Inmates Running The Asylum

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Includes: CAT, CMCSA, CSCO, DD, DE, DOW, GPS, JPM
by: George Acs

Summary

Markets were calm this week despite man made events that could have been as unsettling to the markets as they were on emotional and personal levels.

Members of the Federal Reserve are sending some mixed messages with regard to their actions and timing on an increasing basis..

Sometimes, simple is the best and this coming week and next offer some potentially appealing dividend related trades.

All in all, if you think about the man made tragic events of the past week in Brussels, the very rational and calm manner in which world markets reacted was really re-assuring.

When we sometimes scratch our heads wondering whether the market will this time interpret good news as being bad or whether it will deem it good, you know that something is amiss.

It's nice when clear and rational heads are in charge of things.

So often the way the market seems to react to events it's not too easy to describe the action as having been rational and you really do have to wonder just who is running the place.

The same may be said for the Federal Reserve and its Governors.

It wasn't always that way, though.

We always knew who was running the place.

While dictatorships may not be a good thing, sometimes a benevolent dictatorship isn't the worst of all possible worlds.

There was a time that the individual members of the Federal Reserve and the FOMC kept their thoughts to themselves and knew how to behave in public and in private.

That is, up until about 11 years ago when newly appointed and now departed President of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Richard Fisher, had made a comment regarding FOMC monetary tightening policy and was subsequently taken to the woodshed by Alan Greenspan.

That error in judgment, offering one's opinion, wasn't repeated again until the new Federal reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, ushered in an era of transparency, openness and the occasional dissenting vote.

At that time, Fisher didn't even disagree with Federal reserve policy. He was simply giving his opinion on the timing left in an existing policy, or perhaps just disclosing what he knew to be the remaining time of that particular approach.

Still, that kind of behavior was unheard of and not terribly well tolerated.

Now, under Janet Yellen, it seems as if the various Governors are battling with one another over who gets the most air time and who can make the most noise.

Clearly, inmates can be intelligent people, but there may be a very good reason why they're not running the show.

Why the market often latches onto the words of an FOMC inmate or one who's not even in that inner circle, particularly when those words may run counter to the Chairman's own recent words, is every bit of a mystery as why those words were uttered in the first place.

But that is where we seem to be at the moment as the crystal clear clarity that we've come to expect from the Federal Reserve is sounding more like the noises coming from the Tower of Babel.

And we all know how that worked out.

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

When there is so much confusion abounding, sometimes it makes some sense to get right back to basics.

There isn't a much more basic approach to stocks than looking for safe and reliable dividend paying companies, especially when the waters are murky or choppy.

While I don't disagree with those who point to the out-performance of the universe of dividend paying stocks to the universe of non-dividend paying stocks, I'm not a big fan of the dividend itself and it's usually fruitless to argue the belief held by many that it is the dividend that makes the company a worthwhile investment that is prone to outperform others.

Ultimately you pay for that dividend by virtue of your share price having gone down the amount of the dividend and you may have to pay taxes as well, on that distribution.

What I do like about dividends is how some of that inherent decline in the share price may end up being subsidized by an option buyer and that can boost the return.

Most of the time, my preference would be to be able to get the premium from having sold the option, most often of weekly duration, and also to be able to collect the dividend.

What i especially like, although it doesn't happen too often, is when a stock is ex-dividend on a Monday.

In such cases, if the option buyer is going to exercise his right to snatch those shares at a pre-determined price, he must do so no later than the previous Friday.

What I like to do with those Monday ex-dividend positions is to sell an extended weekly option and then I don't really care too much if those shares get taken away from me early.

That's because the additional week's premium offsets the loss of the dividend while being able to take the cash from the assignment to invest in some other position.

Maybe even an upcoming ex-dividend position.

While not every position that I'm considering in the coming week will be ex-dividend the following Monday, that does characterize most of the potential trades for the coming week.

To put them all of those into a single basket, Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Deere (NYSE:DE) and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) are all ex-dividend next Monday.

They each have their own story to tell and since 2016 has been an incredibly quiet one for me in terms of adding new positions, there is virtually no chance that i will be adding all of them.

At the moment I do own shares of Cisco, but none of the other positions, all representing different sectors.

