Strategic Tax Losses

NOTE:  Any strategic tax loss trades must be executed by 4 PM (EST) on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.

This year I will not be making any such trades for the OTP portfolio. However, individuals may want to check their capital gains for the year and see if any strategic sales may offset the tax liability for 2013. The “Strategic Tax Loss” spreadsheet can be used to see what the benefit of a tax related sale is in terms of share price increase necessary to be equivalent to the tax credit specific to your tax bracket.

A Bullish Case Going Forward

(A version of this article appeared on TheStreet.com)

The bullish case? I can’t possibly make one, having been expecting a market correction similar to that seen in April 2012 since April of this year. Besides. I’m an inveterate covered option writer and by nature see the pitfalls of every single trade that I make or suggest.

After all, why would you need protection in the form of options if your stock thesis was sound?

After nearly 30 years of marriage my wife recently told me that only about 40% of what I say turns out to actually be correct. If it was only that good when it came to selecting stocks and getting the timing just right. I’d be in the pantheon of the world’s greatest investors instead of world’s greatest husbands.

Conveniently ignoring my track record of premature pessimism, the coming week holds lots of risk for portfolios.

At a time, albeit only for a day or two, that good news was actually interpreted by the market as being good news, it was a little disconcerting that the idea of a budget deal wasn’t greeted with great enthusiasm. In fact, even the architects of the deal seemed to minimize the achievement. Considering that the current Congress would even have a difficult time agreeing on what day to celebrate New Years if it fell on a Monday, one would be excused for thinking a budget deal, well ahead of a deadline was actually monumental.

Suggesting that the market had simply discounted the deal is also convenient, but clearly without basis. Certainly watching Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor take the opportunity to rail against the Affordable Care Act, when they addressed the nation, fighting yesterday’s war instead of rallying the markets by celebrating a rare accomplishment, wasn’t helpful.

At this point, however, that’s all yesterday’s news and other than painting a picture of a squeamish market, doesn’t offer any forward looking guidance.

Where the immediate risk enters is from the coming week’s release of the FOMC minutes and perhaps more importantly Chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference that follows.

Having sold many options with an expiration date just two days after the FOMC release, I’m forced to recall two other occasions this year when I was smugly anticipating assignment of many positions and counting the cash, when the market turned on a dime and not in the right way, either.

Just a few days ago there were very few believing that there was any possibility that the dreaded “taper” to Quantitative Easing could begin or be announced in December. That may be why last week’s good Employment Situation Report was greeted as good news, despite the fact it was good news. Without the fear of the taper beginning much sooner rather than later, the market rallied. But remember, that in the previous days the market sputtered as a synthetic version of tapering, the rising yield on 10 Year Treasury Notes showed us what is in store when the real thing hits.

While the outcome of what awaits next week isn’t pre-ordained, I like to know when obstacles are ahead and what lessons can be learned from the past.

I normally spend Wednesday’s scouting out potential new positions for next week’s purchases in anticipation of weekly option assignments and cash flowing into my account. The question is whether it’s time to preserve the cash or simply look for the bullish case that always exists somewhere, although can disappear in an instant.

Since I never look to hit homeruns, the names that I gravitate to for short term plays are only to achieve small returns and are the names so often dismissed by those with traditional mindsets.

No one thumps their chest pounding about a proposed 1% ROI for the week on their recommeed trades.

COH ChartHowever, eBay (EBAY), Coach (COH) and Caterpillar (CAT) gravitate to the top even when the foundation around them may be weakening. Not because they necessarily have good fundamental stories, after all, they have all had their recent share of derision, but because they have been reliable in their mediocrity and have simply traded in a range for an extended period of time.

 That range is precisely what makes them valuable to an option seller. While exercising a traditional buy and hold approach to these would have been an exercise in futility of the past year, a punctuated form of ownership, essentially a serial buy and hold technique, characterized by repeated purchases, writing of calls and assignments could be an exercise in delight, as seen in these returns in eBay, Caterpillar and Coach. The predictability of that range is more reliable than being able to time a rally or decline. The consistency of trading, particularly over the past nine months or so is the sort of thing that dreams are made of, if you have nothing else to dream about.

They may be boring and they may be out of favor among, but sometimes the bullish case is made out of adding together lots of baby cows.

