No Mind Of Its Own

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Includes: AAPL, BLK, FAST, FB, GME, HD, MS
by: George Acs

Summary

Oil continues to be the only story that matters or that at least has a tight association with the direction that stocks take.

Rather than looking forward, as conventional wisdom may still believe, stocks have become more reactive than ever, as it's difficult to see what catalysts may be ahead.

Last week's spike in oil and stocks may not have had any catalyst other than having been oversold. It will take more than that to sustain a rally.

With the early part of the Republican primaries having focused on one candidate's hair, it reminded me of that old complaint that people sometimes made that their hair had a mind of its own.

For better or worse, the political hair jokes have pretty much finally run their course as the days tick down to a more substantive measure of a candidate's character and positions on more weighty matters.

While it was nice seeing some gains for the week and finally having some reason to not curse 2016, there's no mistaking the reality that the stock market hasn't had much of a mind of its own after the first 14 trading days of the new year.

Bad hair days would have been a lot easier to take than the bad market days that have characterized much of the past 6 weeks.

The combination of China and the price of oil have led the market down and up on a daily basis and sometimes made it do flips during the course of a single trading day.

With the price of oil having climbed about 23% during the week from its multi-year lows, the market did what it hadn't been able to do in 2016 and actually put together back to back daily gains. Maybe it was entirely coincidental that the 48 hours that saw the resurgence in the price of crude oil were the same 48 hours that saw the market string consecutive gains, but if so, that coincidence is inescapable.

While that's encouraging, there's not too much reason to believe that the spike in the price of oil was anything more than brave investors believing that oil was in a severely oversold position and that its recent descent had been too fast and too deep.

That pretty much describes the stock market, as well, but what you haven't seen in 2016 is the presence of those brave souls rushing in to pick up shares in the same belief.

Of the many "factoids" that were spun this week was that neither the DJIA nor the NASDAQ 100 had even a single stock that had been higher in 2016. That may have changed by Friday's closing bell, but then the factoid would be far less fun to share.

Instead, oil has taken the fun out of things and has dictated the direction for stocks and the behavior of investors. If anything, stocks have been a trailing indicator instead of one that discounts the future as conventional wisdom still credits it for doing, despite having put that quality on hiatus for years.

That was back when the stock market actually did have a mind of its own. Now it's more likely to hear the familiar refrain that many of us probably heard growing up as we discovered the concept of peer pressure.

"So, if your best friend is going to jump out of the window, is that what you're going to do, too?"

With earnings not doing much yet to give buyers a reason to come out from hiding, the coming week has two very important upcoming events, but it's really anyone's guess how investors could react to the forthcoming news.

There is an FOMC announcement scheduled for Wednesday, assuming that the nation's capital is able to dig out from under the blizzard's drifts and then the week ends with a GDP release.

With a sudden shift in the belief that the economy was heading in one and only one direction following the FOMC's decision to increase interest rates, uncertainty is again in the air.

What next week's events may indicate is whether we are back to the bad news is bad news or the bad news is good news mindset.

It's hard to even make a guess as to what the FOMC might say next week.

"My bad" may be an appropriate start with the economy not seeming to be showing any real signs of going anywhere. With corporate revenues and unadulterated earnings not being terribly impressive, the oil dividend still not materializing and retail sales weak, the suggestion by BlackRock's (NYSE:BLK) Larry Fink last week that there could be layoffs ahead would seem to be the kind of bad news that would be overwhelmingly greeted for what it would assuredly represent.

When the FOMC raised interest rates, the market had finally come around to believing that a rise in rates was good news, as it had to reflect an improving economic situation. If the next realization is that the improving situation would last for only a month, you might think the reception would be less than effusive.

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

Last week was the first week since 2008 or 2009 that I made no trades at all and had no ex-dividend positions. No new positions were opened, nor were any call or put rollovers executed.

Other than a few ex-dividend positions this week, I'm not certain that it will be any different from last week. I haven't opened very many new positions of late, having to go back nearly 2 months for a week with more than a single new position having been opened.

Unlike much of the past 6 years when market pullbacks just seemed like good times to get good stocks at better prices, the past few months have been offering good prices that just kept getting better and better.

If you had been a buyer, those better and better prices were only seen that way by the next series of prospective buyers, who themselves probably came to bemoan how less they could have paid if only they waited another day or two.

The gains of the final two days of last week make me want to continue the passivity. Anyone having chased any of those precious few days higher lately has ended up as disappointed as those believing they had picked up a bargain.