With everything else being equal, I'd probably be more inclined to consider adding shares to a sector in which I may be under-invested.

For me, that would be the finance sector, which has been embattled all year as the expected interest rate climbs haven't materialized.

For many, the decision by JM Morgan's Jamie Dimon to buy $26 million in his own shares was the impetus to turn the market around from its steep 2016 losses.

That turnaround started on February 11, 2016.

Those shares are still far from their 2016 high and sooner or later the inmates trading stocks and the inmates making policy will be right about the direction of interest rates.

I still hold somewhat of a grudge against Comcast when I was a consumer of its services. However, it would be the height of irrationality to ignore it for what it could contribute to my non-viewing or non-internet surfing well-being.

Once a disruptor in its own right, Comcast is working hard to remain at the cutting edge or itself be displaced as the competition and the various means of delivering content are getting more and more complex to understand.

That may be its saving grace.

When you get right down to it, nothing is as simple as having a box, your television and your computer. While there's decidedly nothing simplistic about what Comcast is doing and where it envisions going, at some point consumers may get overwhelmed by the growth in disparate and unconnected systems and may again long for bringing it all back together under a single roof.

Even if it is and continues to be challenged, Comcast is a few dollars below some resistance and I would feel comfortable adding shares in advance of its ex-dividend date.

I haven't owned shares of Deere for a long time, just as I haven't owned shares of caterpillar (NYSE:CAT). The two of those used to be mainstays of my portfolio, if not both at the same time, then at least alternating, often with a new purchase being initiated as an ex-dividend date was approaching.

What appeals to me about Deere at the moment is that it is a little bit off from its recent highs and only a bit higher than where it stood on February 11th.

But more importantly, this week, as with all of the other potential selections, there is a nice dividend and an equally nice option premium. That combination lends itself to any number of potential contract lengths and strike levels, depending on one's horizon.

While I especially like the Monday ex-dividend date, this is a position that i might consider wanting to hold for a longer period of time in an effort to either reap additional option premiums or some capital gains from shares, in addition to premiums and the dividend.

While I do already own shares of Cisco and it has bounced back nicely in the past 6 weeks, I think that it, too, has some more upside potential, if only to get it back to some resistance about 5% higher from its current level.

Like most others mentioned this week, there is a generous dividend and a generous option premium that make any consideration worthwhile.

As with Deere, while the Monday ex-dividend date may lead to one specific strategy, there may also be some consideration of utilizing longer dated contracts and further out of the money strike prices in order to capitalize on some anticipated price appreciation.

By contrast, I own shares of both The Gap (NYSE:GPS) and Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW).

There has been absolutely nothing good that has been said about The Gap in far too long of a time.

There was a time that The Gap could be counted upon to alternated its monthly same store sales between worse than expected and better than expected results. as a result The Gap's shares would frequently bounce back and forth on a monthly basis and it had periodically enhanced option premiums to reflect those consistent moves.

Lately though, the news has always been disappointing and the direction of shares has been unilateral, that is, until February 11th.

There's not too much of a likelihood that The Gap's recent performance is related to oil prices or interest rates, but it is certainly long overdue for a sustained move higher.

At its current level, i wouldn't mind shares staying in the same neighborhood for a while and building some support for another leg. In the meantime, at this level there is some opportunity to collect the dividend and some reasonably health premiums, as well.

Finally, just as last week, I think that there may be opportunity in Dow Chemical.

While it has unjustifiably been held hostage by falling oil prices for more than a year, it has performed admirably. The market reacted positively when the announcement was made of its fairly complex merger and subsequently planned uncoupling with DuPont (NYSE:DD), although the favor was lost as the rest of the market sank.

I continue to believe that there is relatively little risk associated with shares in the event the proposed merger runs into obstacles, as shares are trading at pre-announcement levels.

That combination of dividends and option premiums keeps making Dow Chemical an appealing consideration even as lunatics may be running around elsewhere.

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (4/4 $0.27), CSCO (4/4 $0.26), Deere (3/29 $0.60), DOW (3/29 $0.46), GPS (4/4 $0.23), JPM (4/4 $0.44)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: None

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 DOW, GPS.

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 in CMCSA, CSCO, DE, DOW, GPS and JPM