Weekend Update – June 23, 2013

Spoiler Alert.

When it comes to your stocks, there’s never a time to panic, unless it’s your intention to provide bargain priced stocks to some unknown and unseen buyer.

Like many, I’m still scratching my head trying to understand what it is that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that caused so much market discomfort this week. Despite the reaction, you do have to give credit to our own markets for at least being orderly in what seemed to be a somewhat irrational reaction. While individual traders may have demonstrated some panic upon seeing a 350 point loss, the market itself did nothing to exhort them to do so.

Bernanke himself went to some length to be crystal clear, knowing that the market had already shown how nervous it was about anything related to Quantitative Easing. Although he said nothing inflammatory, that didn’t stop many from placing blame at his feet for a subsequent 2.5% market drop. Doing so completely ignored how tightly coiled the spring had already been, as demonstrated by the sudden rise in volatility and the back and forth triple digit moves that we had not seen since the last year, coincidentally just prior to the market giving up significant gains.

Had no one noticed that we were trading an entirely different market the past 3 weeks?

While it didn’t appear that Bernanke unveiled any new information and simply described, once again, those data driven parameters that would be used to decide when it might be appropriate to diminish injections of liquidity, the market found reason to see gloom.

Imagine if you started screaming in terror every time you realized that someday you would die.

Of course concurrent events, such as the sudden bear market in Japan or the tightening of credit in China may be part of the equation, as can confusion about the bond markets and the crumbling of precious metals support. But when all reason fails, we should always lay blame at the feet of China. In this case the suggestion was that a Chinese credit crisis was brewing, as if China was unable to borrow from the western world’s playbook and show us the real meaning of Quantitative Easing.

In hindsight, there’s never a shortage of explanations for events. It reminds me of the time that I told my mother that the lamp must have jumped by itself onto the floor. That seemed as logical as the fact that I had accidentally knocked it off with a stickball bat. There were actually any number of plausible and implausible explanations, once you realized that proof was elusive. I probably should have considered blaming China.

After Thursday’s close, the single worst day of the year, the S&P 500 was down a shade above 5% from its intra-day high a few short weeks ago. Considering that half of that drop came on a single day, 5% isn’t very significant. Perhaps that’s why there was no real institutional panic.

But panic can take on various forms. It’s the other form that has me concerned at the moment.

To some degree the buying that resulted during previous half-hearted attempts of the market to stall its unbridled charge higher was a form of panic from among those who were afraid to miss out on the next run higher. Time and time again in 2013 we’ve heard that every dip was a buying opportunity as “FOMO,” the “fear of missing out,” reared its ugly head.

As someone who has been raising cash in anticipation of a correction since the end of February, I’m now at my target level, but that brings a challenge.

The challenge is in deciding when to start investing that money and deciding what’s a value and what may be a value trap, as prices come down. If we’re to believe conventional wisdom that called for a continued market rise, there’s still lots of money sitting on the sidelines from 2009 still wondering whether it’s all just another trap. That may be an entirely different kind of panic, the “fear of commitment.”

With the market down by 5% as of Thursday’s close, it’s probably as likely that the market can go down an additional 5% as it is that a rebound will erase the losses, but perhaps only temporarily.

Rules are a good thing to have and to fall back upon when there is a tendency to want to panic. As a general rule, when the market is down about 5% and I have cash available, I tend not to think in terms of more than an additional 5% move in either direction. Rather than guessing which way things will go, I consider investing 20% of my remaining cash with each 1% move of the market. If the market moves higher I tepidly satisfy my need to not miss out while not entirely abandoning my skepticism that a rally may be simply a “head fake” in advance of another leg downward. If the market, however, heads lower I’m picking up some values that hopefully won’t become value traps.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories. Although some high profile companies are reporting earnings in the coming week, there are no selections in the “PEE” category, while we await the beginning of the next earnings season in two weeks (see details).

