Weekend Update – January 20, 2013

Stocks should never be boring.

People do stupid things when they’re bored.

Trust me, I know. If I were a betting person I would bet that you know that to be true, as well.

After starting with a more than 4% gain in the S&P 500 in the first week of 2013, the subsequent two weeks have been incredibly boring.

When over the course of five trading days the S&P closes at 1472 on four of those days, there’s something missing. In my case, it was trading.

As someone who sells covered options, I love that the concept “reversion to the mean” seems to be realized with great regularity. But if there wasn’t lots of intervening noise from Point A right back to Point A, there wouldn’t be much of a market for buying the options that I was so intent upon selling. Boring markets are an anathema and together its accompanying low volatility conspire to reduce the joy of selling options by increasing risk taking in order to meet income targets from having sold option contracts.

This past week was one of those weeks when the intra-day action was in a state of deep hibernation for much of the time. For me the pinnacle came on Wednesday, but as it would turn out that was wholly appropriate, as Jane Wells, of CNBC pointed out that was “National Do Nothing Day.” She explained the “holiday” in her blog and if you look at the associated video, you can even catch a glimpse of me (want even more?). Somehow, everyone got back to work on Thursday and the market showed some vestiges of past life and excitement, just in time to plan for an upcoming week highlighted by high profile earnings reports.

That should be exciting. Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), IBM (IBM) and much more.

For as long as I’ve been selling options, I did find the timing of Google’s earnings release interesting. Of course, nothing could be as interesting as Google’s last quarter, when it blamed RR Donnelly (RRD) for having released earnings 3 hours earlier than anyone expected or wanted. This time, however, instead of reporting earnings at the close of trading on the Thursday prior to the last day of the monthly option cycle, Google is actually releasing earnings on the first day of the new monthly option cycle.

I’ve always liked the former timing. Now, selling deep out of the money weekly puts on Google shares in anticipation of 5-10% moves in either direction will have too much time to trade on such things as merits and other non-emotional and highly charged issues. Although it’s not on my list this week there still may be good reason to make it happen.

Although this week the potential selections are still categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend and Premiums Enhanced by earnings, at the moment, in my mind I’m categorizing them as either being Exciting or Boring (see details).

Capital One Finance (COF) has been on my radar screen for a couple of months, but got too expensive on the week that I had initially thought of making the purchase. After getting hit badly on Friday on disappointing earnings, it is right at the price target that had appeal for me in November. The very recent weakness in credit card titans Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) are felt even more by those that incur credit risk, but Capital One is here to stay.

Starbucks (SBUX) although also reporting earnings this coming week and having a premium enhanced by the prospects of a significant reaction to earnings, has been a good and steady position to own and sell options upon for the past 6 months. I especially look forward to Howard Schultz’s post-earnings interviews. No one knows the marketplace better than he does. Even when the shares are punished after earnings he has credibility and clarity that restores confidence.

Not that I would condone doing so, but for many a cup of coffee and a cigarette go hand in hand. Lorillard (LO) has just concluded its share split and offers an attractive option premium with relatively little undue risk, besides to one’s health and well-being.

Anadarko (APC) is
one of those positions that pains me a bit, having happily owned it several times in the past few months. Despite in now trading $5 above my last purchase price and having lost it to assignment, it continues to look attractive, both on the basis of the potential for price appreciation and its option premium. If you never knew joy you would never know pain.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) continues to be my favorite pick for 2013. The materials sector was a bad under-performer this past week, but I continue to labor under the thesis that China will be forced to expand its GDP more than may be healthy in order to maintain domestic peace during political transfer. We can worry about the effect of over-expansion some other time. In the meantime, Freeport also reports earnings next week, but will do so before the first trade of the week is made.

AIG (AIG) is probably my single most mentioned stock and the one that I most often regret for not having purchased. Over the past month or so I’ve been heeding my own advice and keeping shares on a revolving door basis. As long as they trade in a tight range, even if assigned, it has been worthwhile to repurchase shares.

Baidu (BIDU) is another stock that I’ve owned several times over the past few months. Despite it’s torrid run to $110, I think that there are still opportunities, particularly in selling deep in the money call options. After all, if you can still achieve a 0.5% or higher gain for a week of holding those shares before losing them to assignment at a lower price, is that not better than the S&P 500 is able to do on most weeks?

I haven’t owned shares of Citibank (C) since before the 10:1 reverse split. There’s something unsettling about a bank that trades with a beta of nearly 2, but I think the future is bright as far as price support goes, as there is increasing discussion about the value of Citibank’s component parts. That is very much the same kind of talk that has spurred price appreciation of Bank if America (BAC). While rediscovering price stability, Citibank continues to offer an attractive call premium and makes the risk-reward equation skew toward reward.

What can anyone say about Apple ? I certainly haven’t been shy about expressing my bearish opinion on shares and to the increasingly adverse external environment to which the company was subject. Apple reports earnings after Wednesday’s market close. Although I don’t believe that it will test a support at $425, I do believe that there are opportunities to either sell deep in the money calls or sell deep out of the money puts. If I’m wrong, I will be left owning shares for the first time since $450. It would be as if almost nothing had happened in-between. With so many people now piling on and blasting Apple, it’s beginning to look better and better.

Western DIgital (WDC) is just another of those exciting stocks. I’m not really certain why that’s the case, as the product isn’t terribly exciting and is hard to differentiate from a commodity. It too, reports earnings on Wednesday if you have the stomach for even more excitement.

I don’t look at charts very often or in great depth, but Mellanox Technologies (MLNX) will definitely get your attention if you like charts with slopes approaching infinity. Mellanox makes some very sudden and pronounced moves. With earnings coming up on January 23, 2013 another vertical move may be awaiting anyone with incredible risk tolerance. Since even 20% moves aren’t unheard recently for this semiconductor design and sales company, the option premiums are priced accordingly. Among the caveats is that only month long option contracts are offered and that may be a very long time to sit on a roller coaster. I’m currently looking at selling puts as being more appealing and in the event that Mellanox surprises with an upside move after earnings, I would vacate the position as fast as humanely possible.

Finally, Williams-Sonoma (WSM) is the sole dividend play this week. It too has been bruised by the market’s reaction to its earnings. Somehow Williams Sonoma has the ability to withstand the economy and even when things look grim for the consumer it just keeps on going. It’s a place where you can escape the cares of the real world and pamper yourself before returning to reality. It’s not a terribly exciting stock, but after a week of potentially lots of excitement a little serenity may be a good thing.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Capital One Finance, Lorillard

Momentum Stocks: AIG, Baidu, Citibank, Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (1/23 PM), Mellanox (1/23 PM), Starbucks (1/24 PM), Western Digital (1/23 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.