago, GE may now be wondering if this wouldn’t be a good time to emphasize that division, as interest rates are beginning to rise. But even a stagnant GE in 2014 when considered in the context of its dividend and option premiums offers a good place to invest if the aim is to outperform the S&P 500.

Barclays (BCS) is one of those in the financial sector that had greatly lagged the S&P 500 in 2013. With significant international exposure it shouldn’t be too surprising that it might better reflect the lesser fortunes experienced by the European markets, among others. I already own shares and will consider adding more as it appears that there will be a move higher which I expect will be confirmed by improved earnings when reported during the February 2014 option cycle, which may also see a dividend payment.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) has long been a favorite stock upon which to sell covered calls or enter ownership through the sale of puts. It outperformed the S&P 500 by nearly the amount that Barclays underperformed for the year, but after some recent weakness that reduced shares by 7% its chart has started looking less like the crowd. While certainly not in thelosercategory it’s potential looks better to me than those that haven’t taken the time for the share price to take a breather of late.

As long as in comparison mode, last January Family Dollar Store (FDO) dropped 12% upon earnings release, which followed a 9% drop the previous month. The option market isn’t expecting a repeat of that performance, perhaps because shares are already down 11% since its September high. Instead a 5.9% implied move is priced into option contracts. The sale of out of the money puts at a strike price at the lower end of the implied move could return 0.9% for the effort. That is just below my typical threshold for making such a trade, but if looking for a relativedog,” this may be the one ready for a rebound.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that recently broke out of its reliable trading range. Once that happens I lose interest in reacquiring shares, having already owned it on eight occasions in 2013. What I don’t lose is interest in seeing shares return to that range. Following an earnings related share fall the price rebounded beyond where it started is descent. However, a recent downgrade has started nudging shares back toward the upper edge of the range that has proved to be a good entry point. While no one really has any good idea of what awaits the Chinese economy and by extension, Joy Global’s fortunes, it has proven to be a resilient stock and offers an option premium to go along with its frequent alternations in price direction.

It has been a long time since I had own any communications stocks until a recent TMobile holding. While both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T)were core holdings during the recovery stages in 2009, I haven’t found them very appealing for much of the recovery. However, both do go exdividend this week and the cellphone services sector is certainly livening up a bit. But beyond that, for the first time in a long time there were glimpses of these shares offering meaningful option premiums during their exdividend week that seemed to warrant their consideration once again. In fact, I didn’t wait until Monday and purchased shares of Verizon after weakness on Friday and may elect to accompany those shares with its rival’s shares, as well.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) was a selection just a few weeks ago but went unrequited as news broke regarding activist investor coercion regarding potential spinoff plans for its low growth Red Lobster chain. Shares go exdividend this week and earnings pressure is still two months away. Although a $55 strike would require challenging its 52 week high, this is a potential trade that I would consider using a forward month contract, such as the February 2014, in anticipation of some increasing pressure from the investment community and activists intent on reengineering.

Finally, a study in comparative contrasts are Walter Energy (WLT) and Icahn Enterprises (IEP). While Icahn Enterprises was nearly 145% higher for the year Walter Energy dropped nearly 54%.

While Carl Icahn may get more done on the basis of brute force investing and schoolyard tactics, Walter Energy now relies on the power of redemption and grace, and maybe just a little on business cycles.

A quick look at the comparative charts shows what a difference time can make, as Walter Energy greatly outperformed Icahn Enterprises prior to this year and how Icahn Enterprises had been simply a market performer until the past year.

Interestingly in the past month Walter Energy has risen about 15% while Icahn Enterprises has fallen a similar amount.

IEP Chart

This past year no one has received more attention for his investing and activism than Carl Icahn. This week yet another company Hertz (HTZ) acknowledged that it was in the Icahn crosshairs, as it adopted a poison pill provision to keep him at bay. Icahn Enterprises, a tangled web of holding companies and investment activities shows little sign of slowing down as long as the market remains healthy. With the ability to raise stock prices with a simple Tweet, Carl Icahn may be more in control of his destiny than the market was intended to allow.

With a healthy dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle and an attractive option premium, Icahn Enterprises may be a good choice for someone with a little daring to spare, as the ascent has been steep.

Walter Energy, on the other hand, has been slowly working its way higher, although still having a long way to go to erase its past year’s loss. While there is certainly no guarantee that last year’s loser will be this year’s darling, Walter Energy certainly is the former. It has, however, for the daring, offered excellent option premiums even for deep in the money options, that do mitigate some of the risk inherent in ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Icahn Enterprises, Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (exdiv 1/8), Darden (exdiv 1/8), Verizon (exdiv 1/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Store

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 – December 1, 2013

We may be on the verge of the Eve of Inflection.