As I look toward the challenge of the coming week and the message sent by today’s market, I take my seemingly eternal pessimism, but am not inclined to shrink back into my shell. Rather, the time seems exceddingly right for small victories shared with old friends

COH data by YCharts

Weekend Update – November 3, 2013

Some things are just unappreciated until they’re gone.

If you can remember those heady days of 2007, it seemed as if every day we were hitting new market highs and everyone was talking about it when not busy flipping houses.

Some will make the case that is the perfect example of a bubble about to burst, similar to when a bar of gold bullion appears on the cover of TIME magazine, just in time to mark the end of a bull run.

On the other hand, when everyone is suddenly talking about perhaps currently being in a bubble it may be a good time to plan for even more of a good thing.

That’s emblematic of the confusion swirling in our current markets. Earnings are up. Better than expected by most counts, yet revenues are down. The stock market can do only one thing and so it goes higher.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, 2013 has been a year of hitting record after record. Yet the buzz is absent, although house flipping is back. Not that I go to many social events but not many are talking about how wild the market has been. That’s markedly different from 2007.

Listening to those who purport to know about human behavior and markets, that means that we are not yet in a stock market bubble and as such, the market will only go higher, yet that’s at odds with the rampant bubble speculation that is being promoted in some media.

I’m a little more cynical. I see the paucity of excitement as being reflective of investors who have come to believe that consistently higher markets are an entitlement and have subsequently lost their true value. No one seems to appreciate a new record setting close, anymore. The belief in the right to a growing portfolio is no different from the right to use a calculator on an exam. Along with that right comes the loss of ability and appreciation of that ability.

Without spellchecker, the editors at Seeking Alpha would have a hard time distinguishing me from a third grader, but spelling really isn’t something I need to due. It’s just done for me.

While many were unprepared in 2007 because they were caught up in a bubble, 2013 may be different. In 2007 the feeling was that it could only get better and better, so why exercise caution? But in 2013 the feeling may be that there is nothing unusual going on, so what is there to be cautious about?

AS markets do head higher those heights are increasingly met with ennui instead of wonder and awe. It’s barely been more than five years since we last felt the wrath of an over-extended market but I’m certain that the new daily records will be missed once they’re gone.

As a normally cautious person when it comes to investing, but not terribly willing to sacrifice returns for caution my outlook changes with frequency as new funds find their way into my account after the previous week’s assignment of options I had sold.

This past week I didn’t have as many assignments as I had expected owing to some late price drops on Friday, so I’m not as likely to go on a spending spree this coming week, as I don’t want to dig deeply into my cash reserve. This week I’m inclined to think more in terms of dividend paying stocks and relatively few higher beta names, although opportunity is situational and Monday morning’s opening bell may bring surprise action. I appreciate surprise and for the record, I appreciate every single bit of share appreciation and income that comes my way as a gift from this market.

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 currently own shares of MetLife (MET) and have done so several times this year. MetLife reported earnings this past week. They reported a nearly $2 billion turnaround in profits, but missed estimates, despite strength in every metric. They re-affirmed that a lower interest rate environment, as might be expected with a continuation of Quantitative Easing, could impact its assets’ performance in the coming year. That was the same news that created a buying opportunity in the previous quarter, so it should not have come as too much of a surprise. What did, however come as a surprise was the announcement that MetLife would no longer be offering earnings per share guidance. According to its CEO “we will instead expand our discussion of key financial metrics and business drivers, creating a more informed view of MetLife’s future prospects.” The price drop and it’s ex-dividend date this week make it a likely candidate for using my limited funds this week.

I’ve long believed that Robert ben Mosche, CEO of AIG (AIG) was something of a saint. Coming out of comfortable retirement in Croatia to attempt an AIG rescue, he continued on his quest even while battling cancer and still found the time to re-pay AIG’s very sizeable debt to US taxpayers. Who needs that sort of thing when you can live like royalty off the Mediterranean coast?

AIG was punished after reporting earnings this past week. It’s hard to say whether the in line earnings, but slightly lower revenue was to blame for the nearly 7% drop or whether joining forces with MetLife was to blame. Not that they literally joined forces, it’s just that ben Mosche announced that AIG will no longer comment on its “aspirational goals,” which was a way of saying that they too were no longer going to provide guidance. I haven’t owned shares in 2 months and that was at a lower price point than even after the large Friday drop, but I think the opportunity has re-arrived.

Wells Fargo (WFC) goes ex-dividend this week and as much as I’ve silently prayed for its share price to drop back to levels that I last owned them, it just hasn’t worked out that way. To a large degree Wells Fargo has stayed above the various banking controversies and has deflected much of the blame and scrutiny accorded others. At some point it becomes clear that prices aren’t likely to drop significantly in the near term, so it may be time to capitulate and get back on the wagon. However, what does give me some solace is that shares have trailed the S&P 500 during the three time frames that I have been recently using, each representing a near term top of the market; May 21, August 2 and September 19, 2013.

In the world of big pharma, Merck (MRK) has shared in little of the price strength seen by some others. In fact, of late, the best Merck has been able to do to prompt its shares higher have all come on the less constructive side of the ledger. Only the announcement of workforce reductions and other cost cutting steps have been viewed positively.

But at some point a value proposition is created which isn’t necessarily tied to pipelines or other factors pertinent to long term price health. In this case, a quick 7% price drop is enough to warrant consideration of a company paying an attractive dividend and offering appealing enough option premiums to sustain interest in shares even if they stagnate while awaiting the next price catalysts. Besides, if you’re selling covered calls, there’s nothing better than share price stagnation.

What is a week without drawing comparisons between Michael Kors (KORS) and Coach (COH)? Coach has become everyone’s favorite company to disparage, although on any given day it may exchange places with Caterpillar. Kors, is of course, the challenger that has displaced Coach in the hearts of investors and shoppers. Having sold Coach puts in advance of earnings and then purchasing shares even after those expired, those were assigned this past week. However, at this price level Coach is still an appealing covered option purchase and well suited for a short term strategy, even if there is validity to the thesis that it is ceding ground to Kors.

Kors, on the other hand, is doing everything right, including entering the S&P 500. It’s hard not to acknowledge its price ascent, even after a large secondary offering. While I know nothing of fashion and have no basis by which to compare Coach and Kors, I do know that as Kors reports earnings this week the option market is implying approximately 7.5% price move in either direction. However, anything less than a 10% decline in price can still deliver a 1% ROI

Williams Companies (WMB) is one of those companies that seems to fly under the radar. Although I’ve owned shares many times there has never been a reason compelling me to do so on the basis of its business fundamentals. Instead, ownership has always been prompted by an upcoming dividend or a sudden price reversal. In this case I just had shares assigned prior to earnings, which initially saw a big spike in price and then an equally large drop, bringing it right back to the level that I have found to be a comfortable entry point.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reported earnings last week and I did not purchase additional shares or sell puts, as I thought I might. Too bad, because the company acquitted itself well and shares moved higher. I think that shares are just starting and while RIverbed Technology has probably been my most lucrative trading partner over the years, purely on the basis of option premiums, this time around I am unlikely to write call options on all new shares, as I think $18 is the next stop before year end, particularly if the overall market doesn’t correct.

What can anyone add to the volumes that have been said about Apple (AAPL) and Intel (INTC)? Looking for insights is not a very productive endeavor, as the only new information is likely to currently exist only as insider information. Both are on recent upswings and both have healthy dividends that get my attention because of their ex-dividend dates this week. Intel offers nothing terribly exciting other than its dividend, but has been adding to its price in a stealth fashion of late, possibly resulting in the assignment of some of my current shares that represent one of the longest of my holdings, going back to September 2012. While I have always liked Intel it hasn’t always been a good covered call stock because when shares did drop, such as after earnings, the subsequent price climbs took far too long to continually be able to collect option premiums. However, without any foreseeable near term catalysts for a significant price drop it offers some opportunities for a quick premium, dividend and perhaps share appreciation, as well.

Finally, in its short history of paying dividends Apple’s shares have predominantly moved higher after going ex-dividend, although there was one notable exception. Given the factors that may be supporting Apple’s current price levels, including pressure from activist investors and Apple’s own buybacks, I’m not overly concerned about the single historical precedence and think that the triumvirate of option premium, dividend and share appreciation makes it a good addition to even a conservative portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Merck, Williams Companies

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Apple (ex-div 11/6), Intel (ex-div 11/5), MetLife (ex-div 11/6), Wells Fargo (ex-div 11/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (11/5 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.

How Much Do I Need to Make Some Money?

How Much is Enough?How much is enough?

I still vividly remember the Tolstoy short story “How Land Does a Man Need?

That story tells of “Pahom” who surprisingly needed much less land than he thought.

Eschewing greed has always been a tenet of the Option to Profit strategy, but I don’t think that it derived from any Tolstoy influence on me during childhood. I was probably influenced by Soupy Sales and The Marx Bothers much more than Tolstoy.

When I was younger, I looked at everything through the lens of the “The 1964 Zenith 25 Inch Color TV” metric. I don’t think that the word “metric” was really a word then, but like “algorithm,” it sounds like you have credibility when you sprinkle casual conversation with those words, especially if you master the art of subliminal suggestion..

G-spot.

In essence, for me the question was always distilled down to “how many Zenith Color TV’s, using 1964 prices, could be purchased with the amount of money in question?”

For standardization purposes, a single such TV was about $500 back then.

I remember when my father was offered a job paying $25,000 a year.

Totally unaware of such mundane things as taxes and other asset drainers, I just looked at that sum as meaning we could buy a new color TV each and every week.

Now, nearly 25 years later, Zenith is gone, your SUV glove compartment is probably bigger than 25 inches and $25,000 isn’t really that much.

So how much do you need?

I started using the covered call strategy and actively trading in and out of positions while I was still getting a regular paycheck. At the time, the income stream was a nice adjunct and I was only devoting about 25% of my portfolio to the strategy.

Now, I don’t work and I’ve devoted 100% of my stock portfolio to the strategy.

Did I mention that my wife, coincidentally, became known as “Sugar Momma” once I devoted myself to plunking my butt on the La-Z-Boy and trading full time?

I’ve always maintained that you can generate 2-4% per month of income from your assets. That shouldn’t be confused with “profit.” My goal is to use my assets to create income, while limiting downside risk in a down market and accepting the fact that my capital gains may be lessened during a bull run.

I’m OK with that.

Even if the market is going down and your portfolio may show paper losses, you can still generate that 2-4% that can become a source of income or “the source of income”

Since I tend to be a conservative guy, let’s make some assumptions.

Firstly, the upper range of the 2-4% return is during periods of market volatility and utilizing near the money option sales. You want higher than 4%, that can be done, too, but you have to also dismiss “fear” as you would need to devote more of your assets to “momentum” stocks or more speculative plays, like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Amazon, Netflix and MolyCorp, to name a few. Maybe even those “evil” leveraged ETF’s and ETN’s, such as ProShares UltraSilver and UltraShort Silver, Barclays Volatility ETN and others.

Secondly, the upper range also assumes that most, if not all of your holdings will be hedged, thus creating income streams.

So, now lets assume that it’s not very volatile out there and only 50% of your holdings are hedged and you’re not a momentum risk taking kind of guy.

I’ll call that 1%.

So how big of a portfolio do you need to make a monthly 1% income stream meaningful to you? What is your personal “Pahom” telling you that you need?

Well, let’s not forget to throw the monthly $200 subscription fee in there (once I increase it to that amount).

That means to reach a break even, your portfolio would have to be at least $20,000.

The bad news is that if that’s all you have, you may be in the 1% for income stream, but you’re probably not in the 1% by “Occupy Wall Street” standards.

Beyond that, even if you wanted to put the strategy into effect and accept a 0% income flow, after your subscription costs, $25,000 really isn’t enough to be diversified and have some pricing efficiency, even with your Uncle Vinnie acting as your discount broker.

So, you can easily do the math at different asset levels and different income stream rates.

From my perspective, after expenses, at that 1%, I’d need a $75,000  portfolio to get one new Zenith 25 inch color TV every month.

You may have your own metric.

Obviously, the next question is how much would it take to make a meaningful difference in your life?

I’m also assuming that your investments are discretionary. That is, you’re not playing with money that you may need in a moment of desperation. Those moments always seem to come when you’re stocks are at their low points. There’s nothing worse than taking losses, unless it’s taking losses when you’re arm is being twisted to do so.

Been there. But you’ll have to read “Option to Profit” for the story.

G-spot.

 

 

RETURN HOME

 

Carl Icahn Spells the End of an Era at Apple

This afternoon came news via a simple 140 space statement that Carl Icahn currently had “a large position” in Apple (AAPL).

By all accounts his discussion with CEO Tim Cook were cordial. Icahn himself, in another 140 space blast referred to it as “nice,” and he anticipated speaking to Cook again shortly.

