Weekend Update – November 16, 2014

The past week was one of the quietest ones that could have been imagined.

The biggest stories of the week were the broken scaffolding that left two window washers dangling on the edge of the new “One World Trade Center” and the successful landing of Rosetta on a faraway comet after a 10 year mission.

With the exception of a late in the week rumor of a buyout of one oilfield services company by another, there really was nothing to propel markets as it was an extraordinarily quiet week on the economic news front, only slightly punctuated by a relatively obscure statistic that suddenly may be an important one in the coming months.

Years ago the single most important economic report came on a weekly basis. If anyone remembers all the way back to the 1980s you may recall how everyone waited for Thursdays and the release of the “M2 Money Supply” statistic.

If you do remember that you may also remember the inflation in the 1980s and can understand why M2 was watched so closely. Inflation was “Enemy #1” and the M2 Supply was linked to that evil. At one time M2 was used by the Federal Reserve to steer the economy in attempting to avoid a renewed bout of inflation.

You don’t hear much talk about M2 anymore as it was replaced by a more direct reliance on interest rates, especially the “Fed Funds Rate.” We still care about interest rates, but sometimes a little too much. Right now we seem overly concerned about when the Federal Reserve will begin to finally increase interest rates forgetting how that which helps to bring about inflation is exactly what we’ve been pining for a sign of the economy finally getting some footing.

This week we finally heard about something that wasn’t really new but got lots of comments and focus. Just a few months ago Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen suggested that we should start paying more attention to the “quit rate” that was included in the “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary” also known as the “JOLT” Summary.

That acronym may be very unintentionally appropriate, as sometimes a jolt is exactly what’s needed to get things back into gear.

While many fight over whether the monthly Employment Situation Report should be looked at through the lens of the “U-6” measure of employment, Yellen is suggesting that the decision of people to quit their jobs in the belief that they can now land another, presumably better paying job, is telling of an economy that is heading in the right path and that will introduce some wage inflation.

That’s the kind of jolt this economy has needed. Not just more jobs, but better paying jobs that allow consumers to begin consuming again. Instead of fearing inflation, there should be some realization that a degree of inflation is exactly what this economy has needed for a long time.

One of my sons will likely be included in the next “JOLT” Summary, as he quit a job in which he was more of a low priced commodity and started on a new and much better paying job. He also bought a new car that week.

See how it works? It’s all about the discretionary spending. That’s what really fuels everything, as part of a virtuous cycle of jobs and consumerism.

Given the mixed results reported by some major retailers this week there definitely needs to be some enhancements to the top line and the only thing that can bring that about is an energized consumer jolted back to life.

For anyone that has been either on the receiving end or delivery end of paddles that are meant to jolt you back to life you know just how important that kick start is, but you also know that too much of a good thing brings its own problems.

Having been witness to the late 1970s and early 1980s there is certainly a degree of hesitance when inflation enters into the equation, but somewhere there may be a person in a position to steer the economy who understands that the extremes of the continuum aren’t the only possible outcomes.

Janet Yellen gives all indications of being the person who can jolt and withdraw jolt as signs of economic life warrant.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.

Another company bound to benefit from any improvement in employment, especially the kind that results in increased ability to engage in discretionary spending is Fastenal (FAST). This is a company that I’ve come to look at as a reflection of the real economy and while it has traded in a very narrow range it has been an excellent covered call trade.

It simply sells those things that are measures of economic development and expansion to both other business, middlemen and do it yourself kind of people. What they sell reflects a wide and varied kind of activity. They sometimes have q habit of providing revised guidance a few weeks before earnings and those occasional surprises help to create a reasonable option premium in advance of earnings, in addition to the enhancement that may come with earnings.

Dow Chemical (DOW) had a few false starts this week, jumping significantly higher and then giving back much of the gains on successive days. Those moves came before and after the announcements of additional share buybacks and an increased dividend. Shares closed up nicely on Friday continuing the hesitant optimism of earlier in the week, after having fallen from its highs of the day, only to rally back in an otherwise mediocre tape.

