By Thursday evening, I had already lost track of how many records and new highs had been set as trading was getting ready to enter the final week of January. Depending on the parameters and definitions, it seems as if every minute someone was referring to one new market high of one sort or another.
Sometimes I think that the Wilshire 5000 doesn't get its due recognition, but if the trend continues, it will join the party, even if only to have set a record for intra-day trading level on a Tuesday following inauguration.
If they weren't calling new records, they were hyper-focused on just how far we were from a new record. By the way, just for the record, the WIlshire 5000 is 1.3% away from its all-time record high.
After awhile, the meaning of a record becomes less and less. I certainly didn't feel the special nature of whatever was being watched so closely. S&P 500 at 1500? For me, the only record that counts is 14,164 for the Dow and 1565 on the S&P 500, both more than 5 years ago.
But even those records are meaningless, because all that really matters is where your own assets are residing.
I'd also lost track of how many consecutive gaining days we had, other than to remember that last January seemed to be the very same. Like through a million cuts, we went higher each and every day, simply setting a record for the number of slices.
You don't have to be a short seller to bemoan a relentless upward path, but it's a little more excruciating when there's no apparent reason for what has caused such despair. At least Ackman knows where Loeb lies.
All right, it hasn't really been excruciating, and it hasn't really been a period of despair to live and die by covered option sales. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, as you do share in the market's gains, but maybe not as much. Of course, that assumes that the next guy is actually taking their profits rather than falling prey to human nature and letting it all ride. I like taking profits on a very regular basis and moving on before the welcome is outstayed.
Records don't mean very much. Just ask the performance-enhanced athletes that are being denied recognition for their accomplishments. I don't really know what exactly is juicing the markets right now, but I do know that there's little reason to believe that the recent heights are deserved.
Ultimately, looking back at the record highs of October 2007, I realize that the best performance enhancer since then has been ignoring the occasional mindless melt-ups and doing the conservative thing. Collecting penny by penny, selling those options until the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I continually maintain that you don't have to be a great stock picker or market timer to have your records beat theirs.
And get there sooner.
As volatility keeps setting its own record lows, it does become more challenging to get more pennies for your efforts in selling options. Although I've never been much of a fan of earnings season, at the very least, it does its part to enhance premiums, if you don't mind the enhanced risk, as well. As a covered call seller, risk is not high on the list of favorite things, but there has to be some solace in knowing that a uni-directional move sooner or later has to come to an end. Hopefully, when it does, it won't be quite as bruising as has been the descent of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) after its one-way journey higher.
What strikes me this week is how I had a very difficult time identifying a "Traditional" candidate. Over the past month, the least well-performing sector, Utilities, has nonetheless delivered growth. The makes it difficult to spot potential targets that are also fairly priced.
That brings me to the elephant in the room. For the second week in a row, Apple is back on the list. Last week, it was a possible earnings related trade. Up until an hour before the close of Wednesday's trading, I thought of selling weekly $480 puts, but decided that having done the same with Mellanox (NASDAQ:MLNX) and F5 Networks (NASDAQ:FFIV), enough was enough. What exactly does that say when either Mellanox or F5 Networks is thought to be less risky than Apple? It probably says something about my delusional diagnostic methodology rather than the respective companies. But as Apple is now near the last price at which I owned it and closer to a $425 support level, it just seems harder to ignore. I think that once Tim Cook replaces the "WWJD" bracelet on his wrist and gets a new one from which to draw inspiration and guidance, things will get back to normal. The new bracelet would simply be inscribed "WWJD." The difference? What Would Jobs Do?
With the "Traditional" category so quickly dispatched, it's another week and another reason to think about adding shares of AIG (NYSE:AIG). Of course, I wouldn't have to consider doing that if my one and two week old lots hadn't been assigned. But the reality is that the shares are always welcome back home. I look at the option premiums as being something like the rent you might collect from your adult child living in the basement.
I wanted so much to pick up shares of Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) once again last week, but it just didn't get to a good price point. By that, I mean that as opposed to barely a month or two ago, the extraordinarily low volatility is taking its toll on intrinsic value and making the sale of in the money calls somewhat less of a slam dunk, particularly when the intrinsic value is more than half of the difference between two strike prices. I'm hoping to see Baidu trade within $2 or less of a lower strike price early in the week.
YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) should probably have the ticker symbol "YOYO." It responds more to the conflicting daily rumors regarding the vitality of the Chinese economy than do traditional metrics of growth, such as copper and iron ore. Yesterday's drop was just another in the recent series of rumors regarding safety of the chicken offerings. It's hard to imagine that YUM Brands is delivering a lower quality or unsafe product than is generally available to the growing consumer base in China.
There was a time, before Apple, that Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) reporting earnings set the tone for the market. Those days are long gone. In fact, no one really sets that tone anymore, not even IBM (NYSE:IBM), whose own great earnings and share performance did nothing more than be the sole reason for the Dow's positive performance on Tuesday, while the S&P fell flat. In the meantime, Texas Instruments has survived its own earnings report and has a decent dividend this week in addition to income streams from its weekly option offerings.
Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is just a remarkably stable company whose products are ubiquitous, yet out of view. Somehow, the fact that it has about 2600 company-owned stores has escaped my view, but somehow it hasn't escaped the end user. More important than the company's stability is the stability of shares over time. The dividend is fairly meager, but added to its option premium, a reasonably safe place to leave money for a little while.
US Steel (NYSE:X) is a recent and current holding. It is among a large group of high profile companies that are reporting earnings this week and may satisfy being plugged into the equation that evaluates premiums of put sales relative to potential earnings related stock dives. For US Steel, accepting the possibility of a 5% decline can still result in a 1% gain.
Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) was also a recent holding. I still don't fully understand where its earnings come from now that it is getting out of the printer business. However, it has shown resilience after the revelation that people on wireless devices just aren't printing as much as the next guy tethered to a desk and computer. It, too, may offer an appealing award for accepting the possibility of a sharp earnings related decline.
VMWare (NYSE:VMW), a one-time high flier, has settled into a good place. Although it is capable of making large moves after earnings, those moves on a percentage basis are fairly modest. Yet it does regularly offer premiums that are attractive. It's one-time parent EMC Corp. (EMC), reports earnings in the morning, and may offer some insights for the later reporting VMWare.
And finally, there's Facebook. I still get a little smirk thinking about the vitriol directed toward me when making the case for buying shares following expiration of the first lock-up period. Just as with Apple, your portfolio isn't a very good place to park your emotions. Whatever your opinion may be on Facebook the shares, Facebook the IPO, Facebook the company or Facebook the hoodie, it is an appealing trade based upon its earnings release this week.
Traditional Stocks: Apple
Momentum Stocks: AIG, Baidu, YUM Brands
Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 1/30), Texas Instruments (ex-div 1/29)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Lexmark (1/29 AM), Facebook (1/30 PM), US Steel (1/29 AM), VMWare (1/28 PM)
Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.
Disclosure: I am long YUM, EMC, X, and I may initiate positions (or sell puts) in AIG, AAPL, FAST, TXN, BIDU, VMW and LXK. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.