There’s not too much doubt that this past week had a character that was very different from nearly every week that had preceded it thus far in 2015, which has been predominated by sad faces.
The problem encountered in January and helping to create a sea of sad faces is that we were all expecting to begin seeing evidence of an improving economy. That kind of anticipation timed along with what we often believe to be a traditionally positive January market easily set the stage for disappointment.
The narrative that seemed so logical and convincing included more jobs, higher wages and newfound personal wealth due to slashed energy prices. The problem, though, was that when the time came for corroborating data to take the narrative into the realm of non-fiction it just wasn’t on the same page.
Retail Sales weren’t what we were expecting and neither was the GDP. Manufacturing data was falling and the early results from earnings season were less than stellar, as good news failed to materialize or coalesce into a coherent story in support of the narrative.
However, this past week caught glimpses of good news to come, as some prominent national retailers provided improved guidance that was finally in line with the theory that we had come to accept as gospel. Finally there was some indication that lower energy prices were going to result in more discretionary spending. What was especially encouraging was that the improvement on the retail side was no longer being confined to the more luxurious end of the spectrum.
I preferred this week’s “happy face” version of 2015, even if the week did end on a little bit of a down note after a day that featured a near flawless “Employment Situation Report,” that included some sizeable revisions to previous months.
In a perfect example of the concept that “as an investor and a consumer you can not have your cake and eat it, too” the market went higher, but so did 10 Year Treasury rates and energy prices, but within reason that can be a good trade-off.
2015 has been pretty dizzying thus far. All you have to do is take a look at an S&P 500 chart since having reached market highs at the end of December 2014. It doesn’t take long to realize that market tests have been coming at a far greater frequency or on a more compressed time frame than they had been coming in almost 3 years.
The good news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those selling. The bad news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those buying.
The activity seen in 2015 will lead some to believe that it demonstrates the market’s resilience, while others will be less optimistic and point out that large moves higher, as have been commonplace in 2015 are typically seen in or approaching bear markets.
Fortunately, we will have hindsight to guide us.
Until that point that hindsight kicks in there is the problem of deciding whether it’s a smiling face or a sad face that awaits in the near future.
With the otherwise under-appreciated JOLT Survey, which Janet Yellen has said held increasing importance as it may indicate workforce optimism and another Retail Sales report coming this week, there may be more reason to add to the trickle of evidence that may validate last week’s happy faces.
Of course, while official government reports and data are certainly meaningful, despite a propensity toward revision, the really meaningful data may start coming in just a few weeks. At that time the major retailers begin to release their earnings. Perhaps more importantly than those earnings ending in December 2014, they will have also had 2 additional months of observation to either validate or negate the narrative and also provide changed forward guidance.
I have my “happy face” mask within easy reach, although the sad face is never far away.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
One of the reasons that I like Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) so much is that it is prone to large and decisive movements, but is otherwise a fairly staid stock that has a nice habit of seeing its price revert toward the mean.
Fastenal reported good earnings just a few weeks ago, but this past week reported weaker than expected January sales resulting in another of those decisive movements that rippled through to its competitors, as well.
The hindsight tool indicates that over the past few years these kind of drops from about the $45 level have proven to be a good time to purchase or add shares. While only offering a monthly options contract there are now only 2 weeks remaining on the February 2015 cycle. However, during the 10 occasions that I have owned shares in the past 18 months I’ve held them through only a single monthly option cycle just once, so it does tend to be a longer holding.
While “old tech” was weak last weak and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been weak since releasing its earnings, a nearly 10% drop seems excessive, but a welcome return to a price level last seen 6 months ago.
Among my favorite kind of option contract sales, but ones that I only infrequently get to execute, are for those going ex-dividend on a Monday. In such cases, early assignment has to occur on the previous Friday. If selling an option contract expiring the same week as the ex-dividend date and shares are assigned early to capture the dividend, the contract seller won’t get the dividend, but does get an additional week of premium and a return of cash from the assignment which can then be re-invested to generate more income.
Microsoft shares go ex-dividend on Tuesday February 17th, the day after the Presidents Day holiday. That means if an option contract is to be exercised early it must be done on the preceding Friday and may offer one of those opportunities to benefit whether the option is exercised early or not.
Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) also goes ex-dividend this week. While oil was nearly 10% higher for the week and may reasonably be expected to undergo some short term profit taking, as too many have foregone their bearish sentiment, Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to decrease its capital expenditures is just another in the steps necessary to nudge the supply-demand equilibrium toward a balance favoring price.
The process, however, unless there is an unexpected event or change in policy, such as Saudi Arabia cutting production in exchange for Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, is a slow one. I would, therefore, look at a holding in Royal Dutch Shell to be of a longer term nature and the absence of weekly options removes some of the risk of short term volatility.
However, if it’s volatility that you’re looking for, then Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) may be just the thing, as precious metals has seen a very clear increase in its volatility and has trickled down to the level of the miners.
Over the past 2 months this has been one of my favorite trades as I’ve rolled over existing positions numerous times, sometimes more than once in a week and even electing to rollover when assignment was nearly certain in order to keep deriving income from the holding.
As seen this past week and nearly every week in the past 2 months these shares can move up and down very quickly, but for those who believe that precious metals or some proxy should be in the speculative portion of their portfolio, this may be a suitable addition, especially as uncertainty abounds in stocks, bonds, currencies and metals.
While I only have room for one energy sector position, Marathon Oil also goes ex-dividend this week and has reasons to be considered.
While its dividend is far below that of Royal Dutch Shell, it has also suffered a far greater decline from its recent high level. While I think that decline near its end, it does have earnings to report on February 18, 2015, a week after its ex-dividend date.
Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), unlike Royal Dutch Shell does offer weekly option contracts providing opportunities to focus on either or both events by selecting different expiration dates. In the case of Marathon, as we’ve seen with many others in the energy sector reporting their earnings, the reality has been better than the fears and shares have done well in the aftermath. With that in mind I look at Marathon as potentially offering a good dividend and upside potential from earnings, in addition to an option premium that;’s enhanced by the upcoming earnings as well as the added volatility surrounding energy names.
International Paper (NYSE:IP) also is ex-dividend this week and while it is near its 52 week high and 20% higher from its earnings release in October 2014, its near term prospects don’t appear to hold a return to that level. Instead, I think that there is still room for some capital appreciation, or at least continuing to trade in its recent range, while offering the opportunity to accumulate premiums.
The company has been very shareholder friendly with spin-offs, increasing share buybacks and dividend increases in each of the past 5 years. That’s a nice combination for those who need something to offset the lack of excitement in its actual businesses.
After announcing record earnings, but weak forward guidance, shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) briefly suffered a sharp fall. However, when there was some opportunity to really evaluate the increased share buyback announced and the increased dividend analysts dismissed the importance of the lowered guidance and shares recovered.
Other than experiencing some currency headwinds, margins on its products are expected to increase as it its share of digital download revenues. After all, what is a “millennial” going to spend their newly found cash on if not gaming? In return, Activision may have some upside share potential supported by its buyback and a nice option premium to help atone for the adventure that may await with share ownership.
Finally, what’s a day without the report of a new cyber-hack and the theft of personal data? Last week’s report of a massive and successful attack of a healthcare insurer, that made away with personally identifying data and not just credit card numbers, may be the start of massive headaches for many in the 14 states served by that insurer who may find that joining the witness protection program and changing their name and date of birth may be the best remedy.
While retaining FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE) after the hack isn’t terribly different from closing the barn door a little too late, it certainly raises the profile of companies in the cyber-security arena even higher.
FireEye reports earnings this week and if you only looked at a 6 month chart you would think that it had done well in scratching its way back toward its August 2014 level. However, a look beyond 6 months shows just how far shares have fallen in the past year.
The option market is implying an 11.7% move upon earnings and based on past history that may be an under-estimate of what may be possible. However, one may be able to obtain a 1% ROI by selling a weekly put option at a strike level that is about 15.7% Friday’s closing price.
However, since shares are already up about 12% in the past week, I would consider the sale of puts only if there is a meaningful price decline prior to earnings, or if that doesn’t occur, if there is a significant decline after earnings, as FireEye has disappointed in the past and it’s a fickle stock market that has to decide whether the past is more important than the future.
Traditional Stocks: Fastenal
Momentum Stocks: Activision Blizzard, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF
Double Dip Dividend: International Paper , Marathon Oil (2/11), Microsoft (2/17), Royal Dutch Shell (2/11)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: FireEye (2/11 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.