Weekend Update – March 2, 2014

“What correction?” you may rightfully ask.

Being creatures of habit it’s sometimes unusual to understand why we’re not better at identifying patterns.

Sure, we try to see things and ascribe common property characteristics to them, such as cups and handles, but we don’t necessarily see what’s staring us in the face.

While everyone was ready to accept the decline of a few weeks ago as the long delayed arrival of the correction we all knew was coming, what was overlooked was that since May 2012 every attempt at a correction was quickly stomped out and the market moved onto new highs.

“Maybe this time will be different,” is a common response to what we often know to be obvious. To our own defense, maybe this time it was, as the decline very briefly exceeded that previously impervious 5% level. As I looked back at those weeks maybe that’s what I was thinking as I was certainly in “exercise caution” mode, rather than increasingly testing the waters with the cash reserves I had built up for just that kind of moment.

It’s definitely easier to talk a game than to play in it. Despite having had a more optimistic outlook the past two weeks I didn’t necessarily put that tone into unbridled action.

With the exception of the final hour of trading this past week when the market was ostensibly reacting to what could be a degradation of events in the former Soviet Union, it was a week of being led by technical factors rather than events or news.

Mostly there was no news other than the sudden rehabilitation of much of retail, despite continuing to put forward disappointing, albeit less disappointing, numbers. With weather probably now discounted going forward they may be safe havens until the next time they reflect the reality that consumers aren’t digging into their own cash reserves.

In the meantime the only reality that had any impact was that the S&P 500 had a well defined high point and that the market was hovering around that point. Technicians ruled as the market was fully aware of the perceived importance of that level and spoke of nothing else as it was exceeded, then surrendered, then finally exceeded again, despite a Crimean assault on its integrity during those final minutes of weekly trading.

In the absence of an unfolding of continued degradation in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as the only world event currently on the horizon, next week continues to be one that advances on technical factors and stays ignorant of news and events, with the possible exception of Friday’s Employment Situation Report.

Despite disappointing news, despite good news, we all know what that means, especially from Thursday 3:59 PM to Friday 4:00 PM.

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).

It wasn’t an especially good week for the financial sector last week but three potential trades figure prominently in this week’s list.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM), AIG (AIG) and MetLife (MET) have all lagged the S&P 500 this year and their charts look remarkably similar to one another, sharing some important characteristics, particularly with regard to where their current prices stand relative to the near past.

While AIG has an upcoming dividend this week to make it a little more appealing, it has spent the past six months range bound, which makes it an increasingly attractive consideration for a covered option strategy. It’s currently at about the mid-point of that range, which mitigates risk for entry. While its CEO, Robert Benmosche came out of retirement from his villa in Croatia, I don’t believe that AIG has a portfolio of risk in Crimea or environs, but given how far flung AIG’s non-insurance related interests used to be, it wouldn’t be overly shocking to learn that it did have some actual insurance exposure to risk in that region. Like most other natural or man made tragedies insurance companies frequently do more than survive challenges coming their way. No one can do that better than Benmosche.

JP Morgan is finally spending less time in the headlines, although in the often perverse world of share pricing, it has floundered a bit as the bad news has slowed and there isn’t word of more billions of dollars of fines coming their way. While not quite range bound, yet, shares are still 5% below their recent peak and also at a near term mid-point if considering entry.

MetLife is down a more substantial 8% from its near term high and is also now at about its mid-point trading level. While it may be responsive to increasing interest rates, there probably isn’t too much downside risk related to that same measure, even if a whispered tapering to the taper becomes reality.

Verizon (VZ) has had some unusually large price moves up and down of late while not really going anywhere. That is my kind of stock and I’ve now owned shares on four occasions since the beginning of this year. With the large alternating moves in price its option premiums have been getting more and more attractive even as market volatility has dropped. It’s hard to resist that kind of stock even though the competitive landscape is being challenged by T-Mobile (TMUS) which is enjoying its time in the sun but at some point will see the price for its strategies to capture market share.

While I’m not as focused on dividend paying stocks this week, already having a number going ex-dividend this week, one that may garner attention is VF Corp (VFC). Like so many stocks that seem to fall flat on the promise of price ap
preciation following a stock split, VF Corp has languished of late after an extended ride higher prior to the stock split. With only monthly options available this one be more of a defensive position if purchased, anticipating that even in a market decline it may be able to have some greater ability to withstand downward pressure.

One sign of my optimism is an increased consideration of “Momentum” stocks, after a period of focusing more on “Traditional” and dividend paying positions. However, some of that optimism is hedged by looking at participation in positions through the sale of put contracts rather than the use of covered calls.

I just closed a Cree (CREE) put position this past Friday about an hour after having rolled it over to the following week as I had done numerous times on several individual lot positions since October 2013. Shares having routinely bounced up and down after a very poorly received earnings report have provided that opportunity.

Although now without a position I would readily consider another sale of put contracts on Cree at any sign of price weakness. It’s high maintenance can be offset by its returns as long as it continues trading in a range and rapidly alternates price direction, as it has been doing for the past few months.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) has been a disappointment for me, currently owning one lot. Having recently had another lot assigned at an even lower price after deciding to take an assignment of a put contract, Friday’s sharp drop is an enticing opportunity to try the route of a put sale once again and helping to chip away at the paper losses on the original shares. While there is some suggestion that its core demographic may be looking elsewhere I look for LuLuLemon to stage a significant push to re-establish itself as a non-misogynistic partner in fashion under its new leadership.

Deckers (DECK) was another earnings related trade highlighted last week. Despite offering a decent report of earnings, it was a perfect example of just how important future guidance can be, as its shares tumbled 13% upon disappointing guidance. While that fall was outside the implied volatility predicted by the option market it was still within the threshold 1% ROI strike price that I prefer to use.

While the news of poor guidance is being digested there may be additional opportunity to profit in the belief that shares are nearing a near term trading low. As with most earnings related trades prior to the report, I would likely consider this trade also to be one that’s made through the sale of out of the money put contracts. For those that like Deckers at this price you might like it even more if it doesn’t go lower.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that is tethered to the fortunes of the Chinese economy and specifically its infrastructure growth and projects. Now trading at the top of the range that I like to enter into new positions there does appear to be some opportunity at strike levels below the range outlined by the implied volatility, which is always a situation that gets my attention.

Finally, It was a good week for Elon Musk last week, although it’s probably always good to be Elon Musk. Last week, I suggested that SolarCity was a potential good earnings related trade, but a funny thing happened. When 4 PM rolled around on February 24 and everyone was expecting the release, it wasn’t to be. Presumably the executives at SolarCity knew before then that they wouldn’t be ready before 4 PM. Reportedly the reason for the delay was due to accounting issues related to recent acquisitions and a change in overhead allocation related to an increase in megawatts deployed.


Not surprisingly, shares nose-dived when the announcement of the delay was made. After all, who has confidence in a company when accounting issues are at hand? Inexplicably, however, shares surged the rest of the week, ending up nearly 15% higher than where it had ended the previous week. Additionally, the option market’s assignment of implied volatility had fallen from 12.8% the previous week to 8.4%, probably because the revenues part of the earnings report was released. Still, anything less than a 9.5% drop in share price after Monday’s scheduled event can result in a 1.1% ROI. While not as inviting a trade as it would have been last week when you could have derived a similar ROI as it’s cushion was an almost 18% price drop, it still has some appeal.


Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan, MetLife, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Cree, Deckers, LuLuLemon Athletica

Double Dip Dividend: AIG (ex-div 3/7), VF Corp (ex-div 3/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (3/6 AM), SolarCity (3/3 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often cou
pling 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.