Boring Was Sexy While It Lasted

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 |  Includes: BBY, FAST, FCX, GME, MA, MET, MOS, SBUX, SHLD, WMT
by: George Acs

Summary

Markets have affirmed their longing for benign or no news.

Spreading European economic weakness and geo-political uncertainty may impact some stocks more than others, but immediate reactions can paint with a broad brush.

The market's reactions this week point to real ambivalence, jitteriness, but an unwillingness to accept what may be a changing reality and risk environment..

It's hard to know whether the caption seen with this screen capture this past Friday morning was just an unfortunate mistake or an overly infatuated producer trying to send a not so subtle message to an on air personality who may not be that exciting when the teleprompter isn't present.

There's also the possibility that it was simply a reflection of the reality for the week. Coming to the mid-point of August and people every where grasping for the last bits of summer, it was an extraordinarily slow week for scheduled economic news and a slow week for trading. The most prevalent stories for the week were regarding the death of a beloved comic genius and that of a national figures and unknowns injecting a little icy cold fun into supporting research into the mysteries of a horrible disease.

In that vacuum the stock market was on its way to having its best week in nearly two months.

In that context, there was no doubt that boring was indeed, sexy.

For me, not so much. Boring was more like a full length burlap sack that was far too tight around the neck. Just a few short weeks ago after a deluge of market moving news I found myself wishing for quietude, only to learn that you do have to be careful what you wish for.

As a covered option trader I much prefer weeks that the market is struggling or flat. Even mild to moderate declines are better than strong moves forward, if my covered positions cause me to be left behind. I can usually do without those "best weeks ever" kind of hyperbole.

Luckily, lately Fridays have had a way of shaking things up a little bit, particularly when it comes to reversing course.

Although its probably a coincidence but seemingly market moving news from Russia seems to prefer Fridays, something noted a few months ago and not having slowed down too much.

That was certainly the case to end out the week where I was getting left behind. News, however, of a possible military action cast a pall on the markets and quickly reversed a decent gain earlier in the day.

In the perverse world of hedging your bets, sometimes those surprises are the antidote to getting left behind, so what is likely bad news for many may be more happily received by others. In some cases it's really that bad news that's sexy.

By the same token I wasn't overly pleased when the market regained much of what it had lost. For me, in addition to renewing the gap between personal performance and the market, it also pointed to a market unclear as to its direction.

Even though it's volatility that drives the premiums that can make the sale of options enticing, I really like clarity. After Friday's events there was no clarity, other than the validation of the belief that the market is clearly on edge. At best, the market demonstrated ambivalence and that is far from being sexy.

What may be sexy is a recognition of the market's unwillingness to give into the jitteriness and its continuing to pursue a climb higher. But then again, that wouldn't be the first time something stupid was done in pursuit of something alluring.

I wouldn't mind it being on the edge or deigning to walk on the wild side. That's understandable, maybe even sexy. What is much less understandable is how forgiving the market has been, especially as it entered yet another weekend of uncertainty, yet pulled back from its retreat in a show of confidence.

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

When the market first caught word of the possible military action in Ukraine the response was fairly swift and saw nearly a 200 point market reversal.

While that move may reflect investor jitteriness and a disdain for the uncertainty that may be in store, the broad brush was fairly indiscriminate and not only took stocks with significant international exposure lower, but also took those relatively immune for a ride, even if they were already well off of their previous highs.

While I understand why MasterCard (NYSE:MA) and its shareholders may have particular angst about events in Russia, I'm not certain that the same should have extended to those with interests in Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) or Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST).

They all fell sharply and didn't share in the subsequent recovery later in the day.

I already own Best Buy and anticipated it being assigned this past week, only to have to roll the option contracts over. While it does report earnings next week and is frequently a candidate for large moves, I think that at its Ukraine depressed price there is some spring back to supplement the always healthy option premium.

Fastenal is a very unsexy kind of stock and it does seem quite boring. I suppose that for some people its stores and catalogue of thousands of handy items may actually be very exciting. It is, however, a very exciting stock if you learn to look beyond the superficial. As a buy and hold position it has had a few instances of opportune buying over the past year. However, as a vehicle for a covered option strategy it has had many of those opportunities and I regret not having taken more advantage.

