Weekend Update – November 22, 2015

We’ve all seen a child who is in the midst of a tantrum or some hysterical outburst.

So often that tantrum takes on a life of its own and the perpetrator has completely forgotten what set off the outburst in the first place and just can’t get things under control even when there’s no reason for its continuation.

Most tantrums are related to an item that is wanted, but either not available to the child or has been taken away from the child.

There is a reason, but there is usually no reasoning.

When faced with the odious behavior, particularly in a public place, the instinct is often to just give in, hoping that will return calm.

The outburst is often irrational and while a parent’s response in a public place may seem to be rational, in seeking to avoid further disturbances, there may be a component of irrationality, in that acceding simply reinforces unwanted behavior.

Most will tell you that nothing is better at helping to develop appropriately self-sustaining behavior than instituting fair, clear and consistent rules that are then consistently applied.

Of course, that’s not easy when you have parents who may not agree on the rules or the consistency of their application.

But as is so often the case, once that tantrum starts, it’s easy for the child to lose sight of what the initial objective was and even if that objective is achieved, the tantrum continues. Sometimes the child can become so oppositional and caught up in the moment they may not even realize that their objective has been attained and their demands acceded to.

Eventually, all tantrums run out of steam and eventually, most children grow up and leave tantrums behind, although they may find other behavioral replacements to vex those around them, even as they enter the adult world.

As a parent, it’s easier to be a grandparent.

Unfortunately, for all of its intended or unintended paternal caring for what goes on in the stock market, there is no grandparent stage for the FOMC.

They may not see themselves in a parental role, but they have certainly been at the center of creating and rewarding some inappropriate behaviors, and perhaps acceding to them, as well.

With the release of the FOMC minutes this week and with a clear shift to a more hawkish tone regarding an interest rate increase, investors finally left their tantrum behavior behind.

That is meant as giving credit to investors.

Until the FOMC finally follows through with some clear action to complement their more clear words, there’s no reason for accolades.

Besides, clarity and consistency should be the minimally accepted behaviors from the more mature and rational FOMC, after all, how could you ever expect any kind of rational behavior down below, if those above are unable to get on the same page?

That stock market’s earlier tantrum like behavior was manifested by multiple instances of indiscriminate selling whenever the very thought of low interest rates being taken away from them presented itself.

The FOMC didn’t help things by airing individual member conflicts in opinion and sending conflicting messages. It’s easy to look at investors as an irrational bunch that is very often guided by emotion over analysis and is prone to outbursts, but as a parent, the FOMC did little to create an environment to limit that kind of behavior.

Unlike parents who do have some mandates, guiding the behavior of the stock market isn’t one of the Federal Reserve’s mandates, although as long as they’re having admitted to watching economic events in China and allowing them to become part of their decision tree, you would think that they would also watch over some fairly important events here, as investors can’t necessarily be counted upon to control their own infantile behavior.

Unfortunately, the market hasn’t really shown what it wants, as it has gone back and forth between being disappointed about the prospects of a rise in interest rates to greeting those prospects as the good news it should be reflecting.

Sometimes parents can’t quite figure their child out, but dispensing with consistent and unified messages can only create more confusion for all.

Hopefully the market will get over its penchant for tantrums and irrational behavior, including the exuberance that Alan Greenspan once warned about, and the FOMC will be more mindful of the power it holds in creating adult like behavior in others

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

Over the past year there have been may false starts by the bond market in expectation of rising interest rates.

Theoretically, rising interest rates on bonds begins to make them more competitive of an alternative to stocks, but with those expectations for increasing rates, companies that stand to benefit from an interest rate environment are also expected to benefit from that kind of an environment.

MetLife (MET) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are two companies that I’m considering in the coming week, even as there has been somewhat of a breakdown in the association between rising interest rates and their share prices over the past month.

I’ve now owned shares of Morgan Stanley 4 times over the past 5 weeks, after having had shares assigned again this past week. It has tracked the 10 Year Treasury Note’s performance better than has MetLife over the past month, but it has dragged in its magnitude of change during that time.

Following a precipitous earnings related decline last month shares have been working their way higher, but I would consider buying shares again on any kind of weakness that may bring it closer to $33.50, although I may still be interested in shares if they remain flat as the coming week begins. Even with a trading shortened week, due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the call option premiums are reflecting some greater volatility in these shares and perhaps expectations for shares to continue tracking the 10 Year Treasury note higher.

MetLife, on the other hand, hasn’t tracked the 10 Year Treasury note very well, at all, in the past month, neither in magnitude, nor in direction. Not unexpectedly, its option premium doesn’t reflect quite the same expectation for it to track interest rates as reliably as Morgan Stanley, but may still be sufficient of an ROI for
a 4 day trading week that brings us that much closer to a potential FOMC decision to raise those rates.

