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Summary

  • A "Minsky Moment" is thought by some to be associated with complacency and may require investor preparation.
  • Complacency, from the lens of an individual investor, seems to be far less than during previous market highs.
  • Volatility, a statistical measure of past price movement, is increasingly being looked at as an emotional metric and predictor.

I read an excellent article by Doug Kass yesterday. Most of all it explained the origin and definition of the expression "Minsky Moment" that had suddenly come into vogue and received frequent mention late this past week.

I enjoy Kass' perspectives and opinions and especially admire his wide range of interests and willingness to state his positions without spinning reality to conform to a fantasy.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the expression was finding its way back to use as Paul McCulley, late of PIMCO, who had coined the phrase, was being re-introduced to the world as the newest PIMCO employee, by a beaming Bill Gross.

The basic tenet in the Kass article was that growing complacency among investors could lead to a Minsky Moment. By definition that is a sudden collapse of asset values which had been buoyed by speculation and the use of borrowed money, although that didn't appear to be the basis for the assertion that investors should prepare for a Minsky Moment.

Kass, however, based his belief in the possibility of an impending Minsky Moment on the historically low level of market volatility, which he used as a proxy for complacency. In turn, Kass simply stated that a Minsky Moment "sometimes occurs when complacency sets in."

You can argue the relative foundations of those suppositions that form the basis for the belief that it may be opportune to prepare for a Minsky Moment. Insofar as it is accurate to say that sometimes complacency precedes a Minsky Moment and that volatility is a measure of complacency, then perhaps volatility is an occasional predictor of a sudden and adverse market movement.

Volatility is a complex concept that has its basis in a purely statistical and completely unemotional measure of dispersion of returns for an investment or an index. However, it has also been used as a reflection of investor calm or anxiety, which as far as I know has an emotional component. Yet volatility is also used by some as a measure the expectation of a large movement in one direction or another.

Right now, the low volatility indicates that there has been little dispersion of price, or put another way there has been very little variation in price in the recent past. Having gone nearly 2 years without a 10% correction most would agree, without the need for statistical analysis, that the variation in stock price has been largely in a single direction.

However, few will argue that volatility is a forward looking measure.

Kass noted that "fueled by new highs and easy money, market observers are now growing more optimistic."

Coincidentally enough, on the day before the Kass article appeared, I wrote in my Daily Market Update about complacency and compared it to the 1980s and 2007.

Of course, that was done through the lens of an individual investor with money on the line and not a "market observer."

While I'm very mindful of volatility, especially as low volatility drives down option premiums, it doesn't feel as if the historic low volatility is reflective of individual investor complacency. In fact, even among those finding the limelight, there is very little jumping up and down about the market achieving new daily highs. The feeling of invincibility is certainly not present.

Anyone who remembers 1987 will recall that there was a 5 year period when we didn't know the meaning of a down market. Complacency is when you have a certain smugness and believe that things will only go your way and risk is perceived to be without risk.

Anyone who remembers 2007 will also recall how bored we became by new daily record highs, almost as if they were entitlements and we just expected that to keep being the new norm.

I don't know of many that feel the same way now. What you do hear is that this is the least liked and respected rally of all time and the continuing expectation for some kind of reversal.

That doesn't sound like complacency.

While the Volatility Index may be accurately portraying market prices that have demonstrated little variation over a finite time frame, I don't believe that it remotely reflects individual investor sentiment.

As opposed to earlier times when new market highs were seen as preludes to even greater rewards you may be hard pressed to find those who believe that the incremental reward actually exceeds the risk of pursuing that reward.

Put me in that latter camp.

As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or "PEE" categories.

One stock that I really haven't liked very much has been Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM). I say that only because it has consistently been a disappointment for me and has reflected my bad market timing. WHile I often like to add shares in positions that are showing losses and using a "Having a Child to Save a Life" strategy, I've resisted doing so with Whole Foods.

However, it finally seems as if the polar vortex is a thing of the past and the market has digested Whole Foods' expansion and increased cap-ex and its strain on profits. But that's a more long term perspective that I rarely care about. Instead, it appears as if shares have finally found a floor or at least some stability. At least enough so to consider trying to generate some income from option sales and perhaps some capital gains on the underlying shares, as well, as I believe there will be some progress toward correcting some of its recent price plunge.

Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) which goes ex-dividend this week is one stock that I've been able to attenuate some of the pain related to its price drop upon news of the break-up of the potash cartel, through the use of the "Having a Child to Save a Life" strategy. Shares have slowly and methodically worked their way higher since that unexpected news, although have seen great resistance at the $50 level, where it currently trades.

While I don't spend too much time looking at charts, Mosaic, if able to push past that resistance may be able to have a small gap upward and for that reason, if purchasing shares, I'm not likely to write calls on the entire position, in anticipation of some capital gain on shares, in addition to the dividend and option premiums.