At some point, it will pay to chase stocks higher, and at some point, it will pay to run after value.

I'm just not convinced that two days of gains are enough to signal that value is evaporating.

The biggest interests that I have for the week are both earnings related trades. Both Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) report earnings this week.

If you're looking for a stock in bear market correction over the past 6 months, you don't have to go much further than Apple. Along with some of his other holdings, Apple has punished Carl Icahn in the same manner as has been occurring to mere mortals.

Of course, that 21% decline is far better than the 27% decline just a few days ago before Apple joined the rest of the market in rally mode.

Interestingly, the option market doesn't appear to be pricing in very much uncertainty with earnings upcoming this week, with an implied move of only 6.2%.

Since a 1% ROI can only be achieved at a strike level that's within that range, I wouldn't be very excited in the sale of out of the money puts prior to earnings. The risk-reward proposition just isn't compelling enough for me. However, if Apple does drop significantly after earnings, then there may be reason to consider the sale of puts.

There is some support at $90 and then a few additional support levels down to $84, but then it does get precarious all the way down to $75.

Apple hasn't been on everyone's lips for quite a while and we may not get to find out just how little it has also been on people's wrists. Regardless, if the support levels between $84 and $90 are tested after earnings, the put premiums should still remain fairly high. If trying this strategy and then faced with possible assignment of shares, an eye has to be kept on the announcement of the ex-dividend date, which could be as early as the following week.

While Apple is almost 20% lower over the past 6 months, Facebook has been virtually unchanged, although it was almost 30% higher over the past year.

Its implied move is 6.8% next week, but the risk-reward is somewhat better than with Apple, if considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, as a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly option could be obtained outside of the range defined by the option market. As with Apple, however, the slide could be more precarious as the support levels reflect some quick and sharp gains over the past 2 years.

For those that have been pushing a short strategy for GameStop (NYSE:GME), and it has long been one of the most heavily shorted stocks for quite some time, the company has consistently befuddled those who have had very logical reasons for why GameStop was going to fall off the face of the earth.

Lately, though, they've had reason to smile as shares are 45% lower, although on a more positive note for others, it's only trailing the S&P 500 by 2% in 2016. They've had some reasons to smile in the past, as well, as the most recent plunge mirrors one from 2 years ago.

As with Apple and Facebook, perhaps the way to think about any dalliance at this moment, as the trend is lower and as volatility is higher, is through the sale of put options and perhaps considering a longer time outlook.

A 4-week contract, for example, at a strike level 4.6% below this past Friday's close, could still offer a 3% ROI. If going that route, it would be helpful to have strategies at hand to potentially deal with an ex-dividend date in the March 2016 cycle and earnings in the April 2016 cycle.

One of the companies that I own that is going ex-dividend this week is Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST). I've long liked this company, although I'm not enamored with my last purchase, which I still own and was purchased a year ago. As often as is the case, I consider adding shares of Fastenal right before the ex-dividend date and this week is no different.

What is different is its price and with a 2-day market rally that helped it successfully test its lows, I would be interested in considering adding an additional position.

With only monthly options available, Fastenal is among the earliest of earnings reporters each quarter, so there is some time until the next challenge. Fastenal does, however, occasionally pre-announce or alter its guidance shortly before earnings, so surprises do happen, which is one of the reasons I'm still holding shares after a full year has passed.

In the past 6 months, Fastenal has started very closely tracking the performance of Home Depot (NYSE:HD). While generally Fastenal has lagged, in the past 2 months, it has outperformed Home Depot, which was one of a handful of meaningfully winning stocks in 2015.

Finally, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) is also ex-dividend this week.

Along with the rest of the financials, Morgan Stanley's share price shows the disappointment over the concern that those interest rate hikes over the rest of the year that had been expected may never see the light of day.

This week's FOMC and GDP news can be another blow to the hopes of banks, but if I was intent upon looking for a bargain this week among many depressed stocks, I may as well get the relationship started with a dividend and a company that I can at least identify the factors that may make it move higher or lower.

Not everything should be about oil and China.

Traditional Stocks: None.

Momentum Stocks: GameStop.

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (1/27 $0.30), Morgan Stanley ($0.15).

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (1/26 PM), Facebook (1/27 PM).

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: I am/we are long FAST, MS.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: I may buy/add shares or sell puts in AAPL, FAST, FB, GME and MS