Whenever I'm at a point in my life that I feel that I question my core values and need direction I find myself often looking at the bracelet on my wrist. It's a very unassuming bracelet with just four simple letters: WWCD?
What Would Cash Do? At the moment, I don't have any cash, as neither any of my covered calls were assigned nor any puts I had sold, expired. That hasn't occurred in more than 3 years and my faith is beginning to wear thin. But that's not the "Cash" that I'm talking about.
The last couple of weeks have been trying ones in the market and it was all capped off with a nearly 300 point sell off on Friday (June 1, 2012) and an entirely frustrating and listless day today.
I entered the day optimistically, knowing that in the past year there was no correlation between a triple digit sell off on Friday and similar trading the following Monday. But that feeling was based on mere statistical analysis and for only 13 months, not the sort of thing that really inspires faith or deeply held beliefs. Sometimes you need more than numbers and you need the parables of the long term survival of your people to be your shepherd.
Today, Herb Greenberg of CNBC asked the following question on Twitter:
"I can't be the only one wondering this: with cash burning a hole in my IRA's pocket do I catch THIS falling knife?"
He later Tweeted that an old chartist friend, Dan Fitzpatrick, advised not to do so until the S&P 500 reached 1200, representing another 6% from Monday's mid-day level. That certainly didn't inspire the kind of faith necessary during these trying times.
After a good opening 15 minutes, the funk had set back in and very heavily weighed upon me, as I looked for opportunities.
WWCD? I'm not thinking about the kind of cash that you need to do everything in life. Not the kind of cash it takes to buy things, like food or stocks.
The cash that I'm talking about is Johnny Cash.
As much as I admire Johnny Cash as a modern day Saint with a voice from the heavens, I must admit that I've always been a little squeamish about the lyrics to one of his songs:
"But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"
Just how sick and demented is that?
But then my idle mind wondered that if I had the ability to bring someone back to life, who would it be?
By the way, once that person is returned to life, you would also be required to watch him die again.
Now who would you choose? Or better yet, what stock would you be willing to see raised from the moribund, only to let in enter into the abyss once more? What stock has treated you so poorly, that you wouldn't mind seeing it disappear off the face of the earth, once you've been able to wring every last penny out of it to restore yourself to wholeness? Obviously wholeness is far more important to me than is "holiness."
There's no shortage of candidates out there. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Research in Motion (RIMM), Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and maybe even Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). They all share the abilities to destroy wealth, dreams and faith.
Facebook may be "the People's Choice," but it's really far too young to be responsible for its own actions.
With the exception of the technology sector, I've had fairly good fortune with stock selection, not because I was any good, but because I was patient and took my native pessimism to work by almost always taking the opportunity to sell covered calls.
But for me, like so many others, it has to be Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK). The kind of stock and company you might be inclined to want to throttle and then throttle again. Over the years, I've learned to stay away from most technology companies as their luster seems to often disappear at just the worst times, meaning the times when I owned them. But how could you go wrong with the up and coming, All-American, Middle East embargo resistant, cheap and plentiful source of energy?
That's really a rhetorical question, because as we all know, despite record low prices of natural gas and a less than rapid adoption of alternate energy strategies, were it not for the peccadilloes of past Chairman and still currently unrepentant CEO, Aubrey McClendon, its shares would likely be trading higher.
I've owned Chesapeake Energy shares for good parts of the past six years and have almost nothing to show for it, regardless of how I might try to cut and slice the data.
I recently detailed the trades in Chesapeake in "Defending Chesapeake and Cramer." If you're interested, you can see the detailed statistics and trades there. Trying to lull myself into a false sense of pacificity, I decided to look at that data less conservatively. Rather than using the accumulated amount invested, if just considering the costs of the maximum holdings at any one time, the return was 3.4%, as opposed to less than 0.5%. However, I've conveniently chosen not to include my current holdings and their paper losses, as I have faith that they will be restored to wholeness. The bracelet on my wrist attests to that.
At least, though, it still beat the S&P 500 over that period, if I really needed consolation.
So clearly, there's nothing to be upset about, unless you read or listen to anything, because Chesapeake Energy and its woes are turning up everywhere.
As an investor or trader, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing wealth destruction come about due to humans gone wild. You may not like the impact that over-riding macroeconomic factors or company specific execution issues may have on share price, but we all know they happen even to the best of companies.
Self-immolation may be honorable as a means to protest great injustice, but when doing so in and around an energy company that contagion can be explosive, Aubrey and can take innocents with you on any misguided adventures.
For the third week in a row, I sold covered calls on a large portion of my Chesapeake Energy shares for a net $0.09 per share. Based on the cost basis of those shares, at $0.09 a pop it's going to take a long time to recover my paper losses, perhaps longer than Carl Icahn has left in him. bless his soul.
The very thought that I posited the idea of raising someone or a stock just to let them succumb is heinous, but sometimes ethics or morality of revenge can be twisted in the name of the common good.
Obviously, the framing of the question is underlined by the wording. Is it revenge or is it justice?
By the same token is it morality or ethics that are at issue when discussing whether it is appropriate to be happy about the professional demise of another human being or the complete and utter overhaul of a company that he created, ostensibly in his own image.
Admittedly, there is some shame to being happy about the fall from grace of anyone, but that shame probably pales in comparison to the shame that should be felt by those that seemed to be incapable of learning a lesson and that believed a publicly held company is their own personal play thing.
Over the years, we've become accustomed to hearing people doing irrational and destructive things in the name of being martyred. That argument took a bit of a hit when referring to Osama bin Laden, especially since he tried using his wife's body to intercept bullets meant for him.
Perhaps he just wanted to share his martyrdom, but there's no evidence that McClendon, who used Chesapeake's publicly owned assets to shield himself, was looking to bring anyone else with him to share in the paradise that he believed lat waiting.
Despite Chesapeake's nearly 6% rise today on news of a reshuffling of its board positions, it's still a long way from restoring its grace, other than to those that may have hopped aboard on a speculative ride or to bask in Icahn's beneficence.
Today's boredom, although perhaps healthy for the markets, gave me the opportunity to think about such things as Johnny Cash and Aubrey McClendon. I think that I would much rather have my thoughts diverted by great trading opportunities and leave the fantasies of revenge and justice to others.
If there really was justice, the 72 virgins awaiting the perpetrator of the destruction of Chesapeake Energy, remained so because they spent their entire lives having played "Dungeons and Dragons."
To top it off, let's double it and make it an even gross for McClendon.
But perhaps the most cruel fates of all would be just to let Aubrey be Aubrey and let him put himself in a position to lose it all again and again
Is that justice or revenge?
I'll have a helping of both, thank you.
But as I think about it, it is with great humility that I have to disagree with Johnny Cash.
I think I would rather see that image of the quivering McClendon watching his personal fortunes dissolve, as his attempts to revive his personal house of cards became more and more apparent in its futility.
That sight would be so much sweeter than going the Cash route.
Much more moral, too, as if anyone cared.