Despite being a reasonably smart guy, I've never understood how to play the game of "craps." It's too fast, there are too many possible decisions and when you get right down to it, it's name is probably based on something that aptly describes something you'd rather not touch or taste. A name like that should serve as fair warning to stay away. Sometimes a glance at the people playing the game sends the same message.
Not that a word like "sequester" is any better. The very sound of "sequestration" makes me want to cringe as I think about what my poor dachshund had to endure. It's probably almost as bad as what the individual investor has to endure on a maddeningly frequent basis as markets whipsaw for no apparent reason, yet there's never a shortage of reasons to explain the unexplainable. At least the dog never required an explanation and eventually went on his way, fully healed from the experience. I can't say the same thing about my portfolio.
The events that spurred the past week's early sell-off was by all accounts equal parts Italy, Federal Reserve and Sequestration. Later in the week, as the market was knocking at the gates of 2007's record levels it was Italy, the Federal Reserve and the lack of interest in the Sequestration that were responsible for the turn of events.
What's not to understand?
Just a few months earlier the new year's gains were said to be due to averting the Fiscal Cliff. You may or may not recall the gyrations the market took as competing elected officials decided to vent and spew as they raised and then dashed hopes of a meaningful resolution and simply played craps with other people's portfolios. Since we've all learned that ethical guidelines regarding investment portfolios of elected officials are rather lax, you had to wonder just how the "house" odds were stacked in their game of craps.
This time around as the Sequestration deadline loomed the market just kept chugging along higher. It's hard to understand that as it seems that there can only be a downside, regardless of whether a resolution is reached or not, unless it becomes clear that there really is no danger posed by this thing they've called "The Sequester."
It seems odd that many are taking great pains to paint frightening and untenable outcomes if the sequestration becomes reality. Yet no one seems to care. Not the man on the street, who based on his knowledge of geography can't possibly have any idea of what the sequestration is, nor the markets.
To me, the ultimate game of craps was being played this week, as no one really knows what either outcome to this most recent crisis will bring the economy or the markets. Yet that didn't stop concerned parties from dueling press conferences and then abandoning Washington, DC prior to the deadline and prior to an agreement. Most of all, it didn't end money pouring into stocks and pushing them higher and higher.
Couple that uncertainty with the certainty that myriads of people beginning to foam at the corners of their mouths felt as we got tantalizingly closer to the heights of 2007. That's precisely how storms are created.
Just as there were dueling certainties, we also had dueling countdown clocks this past week. Nothing good ever comes of those clocks, whether for the sequestration deadline or Dow points until 14164.
Option to Profit subscribers know that I've been unusually dour the past week or two out of concern for a repeat of 2012's market month long 9% drop. The course that we're following currently seems eerily familiar.
With that personal concern it's somewhat more difficult to select stock picks for the coming week, particularly while also looking for opportunities to raise cash positions in preparation for bargains ahead.
However, as Jim Cramer has long said, "there's always a bull market somewhere."
I don't know if that's true, but there's always a strategic approach to fit every circumstance.
In this case, while I strongly favor weekly options, where they are available, concerns regarding a quick and sharp downturn lead me to look more closely at monthly or even longer option opportunities in an attempt to still put money to work but to not be left empty handed after expiration of a weekly contract, while then holding a greatly devalued position. The longer term contracts, although perhaps offering lower time adjusted ROIs, do offer some opportunity to assure premium flow for more than a single week and do allow for greater time to ride out any storms.
The week's selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or "PEE" and include a look at premiums derived from selling weekly, remaining March 2013 options or April 2013 options (see details).
Deere (NYSE:DE) was on my list last week, as well. But like most items on the list last week, it remained unpurchased as my cautionary outlook was already at work. In the past month Deere has already had a fairly big drop compared to the S&P 500. I don't see very much sequester related risk with a position right now, but Deere does have a habit of getting dragged along with others reacting to bad industrial news.
Citibank (NYSE:C) was also on the list last week, but was replaced by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) as one of the few trades of the week. Although I'm expecting some market challenges ahead, I don't believe that the decline will be lead by financials, which have already been week of late. If the sequestration occurs and some of the forecasted job cuts become reality, in the short term, I would expect the credit side of Capital One's (NYSE:COF) business to benefit. I've had Capital One on my wish list in the past, but haven't bought shares for quite a while, as its monthly only options premiums were always off putting. Now that there are weekly options available, it seems strange that I'd be looking more toward the security provided by the longer term contracts.
With all of the dysfunction at JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) and Sears' (NASDAQ:SHLD) ambivalence about its position in retail, Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) is just a solid performer. Its been in the news lately, including the rumor category. My shares were recently assigned, but as earnings are out of the way and price is returning to the comfort range, Kohl's, too, is another of the boring, but reliable stocks that can be especially welcome when all else is languishing.
Although I own Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB) with some frequency, I'm not certain that I can refer to it as one of my "favorites." It's performance while holding it is usually middling, but sometimes it's alright to be just average. Williams does go ex-dividend this week and is also in my comfort zone with its current price.
YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) is one of those stocks that seem to have a revolving door in my portfolio. It is probably as responsive to analysts interpretation of events as any stock that I've seen and it typically finds its way back to where it started before the poorly conceived interpretations were unleashed on the investing public. I had wanted to pick up shares last week to replace those assigned the week prior, but simply valued cash more.
Praxair (NYSE:PX) is just a boring company whose big gas tanks are ubiquitous. Sometimes boring companies are just the right tonic, when the stresses of a falling market are prevailing, at least in my mind. Making a dividend payment this week makes it less boring and perhaps it still has enough helium on hand to resist falling.
Pandora (NYSE:P) reports earnings this week and it is fully capable of moving 25% on that event. At the moment, the options market is factoring in approximately a 16% move. At its current price, I would strongly consider taking chances of receiving a 1+% ROI in return for seeing a 25% or less price drop.
On a positive note, we can draw a parallel from an astute observation from more than a century ago. Since "everything that can be invented has been invented," there was clearly no future need for the Patent Office. So too, with the passing of the Sequestration, there can be no other unforeseen man made fiscal crises possible, so it should all be milk and honey going forward. Don't let the higher volatility fool you into believing otherwise.
Traditional Stocks: Deere, Capital One, Kohls
Momentum Stocks: Citibank, YUM Brands
Double Dip Dividend: Williams Company (ex-div 3/6)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Pandora (3/7 PM)
Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week.
Additional disclosure: I may initiate positions or sell puts in C, COF, DE, KSS, P, PX, SHLD, WMB and YUM. AT the time this article was written, I still owned MS although it may be assigned from me on 3/1/13. If so, I may consider re-purchasing shares.