The days when Pfizer (PFE) was among the first and foremost on everyone’s list of pharmaceutical companies ended when Genentech came on the scene. Since then, Genentech has been rolled back into its parent and many others have come on the scene, as Pfizer has seemed to fade from the conversation.

But with what may be an impending inversion deal with Ireland’s Allergan (AGN), it is most definitely back in the headlines.

Having fallen about 9% in the past 3 weeks and with an option premium that’s reflecting some of the excitement that may be awaiting, I look at this as a good opportunity to establish a new position and would be willing to keep this one for a while, as long as the dividend is still part of the equation.

After a couple of downgrades and a lowering of price targets, Darden Restaurants (DRI) seems to have fallen out of favor with analysts, after the significant management changes following a successful proxy fight earlier in the year.

Darden reports earnings prior to the end of the December 2015 option cycle and having fallen about 10% in the past 10 days, unless there is some shocking news ahead, much of the disappointment may have already played out.

Darden Restaurants offers only monthly options and it will be ex-dividend shortly after the New Year.  As a result,  I would consider a January 2016 option sale and also using an out of the money strike price, in an effort to capture the premium, dividend and some capital gain on shares, while still having about a month for shares to recover in the event of further price declines after earnings.

Lexmark (LXK) also offers only monthly options and will be ex-dividend this week.

A few years ago Lexmark plunged when it announced it was getting out of the hardware business, just as its one time parent, International Business Machines (IBM) had also shed its hardware assets.

Both companies saw their fortunes fare well as they were re-invented, but more recently both have come under significant pressure, to the point that Lexmark recently announced that it was seeking “alternatives” to enhance shareholder value, including a sale of itself.

The initial negative reaction to that, which came on top of the more than 30% drop after disastrous earnings in July 2015 were released, has seen some reversal and cooler heads may be now prevailing.

With the next earnings release scheduled for early in the February 2016 option cycle, I would consider selling either December 2015 or January 2016 options and may actually consider doing both.

In the case of the December options, I would consider the sale of in the money options, with the intent of seeing an early assignment of the position.

For example, based upon Friday’s closing price of $35.43, the option premium for a December $34 call option was $2.30. If assigned early, that would mean a net gain of 2.5% for a single day of holding. However, if not assigned early, the monthly return would then include the dividend, resulting in a 3.5% ROI, even if shares fell as much as an additional 4%.

Hewlett Packard (HPQ) reports earnings this week and it the part of the pre-split company that’s still in the business that Lexmark abandoned and that IBM spun off.

I already own shares that have calls written against them that will be called away if the combined price of Hewlett Packard and the new Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) exceeds $29.

I’d like to see that happen, but at the same time I see some appeal in considering some kind of position in Hewlett Packard, with an upcoming ex-dividend date on a Monday, two weeks away from this coming Monday.

The option market is implying a 5.6% price move this coming week as earnings are reported.

Normally, I would look for the possibility of selling puts at a strike price that was outside of the range implied by the option market, if that strike price could deliver an ROI of 1%. 

However, in this case, I am currently considering the sale of a put within the range implied by the option market and would be willing to take assignment in order to then plot a strategy to then capture the dividend and some call premiums, if possible.

With the split between Hewlett Packard and Hewlett Packard Enterprises only recently having occurred, the upcoming earnings report will very likely be a very complicated one and will include lots of adjustments and expenses related to the split, so there may be a bigger move than the option market is currently predicting. However, this earnings report will close the book and will likely be quickly forgotten, just as are most reasons behind tantrums.

Finally, Best Buy (BBY) just reported earnings and it did what so many other companies have done over the past few years as stock re-purchase programs have created havoc with the metric that has been the common language of analysts and investors alike.

What they did was to beat expectations for earnings per share, while missing on revenue estimates.

The market’s initial response to the news was to take shares down by 8.4%, but more reasonable minds pared those losses very quickly.

In the latter half of last week I wrote for subscribers that I would be looking at opportunities in retail this coming week, but the strength in some of those names this past Friday, has dampened that expectation.

While many retailer stocks do well in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Best Buy is a frequent outlier in that regard.

However, having just sustained a 15.6% decline during November, I think that those shares are in a position to join the usually party and follow the typical script that has  some initial disappointment in sales figures heading into Christmas and then reports of a better than expected holiday sales season when the dust has finally settled.

I know that I’ll be giving Best Buy gift certificates this year as holiday gifts and expect some of that dust to be of my doing, so I’d be happy to get some of the trickle down benefit, especially as those call and put premiums still reflect some continued anticipation for activity.

If selling puts, however, just as with Hewlett Packard, the upcoming ex-dividend date is just 2 weeks away, so if faced with assignment, rather than rolling over, there may be reason to accept assignment and then seek to collect additional premium and the dividend.


Traditional Stocks:    Darden Restaurants, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks:   Best Buy

Double-Dip Dividend:  Lexmark (11/24)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Hewlett Packard (11/24 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.