Thanksgiving is that time of year when many sit back and think about all of their bounty and good fortune in the past year.

Sometimes the processes of reflection and introspection bring about inflection. Sometimes reviewing where you’ve been and where you appear to be heading are sufficient causes to consider a change in path or direction.

Nowhere is that more true than among many hedge fund managers now faced with the end of the year in sight and a stock market that has been out-performing their own trading and expertise. Many have already made the decision to increase risk taking behavior and eschew hedging in a last ditch effort to catch up to the averages and to secure their bonuses or save their jobs.

That may be more an example of desperation rather than introspection, but that kind of behavior may also herald an inflection point, not only in personal behavior but also in the very nature of the markets, especially if you take a contrarian view. When others change their behavior and begin to chase it may be time to take cover.

Sometimes that change in path is neither wanted nor welcome, but perhaps unavoidable. With the market hitting new highs on a nearly daily basis, what hasn’t escaped notice is that the rate of increase is itself decreasing. Most will tell you that in the case of a momentum stock a sign that its heady days are about to become a memory is when the rate of growth begins decreasing. In this case, it seems that it is the market as a whole whose rate of increase has recently been on the decline.

Depending on your perspective, if you are eternally bullish that decline is just a chance to digest some gains and prepare for the next leg higher. For the bears that slowing is the approach to the point of inflection.

Every roller coaster has them. Every stock market has them. On roller coasters, even when your eyes are closed you know when a change in slope direction is about to occur. It’s not quite as intuitive or simple in the stock market because human nature often believes that simple laws governing events can be suspended. No one thinks in a cautionary manner when the prevailing spirit is “laissez les bon temps rouler.”

While the overall market would likely find that a point of inflection would take it lower, there may be opportunity in stocks whose points of inflection may have been reached and are now bound to go higher or are already on their way.

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).

Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) reported its earnings early in the most recent earnings season. It was the first to blame the government shutdown on its poorer than anticipated results and shares plummeted about 15%. Having recovered nearly half of that loss, with about another 6 weeks to go until the next earnings report, shares go ex-dividend this week. It has been a bit more than a year since the last time I owned shares, then too purchased in part because of its upcoming dividend. I think Stanley Black and Decker still has some room to move higher relative to the overall market and now offers good opportunity in advance of its next report.

To a degree Stanley Black and Decker and Fastenal (FAST) are related and dependent upon residential and commercial growth. This past week’s durable goods orders report didn’t necessarily send news of a robust economy, but Fastenal has been trading in a range of late which is always a reason to consider as part of a covered option strategy. I already own two lots of Fastenal, but continue to like it at its current price in anticipation that it will remain near that price.

The Gap (GPS) is one of those clothing retailers that still insists on releasing monthly comparison statistics. The past two monthly reports have sent shares moving in opposite directions as the report itself is the source of exceptionally high option premiums. With conflicting interpretations in two successive monthly reports there is little reason to believe that any volatility surrounding the monthly reports are indicative of systemic or irreparable issues at the retailer. Even with the prospect of another negative report this coming week, I don’t believe that the market will react as rashly as had occurred in October and from which point shares have now fully recovered.

While both AIG (AIG) and Halliburton (HAL) do go ex-dividend this week, their dividends alone aren’t appealing enough to focus attention on their purchase. Both, however, are sufficiently off from their recent high levels to warrant consideration. Both also represent stocks that appear to have set new baseline price levels as they have been slowly and methodically moved higher until very recently. Those are opportunities that get enhanced by the prospects of an inflection and their option premiums complemented by the possibility of also capturing dividends, albeit modest ones.

Dow Chemical (DOW) may also appear to be in the category of having fallen some from its recent high point and perhaps ready for a turnaround, with its current levels serving as that point of inflection taking the stock to a modestly higher level. While it may also be subject to some of the larger macro-economic issues such as those faced by Stanley Black and Decker and Fastenal, Dow Chemical’s dividend offers some protection during a market decline and its option premiums help to provide a cushion during either bigger picture declines or stock specific missteps.

While the previously mentioned positions are all fairly sedate choices that may be expected to do better if there is an inflection in the market, there may also be room for consideration of some more volatile additions to the portfolio, particularly as part of short term trading strategies.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) has reversed course from its nearly 15% climb in October, simply an example of successive points of inflection in a short period of time. I think that the selling is now overdone, not only in Freeport McMoRan, but in the metals complex and that shares of Freeport are once again getting ready for another period of inflection. While I have held some positions in Freeport McMoRan much longer than my typical holding, its dividend has made the holding period more tolerable. That dividend appears to be secure, even while there is some talk of gold miners being at risk of cutting dividends if ore prices continue to decline.

