Weekend Update – October 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

This was an incredibly boring week, almost entirely devoid of news, other than for earnings reports and an outdated Employment Situation Report.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, MetLife

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2013 TheAcsMan

Weekend Update – October 6, 2013

This is the time of year that one can start having regrets about the way in which votes were cast in prior elections.

Season’s Misgivings

The sad likelihood, however, is that officials elected through the good graces of incredibly gerrymandered districts are not likely to ever believe that their homogeneous and single minded neighbors represent thoughts other than what the entire nation shares.

That’s where both parties can at least agree that is the truth about the other side.

Living in the Washington, DC area the impact of a federal government shutdown is perhaps much more immediately tangible than in a “geometric shape not observed in nature” congressional district elsewhere. However, there is no doubt that a shutdown has adverse effect on GDP and that impact is cumulative and wider spreading as the shutdown continues.

It’s unfortunate that elected officials seem to neither notice nor care about direct and indirect impact on individuals and financial institutions. In war that sort of thing is sanitized by referring to it as “collateral damage.” As long as it’s kept out of sight and in someone else’s congressional district it doesn’t really exist.

Pete Najarian put it in terms readily understandable, much more so than when some tried expressing the cost of a shutdown in terms of drag on quarterly GDP.

Of course, the real challenge awaits as we once again are faced with the prospect of having insufficient cash to pay debts and obligations. But for what it’s worth at least the rest of the world gets a much needed laugh and boost in national ego, while McGraw Hill Financial (MHFI) and others ponder the price of their calling it as they see it.

At the moment, that’s probably not what the economy needs, but in the perverse world we live in that may mean continued Federal Reserve intervention in Quantitative Easing. While “handouts” are decried by many who don’t see a detriment to a government shutdown, the Federal Reserve handout is one that they are inclined to accept, as long as it helps to fuel the markets.

However, as we are ready to enter into another earnings season this week many are mindful of the fairly lackluster previous earnings season that just ended. While the markets have recently been riding a wave of unexpected good news, such as no US intervention in Syria, continued Quantitative Easing and the disappearance of Lawrence Summers from the landscape, we are ripe for disappointment. We were spared any potential disappointment on Friday morning as the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report fell victim to someone being furloughed.

So what would be more appropriate than to re-introduce the concept of stock fundamentals, such as earnings, into the equation? During this past summer, when our elected officials were on vacation, that’s pretty much where we focused our attention as the world and the nation were largely quiet places. While no one is particularly effusive about what the current stream of reports will offer, a market that truly discounts the future already has its eyes set on the following earnings season that may begin to bear the brunt of any trickle down from a prolonged government shutdown.

At the moment, sitting on cash reserves, I am willing to recycle funds from shares that have been assigned this Friday (October 4, 2013), but am not willing to dip further into the pile until seeing some evidence of a bottoming to the current process that had the S&P 500 drop 2.7% since September 19, 2013 until Friday’s nice showing pared the loss down to 2%. But I need more evidence than a tepid one day respite, just as it will take more than a resolution to the current congressional impasse to believe that we wouldn’t be better served by an unelected algorithm.

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

I’m certain many people miss the days when a purchase of shares in Apple (AAPL) was a sure thing. While I like profits as much as the next person, I also enjoy the hunt and from that perspective I think that Apple shares are far more interesting now as we just passed the one year anniversary of having reached its peak price and tax related selling capitalizing on the loss will likely slow. Suddenly it’s becoming like many other stocks and financial engineering is beginning to play a role in attempts to enhance shareholder value.

Without passing judgment on the merits of the role of activist investors it doesn’t hurt to have additional factors that can support share price, particularly at times that the market itself may be facing weakness. Apple has increasingly been providing opportunities for short term gains as its price undulates with the tide that now includes more than just sales statistics and product releases. Capital gains or shares, an attractive dividend and generous option premiums make its ownership easier to consider at current prices. However, with earnings scheduled to be reported on October 22, 2013 I would likely focus on the sale of weekly option contracts as Apple is prone to large earnings related moves.

