Click to enlargeThere's certainly no way to deny the fact that this has been an impressive first 4 months of the year. The recently touted statistic was that after 4 months and one week the market had gone up 13%.
To put that into the perspective the statistic wanted you to have, the statistical factoid added that for all of 2012 the market was up only 7.2%. That certainly tells you not only how impressive this gain has been but how 2013 will undoubtedly leave 2012 in the dust.
What is left unmentioned is that in 2012, in a period of only 3 months and 1 week the market was up 12.9%.
What happened? Could that happen again? Those are questions asked by someone who turned cautious when the market was up less than 8% in 2013 and wasn't adequately cautious in 2012.
Since 1970, the S&P 500 has finished the year with gains of greater than 14% on a total of 16 occasions, so there could easily be more to come. That can easily be a justifiable perspective to hold unless you also look at the margins by which 14% was exceeded. In that event, the perspective becomes less compelling. It's still possible to end the year substantially higher than 14%, just not as likely as such a great start might suggest.
But remember, statistics don't mislead people. People mislead people.
There was little to no substantive news this past week as the market just continued on auto-pilot. If you owned shares of any of the stocks that had super-sized moves after earnings, such as Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR), that was news enough. But for the rest of us it was quiet.
What was interesting, however, was the behavior of the market during the final hour of Thursday's trading.
That period marked a turnaround sending the market quite a bit lower, at least based on recent standards when only higher seems to be the order of the day. Initially, the drop was ascribed to a strengthening of the dollar and further drop in gold. Those, however, had been going on for a while, having started earlier in the trading session.
What came to light and whose timing was curiously coincident with the market change in direction was a rumor of a rumor that someone from within JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM) was suggesting that the Federal Reserve was ready to begin tapering its Treasury purchases, those signaling the beginning of an end to Quantitative Easing.
For the growing throng that believe that QE has been responsible for the market's climb higher, life after QE couldn't possibly be rosy.
First comes an errant AP Tweet, then an unconfirmed rumor of a rumor. Those incidents would seem to indicate vulnerability or at least an Achilles heel that could stand in the way of this year becoming the 17th in the list.
Easily said, but otherwise, there's really not much else on the radar screen that appears poised to interfere with the market's manifest destiny. Unless of course, Saturday's Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve has indeed mapped out a strategy for winding down QE, transforms rumor into potential reality.
As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or "PEE" categories (see details). Additionally, as the week unwinds, I may place relatively greater emphasis on dividend paying stocks and give greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in the event that 2012 is the order of the day.
This week's selections seem to have more healthcare stocks than usual. I know that healthcare may have already run its course as it was a market leader through the first 4 months of 2012, but some individual names haven't been to the party or have recently fallen on hard times.
Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) didn't react terribly well following its recent earnings report, having fallen 6%. That's not to say that it hadn't enjoyed a nice gain in 2013. However, it does offer an attractive short term option premium, despite also being ex-dividend this week. That's a combination that I like, especially when I still remain somewhat defensive in considering opening new positions.
Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) is also trading ex-dividend this coming week. It has under-performed the S&P 500 this year, but still, a 10% gain YTD isn't a bad four months of work. It has fallen about 7% since reporting its most recent quarter's earnings.
Merck (NYSE:MRK) isn't joining the ex-dividend parade this week, but will do so during the June 2013 option cycle for those a little more long term oriented than I typically tend to be. However, during a period of having repositioned myself defensively, the longer term options have utility and can provide a better price cushion in the event of adverse market moves.
I've owned shares of Conoco Phillips (NYSE:COP) only once since the spin-off of its refinery arm, Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX). It used to be a very regular part of my portfolio prior to that occasion. The parent certainly hasn't fared as well as the child in the 15 months since Phillips 66 has traded as a public company. The 80% difference in return is glaring. But like so many stocks, I think Phillips 66 isn't priced for a new purchase, while Conoco Phillips represents some opportunity. Additionally, though not yet announced, there should be a dividend forthcoming in the next week or two.
I don't recall why I didn't purchase shares of Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) last week after a discussion of its merits, but it probably had to do with the limited buying I was doing across the board. It reported earnings last week, perhaps that was a risk factor that didn't have commensurate reward in the option premiums offered. But this week, with that risk removed, it goes ex-dividend and the consideration begins anew.
Although I already own shares of JP Morgan, I would consider adding to that position. Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue of separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, there's not too much disagreement that Jamie Dimon will forever be remembered as one of the supporting pillars during and in the immediate aftermath of our financial meltdown. The recent spate of diversions has kept JP Morgan from keeping pace with the S&P 500 during 2013, but I believe it is capable of cutting that gap.
Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) reports earnings this week and is down about 4% from its recent high. I often like to consider earnings trades on shares that are already down somewhat, however, shares are up quite a bit in the past 3 weeks. While the options market was implying about a 6% move upon earnings, anything less than a 7% move downward could offer a 1.1% option premium for the week's exposure to risk.
Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) is another of those rare companies that haven't kept up with the market lately. That's been especially true since its recent stock split. Although it does offer a an attractive weekly premium, the challenge may lie in the possibility that shares are not assigned as the May 2013 option cycle ends, because earnings are reported during the first week of the June 2013 cycle. Barring a large downward move prior to earnings, there would certainly be ample time to re-position with another weekly or even monthly option contract prior to the earnings release.
To round off my over-exposure to the technology sector, I may consider either adding more shares of Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) or selling puts in advance of this week's earnings report. I've added shares in each of three successive weeks and don't believe that Cisco's earnings will reflect some of the woes expressed by Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL). My only personal concern is related to the issue of diversification, but for the moment, technology may be the sector in which to throw caution to the wind.
US Steel (NYSE:X) has been one of those stocks that I'm not terribly happy about, although that really only pertains to the current lot that I hold. Along with pretty much everything in the metals complex, US Steel hasn't fared very well the past few months. However, I think that I am ready for a resurgence in the sector and am hoping that the sector agrees with me, or at least continues to show some strength as it has this past week.
Finally, despite having owned Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) since the IPO and currently owning two individual lots, priced at $29 and $27.17, it remains one of my favorite new stocks. Not because I can count on it going to $30, but because I can count on it staying in a reasonable pricing neighborhood and becoming a recurrent stream of option income.
Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Conoco Phillips, Merck, Salesforce.com
Momentum Stocks: Facebook, US Steel
Double Dip Dividend: Amgen (ex-div 5/14), Eli Lilly (ex-div 5/14), Marathon Oil (ex-div 5/14)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Autodesk (5/16 PM)
Disclosure: I am long CSCO, FB, X, JPM. 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.
Additional disclosure: I may purchase shares or sell puts in ADSK, AMGN, CRM, LLY, MRK and MRO