Holly Frontier (NYSE:HFC) also goes ex-dividend this week. Like so many stocks that I like to consider, it has been recently trading in a range and has occasional paroxysms of price movement. Those quick and unpredictable moves keep option premiums enticing and its tendency to restrict its range have made it an increasingly frequent target for purchase. It is currently trading near the high of my comfort level, but that can be said about so many stocks at the moment, as they rotate in and out of favor with one another, as the market reaches its own new highs.

Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) us one of those companies that must have a strong sense of self-worth, as it is always an also-ran to Home Depot (NYSE:HD) in the eyes of analysts, although not always in the eyes of investors. It, too, seems to now be trading in a comfortable range, although that range has been recently punctuated by some strong and diverse price moves which have helped to maintain the option premiums, despite overall low market volatility.

MasterCard (NYSE:MA) was one of the early casualties I experienced when initially beginning to implement a covered call strategy. I never thought that it would soar to the heights that it did and my expectations for it to drop a few hundred points just never happened, unless you don't understand stock splits.

For some reason, while Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares never seemed too expensive for purchase, MasterCard did feel that way to me although at its peak it wasn't very much higher than Apple at its own peak. Also, unlike Apple which will start trading its post-split shares this week, that split isn't likely to induce me to purchase shares, while the split in MasterCard was a welcome event and re-introduced me to ownership.

With a theme of trading in a range and having its price punctuated by significant moves, MasterCard has been a nice covered option trade and I would be welcome to the possibility of re-purchasing shares after a recent assignment. With some of the uncertainty regarding its franchise in Russia now resolved and with the hopes that consumer discretionary spending will increase, MasterCard is a proverbial means to print money and generate option income.

I was considering the purchase of shares of Joy Global (NYSE:JOY) on Friday and the sale of deep in the money weekly calls in the hope that the shares would be assigned early in order to capture its dividend, as Friday would have been the last day to have done so. That would have prevented exposure to the coming week's earnings release.

Instead, following a nearly 2% price drop I decided to wait until Monday, foregoing the modest dividend in the hope that a further price drop would occur before Thursday's scheduled earnings.

With its reliance on Chinese economic activity Joy Global may sometimes offer a better glimpse into the reality of that nation that official data. With its share price down approximately 6% in the past month and with my threshold 1% ROI currently attainable at a strike level that is outside of the lower boundary defined by the implied move, the sale of put contracts may have some appeal.

If there may be a poster child for the excesses of a market that may perhaps be a sign of an impending Minsky Moment, salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) should receive some consideration. Although there are certainly other stocks that have maintained a high profile and have seen their fortunes wax and wane, salesforce.com seems to go out of its way to attract attention.

Following a precipitous recent decline in price over the past few days shares seemed to be on the rebound. This past Friday morning came word of an alliance with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), a company that salesforce.com's CEO, Marc Benioff, has disparaged in the past.

While that alliance still shouldn't be surprising, after all, it is all about business and personal conflict should take a back seat to profits, what was surprising was that the strong advance in the pre-open trading was fairly quickly reversed once the morning bell was rung.

With a sky high beta, salesforce.com isn't a prime candidate for consideration at a time when the market itself may be at a precipice. However, for those with some room in the speculative portion of their portfolio, the sale of puts may be a reasonable way to participate in the drama that surrounds this stock. However, I would be inclined to consider rolling over put options in the event that assignment looks likely, rather than accepting assignment.

Finally, everyone seems to have an opinion about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). Whether its the actual clothing, the marketing, the abhorrent behavior of its CEO or the stock, itself, there's no shortage of material for casual conversation. Over the past two years it has been one of my most frequent trades and has sometimes provided some anxious moments, as it tends to have price swings on a regular basis.

Abercrombie reported earnings last week and I had sold puts in anticipation. Unlike most times when I sell puts my interest is not in potentially owning shares at a lower price, but rather to simply generate an option premium and then hopefully move on without shares nor obligation. However, in the case of Abercrombie, if those put contracts were to have fallen below their strike levels, I was prepared to take delivery of shares.

While rolling over such puts would have been a choice, Abercrombie does go ex-dividend this week and its ability to demonstrate price recovery and essentially arise from ashes it fairly well demonstrated.

My preference would have been that Abercrombie had a mild post-earnings loss, as it is near the higher end of where i would consider a purchase, but it's an always intriguing and historically profitable position, despite all of the rational reasons to run fro ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Lowe's, MasterCard, Whole Foods

Momentum: salesforce.com

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (6/3), Holly Frontier (6/4), Mosaic (6/3),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (6/5 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may 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 overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Source: Minsky Moment: The Roles Of Complacency And Volatility

Additional disclosure: I may buy/add shaares or sell puts in ANF, CRM, HFC, JOY, LOW, MA, MOS and WFM