While Apple has done a reasonable job in price recovery over the past few months amid questions regarding whether its products were still as fashionable as they had been, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) hasn’t yet made that recovery from its most recent earnings report that saw a more than 20% price drop. As far as I know, and I don’t get out very much, talks of it no longer being the “cool” place to buy clothes aren’t the first item on people’s conversational agenda. The risk associated with ownership is always present but is subdued when earnings reports are still off in the distance, as they are currently. In the meantime, Abercrombie and Fitch always offers option premiums that help to reduce the stress associated with share ownership.

Ironically, the health care sector hasn’t be treating me terribly well of late, perhaps being whipsawed by the fighting on Capitol Hill over the Affordable Care Act and proposed taxes on medical devices. Additionally, a government shutdown conceivably slows the process whereby regulated products can be brought to the market. Abbott Labs (ABT), whose shares were recently assigned at $35 has subsequently dropped about 5% and will be going ex-dividend this week. Although the dividend isn’t quite as rich as some of the other major pharmaceutical companies after having completed a spin-off earlier in the year, I think the selling is done and overdone.

For me, a purchase of MetLife (MET) is nothing more than replacing shares that were just assigned after Friday’s opportune price surge and that have otherwise been a reliable creator of income streams from dividends and option premiums. At the current price levels MetLife has been an ideal covered call stock having come down in price in response to fears that in a reduced interest rate environment its own earnings will be reduced.

International Paper (IP) is an example of a covered call strategy gone wrong, as the last time I owned it was about a year ago having had shares assigned just prior to its decision to go on a sustained rise higher. While frequently cited by detractors as an argument against a covered option strategy, the reality is that such events don’t happen terribly often, nor does the investor have to eschew greed as share price is escalating or exercise perfect timing. to secure profits before they evaporate. I’ve waited quite a while for its share price to drop, but it is still far from where I last owned them. Still, the current price drop helps to restore the appeal.

Being levered to China or even being perceived as levered to the Chinese economy can either be an asset or a liability, depending on what questionable data is making the rounds at any given moment. Joy Global (JOY) is one of those companies that is heavily levered to China, but even when the macroeconomic news seems to be adverse the shares are still able to maintain itself within a comfortably defined trading range. With Friday’s strong close my shares were assigned, but I would like to re-establish a position, particularly at a price point below $52.50. If it stays true to form it will find that level sooner rather than later making it once again an appealing purchase target and source of option related income.

With the start of a new earnings season one stock that I’ve been longing to own again starts out the season. YUM Brands (YUM) is an always interesting stock to own due to how responsive it is to any news or rumors coming from China. Over the past year it’s been incredibly resilient to a wide range of reports that you would think were being released in an effort to conspire against share price. Food safety issues, poor drink selection during heat waves and Chinese economic slow down have all failed to keep the share price down. While the current price is near the top of its range I think that expectations have been set on the low side. In addition to reporting earnings this week shares also go ex-dividend the following day.

A little less exciting, certainly as compared to Abercrombie and Fitch is The Gap (GPS). In a universe of retailers going through violent price swings, The Gap has been an oasis of calm. It goes ex-dividend this week and if it can maintain that tight trading channel it would be an ideal purchase as part of a covered call strategy.

While The Gap isn’t terribly exciting, Molson Coors (TAP) and Williams Co. (WMB) are even less so. While I usually start thinking about either of them in the period preceding a dividend payment they have each found a price level that has offered some stability, thereby providing some additional appeal in the process that includes sale of near the money calls.

Finally, I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with Mosaic (MOS). The hate part is only recent as shares that I’ve owned since May 2013 have fallen victim to the collapse of the potash cartel. In a “what have you done for me lately” kind of mentality that kind of performance makes me forget how profitable Mosaic had been as a covered call holding for about 5 years. However, the recent “love” part of the equation has come from the serial purchase of shares at these depressed levels and collecting premiums in alternation with their assignment. I have been following shares higher with such purchases as there is now some reason to believe that the cartel may not be left for dead.

Traditional Stocks: International Paper, Molson Coors, Williams Co.

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Joy Global, MetLife, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 10/10), The Gap (ex-div 10/11), YUM Brands (ex-div 10/9)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/8 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