Add into the mix the presence of an activist investor and a long tenured CEO that is as tough as he can be charming and you have the makings of a company that will continue seeing pressures from both sides in support of shares, even though that may be a by-product of a more personal kind of battle. However, as a shareholder, you don’t necessarily care how you get to your objective, as long as you get there. Having some entertainment accompany the journey can just be an added bonus.

Joy Global (JOY) is another of these companies that trades with quite a bit volatility and is highly levered to activity in China, as well as to the veracity of reports from China. None of those are particularly endearing qualities, but Joy Global has been a company that routinely bounces back from disappointment over prospects of slowdowns in Chinese construction and infrastructure activity. It will report earnings in just a few weeks and will also be ex-dividend prior to that, so there are some events that have to be considered if entering into a new position, particularly if hoping for a quick exit.

While the majority of the systemically important companies have already reported earnings, there are quite a few of the more highly volatile companies reporting earnings this week. Among those that have caught my attention for this week are Best Buy (BBY), GameStop (GME), Green Mountain Keurig (GMCR) and salesforce.com (CRM).

Rather than considering any of them on the basis of their fundamental businesses, strengths or challenges awaiting them, I see them as potential opportunities based only on their recent price behaviors.

One thing that they all have in common is that they’ve all had recent runs higher in price. Another thing that they have in common, befitting the level of risk associated with their upcoming earnings is very high option premiums.

In order to achieve a 1% ROI on the sale of put contracts Best Buy, GameStop, Green Mountain Keurig and salesforce.com could still fall by approximately 9.2%, 21.3%, 10.5%, and 7%, respectively without assignments of puts sold. Meanwhile, their respective implied volatilities are 7.5%, 12%, 8.8% and 6.2%.

However, another thing that they share in common, at least from my perspective is that due to their recent runs higher, they may be prone to even harder falls than those implied moves might indicate. For that reason, I’m more inclined to consider the sale of puts after earnings for any of those companies that may in fact fall hard upon their releases, especially for salesforce.com, which offers the least amount of cushion between the implied move and the strike at which the ROI objective is attained.

On the other hand, GameStop offers the greatest cushion, so may be one to consider the sale of put options prior to earnings. As always, the sale of puts may require some additional attention, especially if hoping to avoid assignment if share price goes below the strike level selected.

Finally, it may be yet another week to think about Twitter (TWTR). Whether using the service or not, there’s no denying that it is a company whose stock is in search of direction, very much as many believe its company is in need of direction.

While no one has been criticizing the company on the basis of its earnings there is certainly lots of confusion about what Twitter plans to be and how it will get there, especially if it can’t decide on how to measure its activities and relate those to revenues.

This past week put the Twitter story into focus. Shares soared at its first analysts day meeting, up about 10% until Standard and Poor’s delivered an unsolicited credit report on the company, placing it at a “junk” level designation.

Granted, that S&P, by virtue of having performed an unsolicited analysis didn’t have access to the same company records as it ordinarily does when assessing a company’s credit worthiness, but the market immediately reversed course and sent shares sharply lower.

As was the case last week, I already had sold Twitter puts. I rolled those over on Thursday as Twitter was falling sharply and mat sell even more puts this week, particularly if there is some opening weakness to begin the week.

For anyone following this trade, it is one that may see lots of ups and downs and may require more maintenance, particularly in deciding whether to roil over puts to a forward week or take assignment in the event of adverse movement, but it can be a serially satisfying trade. Friday’s bounce again higher, perhaps after the realization that the S&P rating may have been based on incomplete information, may simply be one of many bounces ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Fastenal

Momentum: Joy Global, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/20 AM), GameStop (11/20 AM), Green Mountain Keurig (11/19 PM), salesforce.com (11/19 PM)

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.

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