For the ones really enjoying roller coaster rides, Walter Energy (WLT) may be just the thing. Its recent drop for its near term high seems to be developing a new price floor that can serve as the point of inflection taking the price higher, although I would expect that based on its recent behavior such a move might be short lived. However, that rapid alternation in direction has made Walter Energy a very good recent covered call trade, although for some the sale of puts may be a more appropriate manner to take advantage of the share’s volatility.

Finally, it’s yet another week to consider eBay (EBAY). Despite a 2.5% gain on Friday, eBay is simply proving the analysts correct, in that it continues to be a moribund stock trading in a tight range. It was decried just two weeks ago for being unable to escape from that range while the rest of the market seemed to be thriving. In the meantime, those practicing a covered call strategy and owning shares of eBay, over and over again, have fared well. Responding to the analyst’s cry, eBay did test that lower range and has now bounced back nicely to the point that it is once again in the middle of that range. That’s an ideal position to consider opening a new position or adding to an existing position.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, Fastenal, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AIG (ex-div 12/3 ), Halliburton (ex-div 12/4), Stanley Black and Decker (ex-div 12/4)

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 – 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 – October 20, 2013

With the S&P 500 having reached an all time high this past week you could certainly draw the conclusion that a government shutdown is a good thing and flirting with default is a constructive strategy. At a reported cost of only $24 Billion associated with closure and nothing more than a symbolic “Fitch slap” credit watch issued, perhaps we should look forward to the next potential round in just a few months.

For me, this past week marked the slowest week of opening new positions that I can recall since the 2009 market bottom. Although history suggests that the eleventh hour is a charm, the zeal of some more newly elected officials was reminiscent of a theological premise that believes in order to save it you must first destroy the world. That kind of uncertainty is the kind in which you get your affairs in order rather than embarking on lots of new and exciting initiatives.

With manufactured uncertainty temporarily removed the market can focus on earnings and other things that most of us believe are somewhat important.

One thing that will be certain is that wherever possible the next earnings season will attempt to lay some blame for any disappointments upon the government shutdown. This past week it certainly didn’t take Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) and eBay (EBAY) very long to already take advantage of that excuse. Who knew that government purchasing agents were unable to use eBay for Blackhawk helicopter replacement parts during their unexpected furlough?

As with the previous earnings season the financial sector started off the reports in a promising way, although early in the season the results are mixed, with some significant surges and plunges. What is clear is that investors are paying particular attention to guidance.

One earnings report that caught my attention was from Pet Smart (PETM). My father always believed that no matter what the economic environment, people would always find the wherewithal to spend on the pets and their kids. Pet Smart’s disappointing earnings focused on a “challenged consumer” and lower customer traffic. That can’t be a good sign. If pets are going wanting what does that portend for the rest of us?

Yet, on the other hand, Align Technology (ALGN) discussed last week, was a different story. Certainly representing discretionary spending and not benefiting from any provisions in the Affordable Care Act, their orthodontic appliances see no barriers from the economy ahead, as they reported great earnings and guidance.

Also clouding the picture, perhaps both literally and figuratively, is the positive guidance provided by Peabody Energy (BTU). For a nation that has been said to “move on coal,” that has to be a signal of something positive going forward.

This week, with lots of cash from assignments of October 2013 option contracts, I’m anxious to get back to business as usual, but still have a bit of wariness. However, despite the appearances of a reluctant consumer, I’m encouraged by recent activity in the speculative portion of my portfoli0, enough so to consider adding to those positions, even at market highs.

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).

The news from Peabody Energy in addition to some recent price stabilization in Walter Energy (WLT), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) have me in a hopeful mood after long having suffered with positions in all three.

A year ago at this time I believed that Freeport McMoRan would be among the best performers in 2013, but subsequent to that it has only recently started on its recovery from the price plunge it sustained when announcing plans to acquire Plains Exploration and Production, as it planned to expand its asset base to include oil and natural gas. While the long term vision may be someday vindicated, 2013 has not been a stellar year. But, like some others this week, there has been a steady strengthening in its price, despite significantly lower gold, oil and copper prices, year to date. While its dividend has made holding shares marginally tolerable through the year, I think it is now ready to start a sustained climb and it offers appealing call premiums to create income or provide downside protection. Earnings are reported this week, but the option market is not expecting a very large move.

Another company slowly climbing higher, but still with a great distance to travel is Walter Energy . In addition to suffering through a proxy fight this year and significant challenges to management, declining coal prices and a slashed dividend, I believe that it is also poised to continue climb higher. I recently tested the waters and added shares along with selling in the money calls. Those were just assigned, but I think that I’m ready to dip deeper.