I currently own Apple shares that somewhat surprisingly weren’t assigned away from me last week in an effort to grab the dividend. Considering that shares were trading at about $465 prior to the ex-dividend and the strike price sold was $450, my expectation had been that assignment was a certainty. Especially since option premiums were no longer showing any time premium with such a deep in the money option.

But as many know when it comes to Apple stock, rational thought isn’t always a hallmark of ownership.

I still think back to a comment made to an earlier Seeking Alpha article I had written in May 2012, when Apple was trading at about $575

“I guess it’s hard to not have a certain bias towards a company that has turned $30,000 of your dollars into $600,000 and may if things go right turn it into a $1,000,000.”

I always wondered whether that individual had taken interim profits or whether subsequent to May 2012 had secured some profits as Apple dropped some 200 points. The fact that its author was a CPA wasn’t lost upon me.

At the time, I thought that an investing strategy of hoping to turn $30,000 into $1,000,000 was irrational, just as turning $600,000 into $1,00,00 was irrational.

What was abundantly clear, as I took a cynical view of Apple shares in repeated articles when analysts were calling for a $1,000 stock price was that emotion was at work among many investors. Part of the emotion was the fervent belief that Apple could only keep innovating and would always be an aspirational product with great margins.

However, one refrain that repeatedly was played was that Apple shares were destined to go much higher, based on an absurdly low price to earnings ratio.

The contention was that one the market starting placing a value on Apple shares more consistent with other technology stocks, Apple would soar far above its current level.

Of course, the seemingly rational analysis dismissed the fact that the market may in fact, have been rational in giving Apple a P/E in the 12 range, just like any well regarded retailer.

A retailer? Apple is a retailer and not a technology company? Granted, it is no longer “Apple Computer,” but why should Apple be considered anything but a technology company?

That’s where Carl Icahn comes in.

Despite his recent foray into Dell Computer (DELL), his history as an activist shareholder has not included many companies in the technology arena.

Icahn refers to Apple as being “undervalued” but he isn’t looking at a low P/E to buttress his opinion. He is looking at a continuing large cash position that he envisions as a means of expanding the already large share buyback, that to many has already been the source of Apple strength going from its near term lows to $450.

This is not a case of finding fault with leadership, this is not a case of someone seeking to prevent shareholders from being robbed blind in an insider buyout deal. Apple is very different from Dell in so many ways.

This is all about leveraging cash, without regard to product pipeline and without regard to product margins. This isn’t about cutting expenses or changing direction. It is as pure as you can get – it is about cash.

Icahn cares nothing about this company other than for the cash it holds. Cash which is unleveraged isn’t worth very much to him or anyone else. It certainly adds nothing to a company’s P/E.

Icahn cares nothing about this company other than for the cash it holds. Cash which is unleveraged isn’t worth very much to him or anyone else. It certainly adds nothing to a company’s P/E. It’s time to face the fact that the stock market has been entirely rational in assigning Apple the P/E it has for these past years. It was not going to ever be considered a technology company again. It is a retailer with a narrow range of products which are bought at the whims of a fickle consumer.

While not terribly different from David Einhorn’s earlier attempt to wiggle cash out of the Apple coffers, Icahn is relentless and scrappy. What starts as perhaps a nice discussion can quickly go elsewhere.

While there is a quick pop in Apple shares in the aftermath of the announcement and while I anticipate shares to move even higher, this is the end for the Apple that you knew and loved. It wasn’t the death of Steve Jobs, but rather the indirect impact of his absence that spells the end, as Apple becomes like so many other companies simply nothing more than a vessel for someone that will have as limited interest as a pedestrian day trader.

While I’ve believed that Apple was an eminently good trading stock once in went down below the $450 level in February 2013, I think that in the very near term its suitability as a trade is even further enhanced, despite the large move higher this afternoon.

In fact, in the case of Apple, I would even consider the rare decision to purchase shares without immediate and concomitant sale of call options.

As long as Carl Icahn is on your side, you may as well consider him in the same vein as those who warn that you should “never fight the Fed,”  even if you believe Apple is too large for even Carl Icahn to take on. That’s because this is now also a new era of cooperative behavior (against Bill Ackman, at least), where the big boys are capable of joining forces these days and will do so like vultures when there’s cash to be had.

The only caveat is that it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy dreams of turning $30,000 into a $1,000,00 and so I would be all for taking profits wherever they present themselves.