This week may have marked the last time Ben Bernanke sits in front of far less accomplished inquisitors in fulfilling his part of the obligation to provide congressional testimony in accordance with law.
The Senate, which in general is a far more genteel and learned place, was absolutely fawning over the Federal Reserve Chairman who is as good at playing close to the vest as anyone, whether it's regarding divulging a time table for the feared "tapering" or an indication of whether he will be leaving his position.
If anything should convince Bernanke to sign up for another round, it would be to see how long the two-faced goodwill lasts and perhaps give himself the opportunity to remind his detractors just how laudatory they had been. But I can easily understand his taking leave and enjoying the ticker tape, or perhaps the "taper tick" parade that is due him.
But in a week when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Bernanke had opportunities to move the markets with their appearances, neither said anything of interest, nor anything that could be misinterpreted.
Instead, at the annual CNBC sponsored "Delivering Alpha Conference," the ability of individuals such as Jim Chanos and Nelson Peltz to move individual shares was evident. What is also evident is that based upon comparative performance thus far in 2013, there aren't likely to be many ticker tape parades honoring hedge fund managers and certainly no one is going to honor an index.
As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or "PEE" categories. There are many potential earnings related trades this week beyond those listed in this article for those interested in that kind of trade (see details).
A portion of this week's selections reflects the recently wounded, but certainly not mortally, from recent disappointing earnings. While there may not be any victory tours coming anytime soon for some of them, it's far too short sighted to not consider the recent bad news as a stepping stone for short-term opportunism.
In terms of absolute dollars lost, it's hard to imagine the destruction of market capitalization and personal wealth at the hands of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). While no one is writing an epitaph for eBay, there are no shortage of obituary writers for Microsoft and Intel. However, although most all businesses will someday go that path, I don't think that any of that triumvirate are going to do so anytime soon, although Microsoft's nearly 11% drop on Friday was more than the option market anticipated. It was also more than an innocent cough and may not be good for Steve Ballmer's health.
Since my timeframe is usually short, although I do currently have shares of Intel that will soon pass their one-year anniversary, I don't think their demise or even significantly more deterioration in share price will be anytime soon. All offer better value and appealing option premiums for the risk of a purchase. Additionally, both Intel and Microsoft have upcoming dividends during the August cycle that simply adds to the short-term appeal. My eBay shares were assigned on Friday, but I have been an active buyer in the $50-52.50 range and welcomed its return to that neighborhood.
I currently own some shares of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and sold some $450 August 17, 2013 calls in anticipation of its upcoming earnings. While I normally prefer the weekly options, the particular shares had an entry of $445 and haven't earned their keep yet from cumulative option premiums. The monthly option instead offered greater time protection from adverse price action while still getting some premium and perhaps a dividend as well. However, with earnings this week, the more adventurous may consider the sentiment being expressed in the options market that is implying a move of approximately 5% upon earnings. Even after Friday's 1% drop following some recent strength, I found it a little surprising at how low the put premiums are compared to call options, indicating that perhaps there is some bullish sentiment in anticipation of earnings. I simply take that as a sign of the opposite and would expect further price deterioration.
I'm always looking to buy or add shares of Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT). I just had some shares assigned in order to capture the dividend. After Chanos' skewering of the company and its rapid descent as a direct result, I was cheering for it to go down a bit further so that perhaps shares wouldn't be assigned early. No such luck, even after such piercing comments as "they are tied to the wrong products, at the wrong time." I'm not certain, but he may have borrowed that phrase from last year when applied to Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). For me, the various theses surrounding dependence on China or the criticisms of leadership have meant very little, as Caterpillar has steadfastly traded in a well defined range and has consistently offered option premiums upon selling calls, as well as often providing an increasingly healthy dividend. To add a bit to the excitement, however, Caterpillar does report earnings this week, so some consideration may be given to the backdoor path to potential ownership through the sale of put options.
While Chanos approached his investment thesis from the short side, Nelson Peltz made his case for Pepsico's (NYSE:PEP) purchase of Mondelez (NASDAQ:MDLZ). My shares of Mondelez were assigned today thanks to a price run higher as Peltz spoke. I never speculate on the basis of takeover rumors and am not salivating at the prospect of receiving $35-$38 per share, as Peltz suggested would be an appropriate range for a, thus far, non-receptive Pepsico to pay for Mondelez ownership. Despite the general agreement that margins at Mondelez are low, even by industry standards, it has been trading ideally for call option writers and I would consider repurchasing shares just to take advantage of the option premiums.
Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is just one of those companies that goes about its business without much fanfare, and its shares are still depressed after offering some reduced guidance and then subsequently reporting its earnings. It goes ex-dividend this week and offers a decent monthly option premium during this period of low volatility. Without signs of industrial slowdowns it is a good place to park assets while awaiting for some sanity to be restored to the markets.
Although I've never been accused of having fashion sense, Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) and Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) are frequently alluring positions, although always carrying downside risk even when earnings reports are not part of the equation. I have been waiting for Kors to return to the $60 level and it did show some sporadic weakness during the past week, but doggedly stayed above that price.
Abercrombie & Fitch is always a volatile position, but offers some rewarding premiums, as long as the volatility does strike and lead to a prolonged dip. It reports earnings on August 14, 2013 and may also provide some data from European sales and currency impacts prior to that. Kors also reports earnings during the August cycle and any potential purchases of either of these shares must be prepared for ownership into earnings if weekly call contracts sold on the positions are not assigned.
Finally, it's hard to find a stock that has performed more poorly than Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF). Although no one has placed blame on its leadership, in fact, they have been lauded for expense controls during demand downturns, it didn't go unnoticed that shares rallied when the CEO announced his upcoming retirement. It also didn't go unnoticed that China, despite being in a relative downturn, purchased a large portion of the nickel, a necessary ingredient for steel, available on the London commodity market. For the adventurous, Cliffs reports earnings this week and seems to have found some more friendly confines at the $16 level. The option market expects a 9% move in either direction. A downward move of that amount or less could result in a 1% ROI for the week, if selling put options. I suspect the move will be higher.
Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, eBay, Intel. Microsoft, Mondelez
Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Michael Kors
Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 7/24 $0.25)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/23 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (7/25 PM)
Additional disclosure: I may purchase/add shares or sell puts in AAPL, ANF, CAT, CLF, EBAY, FAST, INTC, KORS, MDLZ, MSFT