With a handful of assignments as the June 2013 option cycle ended, but fewer than I had expected, thanks to that 2.5% drop, I do have more cash than I think is warranted, so I will be looking for entry points this coming week, however, courting risk is not something that I’m particularly interested in doing, so the list is skewed toward “Traditional” and dividend paying positions, especially those that have already paid their dues in terms of recent price drops.

Amgen (AMGN) started its market descent before the overall market decided to take its long overdue break. To its detriment, it is about 3% higher than its recent low during that period, but it is still nearly 15% below its recent high and still 8% below its level after having fallen following its most recent earnings release. With some support at both $91 and $94 and having
already experienced its own personal bear market, I think that shares can withstand any macro-economic headwinds or further market volatility.

Morgan Stanley (MS) received regulatory approval to purchase the final 25% piece of the Smith Barney brokerage from Citigroup (C), fulfilling a strategic priority for Morgan Stanley. Presumably months from now when earnings are reported investors will have already discounted the news that negative adjustments made to capital will adversely impact those earnings reports. I doubt it, but as usual, I hope to purchase shares, sell calls and then see them assigned long before short term memories prove themselves to be deficient. Morgan Stanley is consistently said to be at greater risk than many due to its European exposure, but while things are reasonably quiet on that front I don’t perceive that as a near term issue.

Coach (COH) is my lone “Momentum” category pick this week, although it may no longer belong in that category. Although it often exhibits explosive earnings related moves, shares do have a tendency to trade within a well defined range and do not often trade wildly in the absence of news. The recent addition of weekly call options makes me consider its purchase more frequently than simply in advance of its ex-dividend date, as I had frequently done in the past.

I always enjoy listening to those who posit on the relative merits of Hone Depot (HD) versus Lowes (LOW) and who then opine on the role of the housing market on the health of these home improvement centers. There’s often not much consistency in the opinions and the rationale for those opinions. Over the years the companies have jockeyed with one other for analyst and investor attention and favor. I prefer Lowes because it offers a very nice option premium, far superior to Home Depot, yet both have nearly identical trading volatility.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) is simply a low key company whose products are ubiquitous. It tends to trade in a narrow range although it can have sharp daily moves. Going ex-dividend this week and always offering an attractive premium thanks to that volatility it is a position that I don’t own as frequently as I should. I do prefer, however, buying shares when they are somewhat closer to a strike level, as opposed to its current price in-between strikes. Even though that may mean paying more for shares it may make assignment of shares more likely, which is usually my goal.

Ever since spinning off Phillips 66 (PSX), I haven’t owned shares of its parent Conoco Phillips (COP). Having under-performed the S&P 500 since the market high, I now see Conoco as offering an attractive alternative to the more volatile Phillips 66 and still offering an option premium that warrants attention.

Intel (INTC) may not be as ubiquitous as it once was, but it is working hard to change that with mobile and tablet strategies. I had owned non-performing shares for quite a while waiting for an opportunity to finally sell calls upon them. That opportunity only came recently, but I believe that its recent stock decline is just a respite and shares will go higher from here. Fortunately, if not, there is a dividend to help the time go by faster.

DuPont (DD) and Dow Chemical (DOW) are, for me, stalwarts in implementing a covered call strategy. While I currently own shares of Dow Chemical, I’m not averse to adding more as it goes ex-dividend this week. I haven’t owned DuPont, on the other hand, for several months and following its recent 7% drop since the market peak I think this may be a time to pick up shares. Although it may have another 10% downside it has shown an ability to recover from abrupt losses. Both Dow Chemical and DuPont report earnings during the first week of the August 2013 cycle.

Finally, As long as considering shares of Dow Chemical and DuPont it may only seem natural to also consider another stalwart, Deere (DE). Also lower from its recent high, Deere shares are ex-dividend this week. As with Cypress Semiconductor, I prefer when Deere trades near a strike level before making new purchases in order to enhance likelihood of assignment.

Traditional Stocks: Amgen, Conoco Phillips, Intel, DuPont, Lowes, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (ex-div 6/25), Deere (ex-div 6/26), Dow Chemical (ex-div 6/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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 individual investor.