Sticking to the same theme, Cliffs Natural Resources goes hand in hand with Walter Energy, at least in its price behavior and disappointments. It too has slashed its dividend and its CEO has retired. Like Walter Energy, I recently started adding shares and had them assigned this week. Cliffs reports earnings this week and unlike Freeport McMoRan, the option market is expecting a larger price move.

While I rarely do more than glance at charts, in the case of Cliffs Natural Resources the 5 Year price chart may suggest a long term pattern that has shares at the beginning of a sustained climb higher.

As with many positions that are preparing to report earnings, I typically consider potential entry through the sale of put options.

Also reporting earnings this week is Cree (CREE). Thanks to legislation its LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous in home improvement stores and homes. It has the features of companies that make potentially alluring earnings trades. In this case, this always volatile moving company can sustain up to a 14% price decline and still return a 1% ROI for the week. The only real consideration is that it is capable of making that decline a reality, so if selling puts you do have to be prepared to take ownership.

While already having reported earnings and falling into the “disappointing” category, Fastenal (FAST), which I look at as being an economic barometer kind of company has already started regaining its price decline. It will be ex-dividend this week offering an additional reason to consider its purchase, even though I already own lower priced shares and rarely buy additional lots at higher prices. However, with W.W. Grainger (GWW) recently reporting positive earnings I’m encouraged that Fastenal will follow, but in the meantime the dividend and option premium make it easier to wait.

Also going ex-dividend this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM). I considered its purchase last week, but it fell victim to a week of my inaction. While perhaps at risk to suffer from decreased spending at some higher end stores it has already fallen about 11% from its recent high point. However, since it reports earnings just prior to the expiration of the November 2013 option cycle, I might consider utilizing a December 2013 covered call sale.

The Gap (GPS) isn’t at risk of losing too many high end customers, it has just been losing customers, at least on the basis of its most recent monthly report. It is one of those retailers that still reports monthly comparison figures. That’s just one more bullet that needs to be dodged in addition to potential surprises during earnings season. Shares went precipitously lower with its most recent retail report and caught me along with it. It is near a price support level and represents an opportunity to either purchase additional shares to attempt to offset paper losses of an earlier lot or to establish an initial covered position.

While eBay may not sell used Blackhawk helicopter parts it somehow found a way to link its coming fortunes to the government shutdown. Suffering a significant price drop following earnings and guidance shares were once again in a channel of great familiarity. Having traded reliably in the $50-$52.50 range the sight of it falling was well received. However, late in the trading session on Friday someone else must have seen the same appeal as shares suddenly jumped $1.65 in about 20 minutes. That takes away some of the appeal. What takes away more of the appeal was the explanation by CEO Donahoe that spurred the surge, when he explained that he and his CFO did not mean to sound so dour about holiday prospects, it’s just that they both had colds.

On the other hand UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is a company that may be able to justifiably point its finger at the Federal government when it reports earnings again in January 2014. Already suffering a nearly 10% drop in the past week related to 2014 guidance, UnitedHealth is a major player in the options available on the Affordable Health Care Act exchanges. While perhaps not being able to blame the shutdown for any revenue related woes, disappointing enrollment statistics may be in the making. The additional price drop on Friday, following the large drop on Thursday may be related to enrollment challenges rather than projections of lower Medicare funding in the coming year. However, nearing a price support and following such a large price drop provides a combination that makes ownership appealing. Perhaps eBay employees should consider signing up en masse in the event they are all prone to colds that effect their ability to perform. In enough numbers that may be helpful to UnitedHealth Group’s 2014 revenues.

Of course, while the market seemed to rejoice at what could only be construed as the return to health of the eBay executives, Groupon (GRPN) is another example of a stock whose price has returned to more lofty levels following surgical removal of its CEO. It is one of a handful of stocks that I sold last year taking a capital loss and swore that I would never buy again. Now down about 15% from its recent high, which itself was up approximately 500% from its not too distant low, Groupon is a different company in leadership, product and prospects. While still a risky position

Finally, a name that everyone seems to disparage these days is Coach (COH). While there is certainly sufficient reason to believe that retailers, even the higher end retailers are being challenged, Coach is beginning to be perceived as taking a back seat to retailer Michael Kors (KORS). SHares have certainly been volatile, especially at earnings and Coach reports earnings this week. Having owned shares a number of times in the past year, my preference is to sell puts in advance of earnings in anticipation of a large drop. Currently, the option market is implying nearly a 9% move. A 1% ROI for the week can be obtained through such a sale if the price drop is less than 12%.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, The Gap, United Health Group

Momentum Stocks: Groupon, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 10/23), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 10/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/22 AM), Freeport McMoRan (10/22), Cree (10/22 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (10/24 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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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan

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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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan