Twitter Fatigue

I’ve grown tired of Twitter (TWTR).

That may be a purely defensive position as I’ve noticed that my limited number of Twitter followers may, in fact, be more tired of me and I just wanted to be ahead of that curve. It’s probably no coincidence that my follower numbers increase the less I tweet and those tweets have now come to a crawl and not because I feel a need to be original nor have run out of anything to say.

After a couple of years of trying to “promote” myself, a sense of disinterest has set in and people like me may be the problem that Twitter is facing regarding its growth prospects. Not only does Twitter have to convince new people to join, understand the interface and actually use it, but they also have to convince existng users to stay and actively participate. Using Twitter as I now predominantly do as a “news feed” as Herb Greenberg suggests may have utility for the user but adds little to their bottom line. 

Like others, I may find the occasional advance reporting of an errant helicopter encircling what every local knew to be an Al-Qaeda compound, but I didn’t try to engage that tweeter and really don’t recall much in the way of anyone trying to capitalize on all of those re-tweets or “favorites.” Also, as with reports of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange being under three feet of water, sometimes that breaking news just has a way of getting broken. While Twitter can be lauded for getting breaking news out before the professionals can get mobilized it can also be criticized for its lack of oversight of those who might be prone to be reckless.

Like so many who use Twitter, I do so through some interface other than the web site. Unless my experiences are some kind of aberration, I just don’t see those revenue producing “promoted” Tweets that are there to pay the bills, yet I and millions of others get to promote themselves ad infinitum. For those that follow huge numbers of others, even having those promoted tweets appear can see them easily getting lost in the volume of their stream.

To its credit, Twitter has opened up some really nice opportunities to engage and even meet some people that I would have never encountered otherwise. It is a perfectly egalitarian society that can offer a real sense of ego inflation not only on the basis of follower numbers but by reciprocal engagement by celebrities of various stature. That kind of periodic engagement can be the Pavlovian reward that may keep people interested and actively using the product in hopes of those occasional rewards.

While tiring of the actual product, what I’m not  tired of is the investing opportunity that its beleaguered shares have offered and, I believe, will continue to offer. For those who recall Facebook (FB) at a similar stage of its public life as it readied itself for an expected onslaught of selling prior to a major stock lock-up expiration, the opportunity to take a contrary position to the crowd is compelling. In the case of the initial Facebook lock-up expiration, sometimes the crowd is vociferous, emotional and clings to the certainty of their opinion on their way to being very wrong.

I’ve found some delight in selling puts on shares well prior to Tuesday’s earnings, occasionally seeing them expire and occasionally having to roll them over to a forward contract date, because the last thing I want to do is to own shares, although I do want to continue collecting premiums. I know that the conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t sell puts on a stock that you wouldn’t be comfortable owning, but I have a hard time justifying ownership, especially as my serial sale of puts has been during a period that has seen the out of the money strike levels utilized fall in a straight line from $56 to $33 and, if the crowd is correct, will drop even lower next week, as May 6th, the lock-up expiration date approaches.

Over the past 16 weeks I have sold puts on shares of Twitter on 10 occasions, even as share value sunk lower and lower. These days it seems that I make some sort of Twitter trade more often than some sort of tweet, which pleases both my followers and banker. In general I start by looking for a situation in which there exists a strike level below the lower range defined by the Implied Volatility that wll return my ROI objective, which is 1% to start off the process using a weekly option. It’s not a very high ROI, but like so many things, you try to make it up in volume. 

The cumulative results of those trades has been an ROI of 11.6% with a remaining potential liability, of $2.xx based on Thursday’s closing price. That compares to a return of 2.5% for the S&P 500 for the observation period beginning in January 2014. If the entire liability is realized, for example if the remaining open position was closed the ROI would be reduced to 7.9%

On a side note, while I don’t like to use margin other than to prevent free riding violations, selling puts in a margin account that is otherwise fully invested, is a great way to extend the reach of your assets without incurring margin interest costs. Those only accrue if you are actually assigned shares and not if you simply sell puts, which only reduces the amount available to you for use, but doesn’t represent actual borrowing. I look at it as “Portfolio Helper,” but without the calories.

With shares of Twitter having fallen to post-IPO lows following its recent earnings report and with some additional nervousness related to the increased share float next week, I believe that there is continued opportunity to capitalize on the pessimism, through the continued sale of out of the money put options. With an implied volatility of 7.6% based upon premiums for the May 9, 2014 contract, one can still derive an ROI of 1% for the week if shares close above $35.50, which would represent a 9.2% drop in price, considerably in excess of what the option market is anticipating.

If the loss is greater, then the process of attempting to roll the contract over to a new date and perhaps even a lower strike level is begun and continued until it’s eventual expration which typically occurs when the price descent has come to its end. Unless shares are destined for some kind of death spiral at some point what has already been a sustained drop lower will come to its end, as will the series of trades.

While the argument may be made tha
t the gains could have been greater by simply shorti
ng Twitter shares, doing so requires a downward move, whereas selling puts may profit regardless of the direction of the price move. What matters is size and not vector. Additionally, other than commission expense, there is no associated interest expense as would be incurred in carrying a short position in shares that can become a burden with a longer time position.

Not a strategy for everybody and certainly one that has its own risk, but the initial use of well out of the money strike levels to achieve a defined ROI goal that’s not too greedy can be a reasonable way to generate returns that you might be proud to tweet about if only there was someone to acknowledge its receipt.