Employment Situation Report, Taper, new Yahoo! (YHOO) logo, Syria.
Not a line from a new, less catchy Billy Joel song, but a transition week going from the quietude of summer, which was mostly focused on fundamentals to the event-driven and emotional rest of the year when the world seems to be perennially on fire, jumping from crisis to crisis.
In a few days traffic in my part of the country returns back to its normal heinous condition as our nation's elected officials return from a much deserved 37-day vacation that they were unable to truncate by a few days to address some outstanding issues.
Just to be clear, it's the electorate that deserved the break, but now they're back and we can settle into our more normal state of dysfunction, while decreasing our focus on such mundane things as earnings. For the record, I don't get out onto the roads very much anymore, having given up gainful employment for a life of ticker watching, but it's not as easy to escape the results of having exercised our democratic rights.
Once things get back to "normal" it will seem just like old times as we are likely to give up the relative trading calm of the past two months and re-introduce a rapidly alternating volley of ups and downs as melodrama plays out in the nation's capital. Watching the hairpin reversal as Russian Premier Putin suggested supporting the other side of the conflict and then watching a more gradual reversal during President Obama's somewhat somnolent press conference is more like what we have become accustomed to seeing.
This morning's Employment Situation Report, which seems perfectly timed as the gateway to next week's return to "business as usual" neither delighted nor frightened and gave no clue as to whether the "taper" is coming sooner rather than later. The revisions to previous months gave some solace that perhaps a delay was in order.
My metric is a simple one. It was the packed parking lot of a rural Delaware Fastenal (FAST) retail outlet that I saw two weeks ago that may have been part of the announcement yesterday of improved August sales for the company that has an early and ongoing part in lots of construction and industrial applications.
With those packed parking lots at Fastenal, or at least one packed parking lot, the current conventional wisdom regarding heavy machinery may be unwarranted. I currently own shares of Caterpillar (CAT), Joy Global (JOY) and Deere (DE) and I believe that all three are fairly priced to either open new positions or add to existing ones. Their moves higher during Friday's trading makes me less likely to take that plunge immediately, although Deere is coming off an explicable large decline on Thursday and may be most enticing.
The question may no longer be when the dreaded taper is coming but by how much and has the market already discounted its early appearance.
I think it has and the expectation is for a $10-15 Billion taper to start off the process. Any short-term adverse response to the initiation of the taper would likely give way to rally mode once again if surprises are few.
As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and "PEE" categories this week (see details).
With potential military action coming against Syria as early as September 9, 2013, timing of new purchases may be critical, as you might expect a near-term market decline upon action and perhaps a relief rally afterward. My preference this week would be to tread slowly with creating new positions and perhaps focusing on sectors that may be a bit more resilient to the specter of armed conflict.
Healthcare in one such sector and I will be looking to replace assigned shares of Baxter International (BAX). The fact that Merck (MRK) will be ex-dividend this week makes that a likely choice, particularly as it has been trading in a very narrow range for the past 3 months.
Although Eli Lilly (LLY) is not ex-dividend this week, it is down about 10% from its recent high level and has some price support at about the $50 level. I think that it is a good defensive position in the event of a market that begins reacting to external events.
Retail has been a very mixed bag this earnings season but suddenly laggards like J.C. Penney (JCP) and even Sears Holdings (SHLD) have seen some buying support. While there is suggestion that its resurgence may come at the expense of retailers such as Macy's (M), it is difficult to find fault with Macy's at its current price and likely relative immunity from a Syria related market decline. Besides, it goes ex-dividend this week and offers an attractive option premium all helping to reduce risk of ownership.
The Gap (GPS) is another retailer that has been said to be at risk if some of the retail laggards start to catch up. I've been waiting a while for the Gap's share price to decline, but following a 13% drop from its recent peak, I think the time may now be here.
LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) has been in the news this year for a lot of reasons, some good and some not so good. While it may offend a portion of the shopping public by not offering an expanded selection of sizes and offending another portion of the public by having removed the defective too sheer products off the shelves, it has been a retailing success story and can be an exciting stock to own if you like that sort of thing. If you do, LuLuLemon reports earnings this week and it does have a history of explosive moves and occasionally throwing in some unexpected surprises, such as the departure of a respected CEO.
Shares still haven't quite recovered from its most recent 20% earnings related decline. However, those who have a tolerance for risk may find good opportunity in either buying shares and selling deep in the money calls or selling deep in the money puts. For me, the most appealing action at the moment is selling $62.50 strike weekly puts that would return approximately 1.3% in the event that shares fall less than 11% upon earnings. The option market itself is expecting an approximately 9% move in either direction.
Lexmark (LXK) is a great example of a company that has re-invented itself and appears to be doing well by having done so, at least in the metric that matters to most - its share price.
About a year ago Lexmark announced that it was exiting the printing business, as if anyone knew that it had any other kind of business. With printers having become a low margin commodity and widespread reports that people were using printers far less as tablets have penetrated the market, the timing seemed opportune to find more cyan pastures. Following a significant drop in share price over the past 3 weeks Lexmark appears to be fairly priced, although there is still more downside potential following an impressive rise higher over the past six months.
While the Energy sector is always a risky play, especially during the uncertainties that may arise during conflict, a company such as Williams Cos. (WMB) may have some degree of immunity from events far away, as its natural gas operations are focused in North America. It does go ex-dividend this week and although I have two pe-existing lots at the current price, it too has traded in a narrow range providing a degree of safety while still offering very attractive returns from option premiums, dividends and potentially share appreciation, as well.
Finally, Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) is an always exciting purchase. Along with the rest of the teen retailers it has been punished this earnings season and because of its high profile it is often used as an example of their precarious market position. While many are quick to say that Abercrombie is no longer considered "cool" by its target demographic and how fickle that audience is, my interests always revolve around short-term trading opportunities and not long-term prospects or liabilities. Shares are really well over-sold and there are no near-term headwinds. Abercrombie always offers an exceptional option premium relative to the risk and its regular price gyrations offer opportunity to escape or re-enter positions with frequency, making it an ideal covered call position for the investor with some tolerance for that kind of excitement.
Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Deere, Eli Lilly, The Gap
Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Lexmark, Joy Global
Double Dip Dividend: Macy's (ex-div 9/12), Merck (ex-div 9/12), Williams Co (ex-div 9/11)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: LuLuLemon (9/12 AM)
Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.
Additional disclosure: I may buy, add shares or sell puts in the following: ANF, CAT, DE, GPS, JOY, LLY, LULU, LXK, M, MRK, and WMB