Weekend Update – January 12, 2014

Confusion Reigns.

January is supposed to be a very straightforward month. Everyone knows how it’s all supposed to go.

The market moves higher and the rest of the year simply follows. Some even believe it’s as simple as the first five trading days of the year setting the tone for the remainder still to come.

Since the market loves certainty, the antithesis of confusion, the idea of a few days or even a month ordaining the outcome of an entire year is the kind of certainty that has broad appeal.

But with the fifth trading day having come to its end on January 8th, the S&P 500 had gone down 11 points. Now what? Where do we turn for certainty?

To our institutions, of course, especially our central banking system which has steadfastly guided us through the challenges of the past 6 years. The year started with some certainty as Federal Reserve Chairman nominee Janet Yellen was approved by a vote that saw fewer negative votes cast than when her predecessor Ben Bernanke last stood for Senate approval, although there were far fewer total votes, too. On a positive note, while there was voting confusion among political lines, there was only certainty among gender lines.

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Daily Market Update – Close

 

  

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Daily Market Update – January 7, 2014 (Close)

Yesterday was an interesting day in the market.

Trading volume was unusually light for the first Monday of the New Year and the early rally disappeared fairly quickly.

What was interesting was how much the thesis that the cold weather was going to impact on walk-in sales at retailers, including grocery stores, Starbucks and others, carried wright throughout the day.

With no other news, in this case, only opinion, that family of stocks felt their own deep freeze yesterday.

Whether the thesis is true or not, and it certainly does make sense, the impact won’t be reported until the next earnings season, which begins in April. The greatest likelihood is that very few are going to remember that thesis when April earnings rolls around and if true, those stocks are likely to suffer again.

Now, if only I would be able to remember that when the time comes.

In the meantime there’s plenty more to think about.

Yesterday evening Janet Yellen was confirmed as the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

This Friday is the first release of an Employment Situation Report for 2014 and for which Yellen can play a role in leading the newly configured and hawkish voting membership. Yellen herself doesn’t assume the Chairmanship until February 1, 2014.No doubt that a strong report would bring pressure to increase the size of the taper from its current $10 billion each month. Even though the hawks won’t represent a voting block of sufficient proportion to effect policy, the wording of the FOMC minutes are parsed each month and the market often reacts to sentiment as much as it does to reality.

So we’ll see what Friday brings. With so many positions set to expire on Friday I’m hoping for a non-event or a modest rise higher as it would be nice to get some more cash in hand for greater flexibility going forward.

While waiting there’s still not much reason to go counter to January history.

I’m currently at the lowest cash level in many months and still willing to go down a bit further, perhaps to 20%. That would mean considering an additional two or so new purchases for the week if the opportunities present themselves. But even if not adding many new positions there is still enough upside potential in covered and uncovered positions to take advantage of any modest rally, so I wouldn’t be adverse to that possibility.

It otherwise promises to be a non-event driven week and the low volume may very well continue as even traders get cold when arctic winds blow. The prospects of low volume sometimes introduces opportunism and artificially large moves as big traders in essence are able to manipulate the market, often using the option market as their vehicle.

Those sort of things always seem to correct themselves for the rest of us who may get caught in the vortex as it’s all happening and then just as suddenly see the reversals occurring after the big boys have made their money.

While waiting for a sign to spend more money staying warm sounds like a good strategy right now.

While yesterday was interesting today was even more so, since nothing really happened and the market simply sustained a tripe digit gain all through the session.

While I liked the action the only galling part of the day was seeing the reversal in shares of Verizon, that goes ex-dividend tomorrow, as it went its own way apart from the rest of its tiny sector and made it very unlikely that the dividend will be collected tomorrow. As usual, the galling part was because there was no news to account for the very strong movement in the shares. In all likelihood it was simply strong buying pressure in order to capture the dividend on a day that the market was already climbing higher.

Ultimately, it makes no sense for people to bid up shares in order to capture a dividend that will simply be taken from the share price and taxed, to boot, but everyone likes the idea of getting dividends. even when it simply is a case of moving assets from one bucket to another.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t bought Verizon in years.

So if someone would kindly remind me when April earnings season is about to begin to stay away from today’s cold weather victims, please ralso emind me to also stay away from Verizon.

I’ll probably remember on my own, but it never hurts to have a gentle reminder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

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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.

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Weekend Update – February 24, 2013

We all engage in bouts of wishful thinking.

On an intellectual level I can easily understand why it makes sense to not be fully invested at most moments in time. There are times when just the right opportunity seems to come along, but it stops only for those that have the means to treat that opportunity as it deserves.

I also understand why it is dangerous to extend yourself with the use of margin or leverage and why it’s beneficial to resist the need to pass up that opportunity.

What I don’t understand is why those opportunities always seem to arise at times when the well has gone dry and margin is the only drink of water to be found.

Actually, I do understand. I just wish things would be different.

I rely on the continuing assignment of shares and the re-investment of cash on a weekly basis. My preference is for anywhere from 20-40% of my portfolio to be turned over on a weekly basis.

But this past week was simply terrible on many levels. Whether you want to blame things on a deterioration of the metals complex, hidden messages in the FOMC meeting or the upcoming sequester, the market was far worse than the numbers indicated, as the down volume to up volume was unlike what we have seen for quite a while.

On Wednesday the performances of Boeing (BA), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and Verizon (VZ), all members of the Dow Jones Industrials Index helped to mask the downside, as the DJIA and S&P 500 diverged for the day. Thursday was more of the same, except Wal-Mart (WMT) joined the very exclusive party. So far, this week is eerily similar to the period immediately following the beginning of 2012 climb and immediately preceding a significant month long decline of nearly 10%,beginning May 2012.