During a trading period of 14 months, while the S&P 500 has gone 18% higher, while Fastenal had gone nearly 14% lower. Not exactly the kind of stock you would find very appealing, even in very low light and deprived of oxygen. However, being opportunistic and using a covered option strategy it has delivered a 43% ROI in that period.

While Best Buy and Fastenal may have been innocent victims of Friday's decline, MasterCard has been battling with Russian related problems for the past few months, as there had been some suggestion that the Russian banking system would create its own network of credit cards. That notion has since been dismissed, but there may be little emanating from Russia at the moment that could be taken at face value.

MasterCard shares are still a little higher than I find attractive, but it's always in the eye of the beholder. Ever since its stock split it has traded in a nicely defined range and has moved back and forth with regularity within that range. If you like covered options, that is a really sexy characteristic.

I also understand why MetLife (NYSE:MET) fell precipitously on Friday. Already owning shares and having expected its assignment, I rolled it over prematurely as it started to quickly lose altitude as the 10 year Treasury rate started plummeting. The thesis with MetLife, that has been consistently borne out is that it prospers with a rising rate environment.

Shares did recover by the close of the session and despite it being near the top of the range that I would consider a share purchase, I may be ready to add to my existing position.

I also understand why Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) may be at risk with any escalation of events in Europe. It is also a potential victim to an Italian recession and declining German GDP. However, despite those potential concerns, it actually withstood the torrents of Friday's trading and I think is poised to trade near its current levels, which s ideal for use in a covered option trade.

I have been sitting on shares of both Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) for quite a while. Although the former shares are in profit they are still greatly lagging the S&P 500 for the same period. The latter is still at a loss, not having recovered from the dissolution of the potash cartel, but I've traded numerous intermediate positions, as is frequently done to support a paper loss.

Both, however, I believe are ready to move higher and at the very least offer appealing dividends if forced to wait. That has been a saving grace for my existing shares and could easily be so with future shares, that also provide attractive premiums. If finding entry at just the right price that combination can truly be sexy.

I'm not really certain why GameStop (NYSE:GME) is still in business, but that's been the conventional wisdom for years. The last time I was involved in shares was through the sale of puts after a plunge when Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) announced that it would intrude of GameStop's business and offer Wal-Mart store credits for used games. Based upon their own earnings report last week, looks like that strategy didn't move the needle very much, however.

Still, GameStop keeps on going. It reports earnings this coming week and it was 5% lower in Friday's trading. If considering the sale of puts before earnings, I especially find those kinds of plunges before earnings to be very sexy. With an implied move of about 7.8%, a 1% ROI may be able to be achieved by selling a put contract at a strike level 9.2% below Friday's closing price.

In the event of an impending assignment, however, I would look for any opportunity to roll over the put contracts, but would also be mindful of an upcoming dividend payment sometime in September, which could be a good reason to take possession of shares if unable to get extricated from the short put position.

Finally, after a week of retailers reporting their sales and earnings figures, it's not really clear whether the increased employment numbers are creating a return to discretionary spending. It's equally not clear that Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD), which reports earnings this week is really a retailer, but it reports earnings this week, as well.

For years, and possibly still so, it has been extolled for its real estate strategies as it spins off or plans to spin off the only portions of its retail operations that seem to work.

However, in the world of trading for option income none of that really matters, although it may be an entertaining side bar.

The option market is currently assigning an implied price move of approximately 9.4%, while a 1% ROI for the week may potentially be made by selling a put contract 11.8% below Friday's closing price.

As I knew deep down in high school, even losers can be sexy in the right light. Sears Holdings could be one of those losers you can learn to love.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: Best Buy, Freeport McMoRan, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/21 PM), Sears Holdings (8/21 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.

Disclosure: The author is long BBY, FAST, FCX, MET, MOS. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I may buy/add shares or sell puts in BBY, FAST, FCX, GME, MA, MET, MOS, SHLD and SBUX