Weekend Update – December 29, 2013

How do you follow up a year in which the market has advanced nearly 30%? If you look at the historical data the year after a great year such as the one we’ve just had tends to be quite good, too – just not as good. While comparison isn’t really worthwhile, after all, it’s the accumulation of assets that really has meaning from year to year, you can’t help but feel some disappointment when comparisons are made to a stellar year.

As I look at charts I’m struck by how similar so many charts look as the year draws to a close. So many stocks are at or near their highs for the year, making it hard to find any bargains and making it especially hard to find value among well regarded stocks.

From my jaded perspective that sets one up for disappointment, even if the direction is still higher.

Buying at the high isn’t a great strategy, it also tends to set you up for disappointment, but there may not be very many alternatives. Similarly, buying after a significant run higher nay not be a good strategy, but that’s how some are starting the new year as demonstrated by MolyCorp (MCP), a stock that I do own. Shares roared ahead nearly 15% to end the week, reportedly upon the rationale in an article published in Seeking Alpha, that suggested it would be the beneficiary of the “January Effect.”

Based on Molycorp’s performance in 2012, the same expectation could have been made for the January Effect this past year and it did, in fact, last all of six days, but was not preceded by a similar price surge. After that sixth day shares were below where they had ended 2012, which in turn was about 60% lower where the year had started, while this year thus far shares are down a mere 41%.

While I would love to see MolyCorp sustain and even grow that price leap, particularly since I decided not to use it as a strategic tax loss, I have a hard time understanding those that climbed aboard that runaway train late in the process. But that may be exactly the same potential fate awaiting many as the new year is ready to start.

As MolyCorp demonstrated last year, even if you get off to a good start it doesn’t preclude you from flaming out.

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).

While believing in Santa Claus may be a tall order for anyone reading these pages, believing in the Santa Claus Rally and further believing in the January Rally may be far easier and offer reason to continue looking for investment opportunities. If those traditions do continue there is a certain degree of impunity even at such high levels and so I feel a little less concerned about some of this week’s selections. Due to the shortened trading week’s proportionately lower weekly option premiums I am also looking to use expanded options, where possible and hoping the January Rally continues to at least the tenth of January.

I was all set to purchase Apple (AAPL) last week, thinking that there was no real catalyst in the near term to send shares moving significantly in one direction or another. Then on Sunday came word of the China Mobile deal and shares advanced about 4% the next day and there went my plans to add shares. I mistakenly believed that the China Mobile deal had already been reflected in the share price, particularly since official web sites had heavy handedly starting taking orders for the iPhone before the deal was acknowledged. But even them the rise of 4% seemed relatively subdued, given the potential ability to add to Apple’s fortunes.

The more I look at Apple the more I now see a stock that will continue being a covered option play, just as it was not for most of 2012. I expect its rise to continue and am not deterred by this week’s gain, that was attenuated a bit as the week wore on. If Starbucks (SBUX) can rise effortlessly from $45 to $80, why can’t Apple do the same from $450 to $800?

While I don’t feel a compelling need to own any Apple products, I also don’t get excited about Starbucks’ offerings. Yet, I’ve been waiting too long for its shares to stop their ascent and return to what may have been irrationally low levels. After a small drop of about 4% over the past month that may be the best that I can hope for, at a time when discovering opportunities is increasingly challenging.

I’m currently woefully under-invested in the financial sector and have been waiting for a while to add correct that situation. However, that hasn’t been a terribly easy thing to do as financials climb higher and may be poised to add even more as interest rates begin their climb. Morgan Stanley (MS) has certainly had a transformation over the past two years and has seen its share price more than double and is near its yearly high. The latter would tend to have me shy away from shares. However, as the year begins I think the sector will get a boost if the overall market stays true to form and interest rates continue tes
ting the 3% level. Any interest I may have in Morgan Stanley are fueled by short term considerations only, as earnings are announced on the final day of the monthly option expiration.

I jumped the gun a bit by purchasing Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) last Friday, hoping to capture a bit more in premium as both last week and this week are short trading weeks and as a result have even lower option premiums. Shares also go ex-dividend before New Years and my hope was either for quick assignment and re-investment or capturing both dividend and premium, while getting a portion of the dividend related reduction in share price underwritten by the option buyer. I had been considering the purchase of shares for a couple of weeks, but unfortunately couldn’t find the reason to do so. While within striking distance of its yearly high, the upcoming dividend and premium offset some of the concerns, especially going into the New Year.

I went from being an avid share holder of Anadarko (APC) to a disappointed one as word came out of a large judgment in a nearly decade old legal case involving a company that Anadarko had purchased. While the size of that judgment may still be reduced, it appears that the uncertainty associated with the issue has now been removed. Of course, for most people, before the judgment was announced the entire issue had already been forgotten, When looking for a difficult to find bargain, Anadarko may be the poster child for 2014. Now that shares seem to have stabilized I’m ready to consider adding more shares in an attempt to sacrifice them for their premiums and help to whittle down the paper losses on some older shares.

Marathon Oil (MRO) isn’t as exciting as Anadarko has made itself, but it, too, is a company that I look forward to owning after some price retracements. Now offering weekly and expanded weekly options it has become more appealing to me as I increasingly try to stagger expiration dates in order to not be held hostage by a sudden and sizeable market move and having too many eggs in a single basket. Marathon Oil is down approximately 5% from its recent high, which is about half the size of its largest retracements. While there may be some more downside potential the shorter term time commitment when considering the sale of options adds greater flexibility.

EMC Corporation (EMC) also isn’t terribly exciting, certainly less so after its spin-off of VMWare (VMW) several years ago. But in the world of covered call selling “exciting” is unnecessary. Boring and predictable is far more profitable, as long as there are some occasional hiccoughs along the way. EMC is one of those companies that does have those occasional hiccoughs, often courtesy of VMWare, that helps it to continue having an acceptable option premium, despite its fairly steady share performance. Additionally, while its dividend is also not terribly exciting, it does go ex-dividend the following week. For those considering the use of a monthly option the ROI can potentially be bumped up a bit, as a result.

Finally, LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) is now two weeks post announcing its CEO succession and its disappointing earnings. Since then it has treaded water and that makes it an appealing consideration. Similar to last week’s discussion of Cree (CREE), if I purchase shares of LuLuLemon, I may not immediately write calls or may only do so on a portion of my shares, as I believe the next move will be decidedly higher. However, even if LuLuLemon continues to tread water it can be a very profitable holding for those that do write call options on their shares and then have the opportunity to repeatedly rollover from week to week while the stock is deciding what to do with its life.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Apple, EMC Corp., Marathon Oil, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: LuLuLemon Athletica, Morgan Stanley

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers Squibb (ex-div 12/31)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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.