That period was also preceded by the indices sometimes moving in opposite directions or differing magnitudes and those were especially accentuated during the month long decline.

So what I’m trying to say is that with all of the apparent bargains left in the carnage of this trading shortened week, I don’t have anywhere near the money that I would typically have to plow in head first. I wish I did; but I don’t. I also wish I had that cash so that I wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to have it all invested in equities.

Although that margin account is overtly beckoning me to approach, that’s something that I’ve developed enough strength to resist. But at the same time, I’m anxious to increase my cash position, but not necessarily for immediate re-investment.

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

Cisco (CSCO) was one of those stocks that I wanted to purchase last week, but like most in a wholly unsatisfying week, it wasn’t meant to be. With earnings out of the way and some mild losses sustained during the past week, it’s just better priced than before.

Although there have been periods of time that I’ve owned shares of both Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE), up until about $10 ago on each stock there has rarely been a time over the past 5 years that I haven’t owned at least one of them. This past week saw some retreat in their prices and they are getting closer to where I might once again be comfortable establishing ownership.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is one of those stocks that I really wished had offered weekly option premiums. Back in the days when there was no such vehicle this was one of my favorite stocks. This week it goes ex-dividend and that always gets me to give a closer look, especially after some recent price drops. Dividends, premiums and a price discount may be a good combination.

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been in my doghouse of late. That’s not any expression of its quality as a company, nor of its leadership. After all, back when the market last saw 14,000, Dow Chemical was among those companies whose shares, dividends and option premiums helped me to survive those frightening days. But after 2009 had gotten well entrenched and started heading back toward 14000, the rest of the market just left Dow behind. Then came weekly options and Dow Chemical didn’t join that party. More recently, as volatility has been low, it’s premiums have really lagged. But now, at its low point in the past two months for no real reason and badly lagging the broad market, it once again looks inviting.

Lorillard (LO) was on my radar screen about a month ago, but as so often happens when it came time to make a decision there appeared to be a better opportunity. This week Lorillard goes ex-dividend. Unfortunately, it no longer offers a weekly option, but this is one of those companies that if not assigned this month will likely be assigned soon, as tobacco companies have this knack for survival, much more so than their customers.

MetLife (MET) was on last week’s radar screen, but it was a week that very little went according to script. Maybe this week will be better, but like the tobacco companies that are sometimes the bane of insurance companies, even when paying out death benefits, somehow these companies survive well beyond the ability of their customers.

United Healthcare (UNH) simply continues the healthcare related theme. Already owning shares of Aetna (AET), I firmly believe that whatever form national healthcare will take, the insurance companies will thrive. Much as they have done since Medicaid and Medicare appeared on the national landscape and they moaned about how their business models would be destroyed. After 50 years of moaning you would think that we would all stop playing this silly game.

The Gap (GPS) reports earnings this week, along with Home Depot (HD) as opposed to most companies that I consider as potential earnings related trades, there isn’t a need to protect against a 10-20% drop. At least I don’t think there is that kind of need. But whereas the concern of holding shares of some of those very volatile companies is real, that’s not the case with these two. Even with unexpected price movements eventually ownership will be rewarded. The fact that Home Depot gained 2% following Friday’s upgrade by Oppenheimer to “outperform” always leads me to expect a reversal upon earnings release.

On the other hand, when it comes to MolyCorp (MCP) there’s definitely that kind of need to protect against a 20% price decline. Always volatile, MolyCorp got caught in last week’s metal’s meltdown, probably unnecessarily, since it really is a different entity. Yet with an SEC overhang still in its future and some investor unfriendly moves of late, MolyCorp doesn’t have much in the way of good will on its side.

Nike (NKE) goes ex-dividend this week and its option premiums have become somewhat more appealing since the stock split.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those companies that I’m really not certain what it is that they do or provide. I know enough to be aware that there is drama regarding the relationship between its CEO, Mark Benioff and Oracle’s mercurial CEO, Larry Ellison, to get people’s attention and become the basis of speculation. I just love those sort of side stories, they’re so much more bankable that technical analysis. In this case, a xx% drop in share price after earnings could still deliver a 1% ROI.

Finally, two banking pariahs are potential purchases this week. I’ve owned both Citibank (C) and Bank of America (BAC) in the past month and have lost both to assignment a few times. As quickly as their prices became to expensive to repurchase they have now become reasonably priced again.

Although Friday’s trading restored some of the temporarily beaten down stocks a bit, a number still appear to be good short term prospects. I emphasize “short term” because I am mindful of a repeat of the pattern of May 2012 and am looking for opportunities to move more funds to cash.

I don’t know if Friday’s recovery is a continuation of that 2012 pattern, but if it is, that leads to concern over the next leg of that pattern.

For that reason I may be looking at opportunities to increase cash levels as a defensive move. In the event that there are further signals pointing to a strong downside move, I would rather be out of the market and miss a continued upside move than go along for the ride downward and have to work especially hard to get back up.

I’ve done that before and don’t feel like having to do it again.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Cisco, Deere, Dow Chemical, MetLife, United Healthcare

Momentum Stocks: Citibank

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (ex-div 2/27), Lockheed Martin (ex-div 2/27), Lorillard (ex-div 2/27), Nike (ex-div 2/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Home Depot (2/26 AM), MolyCorp (2/28 PM), Salesforce.com (2/28 PM), The Gap (2/28 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

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