- For the second time in two weeks, stocks were given a boost as an investment class.
- Putting new funds to work means either having to raise price baselines as so many are at or near new highs or seeking those relatively immune to systemic risk.
- 3 words: Stocks, stocks, stocks.
You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I've long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It's far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.
Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra-long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn't the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.
So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you're not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That's especially so because lately the market hasn't been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality.
In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen reaffirmed her commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.
If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post - FOMC press conference?
That gift didn't have too much staying power and it's unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it's good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.
When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.
Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."
As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.
So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation's employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn't a very good time if you were an equity investor.
While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you're on a roll you go with it.
More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.
However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.
Thank you, Janet Yellen.
Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?
I'm afraid the answer is that "you don't," other than perhaps in hindsight.
As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or "PEE" categories.
Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.
I don't say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer's face.
That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I'm always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.
Most recently Coach (NYSE:COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven't found myself displaying a similar emotion. I've usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.
However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn't end with earnings this time around.
As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.
While not in retail, Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) is another company that I've spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it's time to make some money.
Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn't mind the opportunity to continually roll over option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.
Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI). There's probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend.
While Darden's payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn't much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.
Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (NYSE:RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports, there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.
As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (NYSE:DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have a re-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.
Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it's clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.
Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.
Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (NYSE:DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least, and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.
The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn't quite fulfill my objective of trying to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen, is a good friend to have on your side.
Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.
While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs' illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook's second seat at the helm of the company.
JPMorgan's shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon's health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JPMorgan's credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon's health or unexpected change of leadership.
In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JPMorgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected from its own self than in past years. Whether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.
Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health, there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we'll need.
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean
Momentum: Coach, Mosaic
Double Dip Dividend: Darden
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores
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.
Additional disclosure: I may buy/add shares or sell puts in COH, DOW, DRI, FDO, JPM, MOS, MSFT and RIG