ADP. ISM. FOMC. ECB
They came one after another at us last week. Not to mention the Jobless Report and the Employment Situation Reports to end the week.
Following the previous week where I had temporarily gone on one of my wild and drunken spending ways buying new shares with assignment proceeds, I returned to a more cautious note this past week.
Maybe it was the soup. While I have much greater comfort when on a shopping spree, usually borne out of a bullish view of the world, this week even the comfort food was sending me some kind of misleading message, spoonful after spoonful. I don't always listen to my soup, but when I do, I know that things are serious. This week's message wasn't exactly cryptic in nature. For certain, the message wasn't "Buy, Buy, Buy."
But to simply assume the message is correct is bordering on lunacy, so I just decided not to buy quite as much, proving that we can all get along. Besides, "sell, sell, sell," seemed so draconian.
Although so often a drastically sharp move downward comes from unexpected or lightly regarded catalysts, there's not too much of an excuse to overlook some potentially obvious catalysts when the market appears to be in an overbought condition. For me, already sensitized to a possible drop, the FOMC, ECB and Employment Situation were individually capable of initiating and speeding a sudden descent.
Aligned? Had the Federal Reserve given a strong hint of an end to Quantitative Easing, had they suggested an earlier timetable for interest rate hikes, or had the European Central Bank not lowered rates that combination had the makings of a nasty punch. Throw a second successive month of disappointing employment numbers, perhaps with downward revisions of previous months and now you've got a party.
For short sellers, at least.
While the market did have a slightly delayed reaction to the FOMC minutes, it was fairly mute, despite doubling the early losses. The following day, which is often the day the real action occurs after an FOMC meeting, had its tone already set earlier by the ECB decision to drop rates.
That just left Friday, with a little hint from Wednesday's release of the ADP statistics that job growth may be slowing due to some headwinds in the economy. Much of the talk on Wednesday was how fearful everyone was that the number on Friday would be terribly negative.
The fact that the number was, in fact, an indication of a growing economy and there were massive upward revisions to earlier months was the surprise that should never have been a surprise, as thesis changing revisions are routine.
So all of the important letters were aligned, as no one really cares about ISM, and there was reason for a party. The order of the day on Friday was "buy, buy, buy," once again delaying the "Sell in May" crowd's ascent and giving me cause to reflect as the majority of my monthly covered call positions are now in the money and do not stand to further profit in the event of a continued market rise.
Of course, if I wanted to continue the lunacy, I would simply rationalize it all and convince myself that I now have a nice cushion between share and strike prices to withstand a fall between now and May 18, 2013. Sooner or later my call for a significant market drop will have to take on broken clock qualities.
Yet, the rationalizations aren't working. Maybe I need another spoonful of soup.
As usual, the week's potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the "PEE" category, despite earnings season still going strong (see details). Additionally, this week the emphasis is once again on dividend paying stocks and still giving greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any pauses in the runaway train. Of course, after Friday's run higher capping off a week when the S&P 500 moved 2% higher, good luck finding any bargain priced shares. Bargains may be justifiably so. Sometimes there's a reason no one asks you to dance. You just refuse to look in the mirror, justifiably so.
I jumped the gun a bit on Friday afternoon and purchased shares of Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). After a very impressive share run higher, which hasn't really occurred in the post-Viagra era, Pfizer reported earnings last week and continued the weakness that immediately preceded the report, after some European regulatory disappointments. A case of too much and too fast from my perspective, but the shares appear as a reasonably low risk over the coming weeks, particularly with a safe and healthy dividend and an upcoming ex-dividend date this week.
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) has been a frequent purchase target. While I do like shares, it along with so many others is more expensive than I would like. However, it has proven resilient in defending its share price when tested and the test levels have been slowly climbing higher. That's certainly a more healthy way to see appreciation and I think offers less risk in what may become a risky environment. Additionally, their new ad campaign, "At least we're not JP Morgan" (NYSE:JPM) speaks volumes with regard to superfluous risk. As often before, my entry point is not so coincidentally synchronized with an ex-dividend date.
Weyerhaeuser (NYSE:WY) is not a stock that I buy very often, but in hindsight I wonder why. Not because it does anything spectacular, but rather because it is so unspectacular that it has the core requirements of being an ideal covered call stock. It generally trades in a narrow range, has an options premium that is more than symbolic and pays a competitive dividend. What's not to like, especially this week as it also goes ex-dividend.
Although I don't have any "PEE" selections this week, Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) does report earnings on May 7, 2013. However, unlike the usual earnings related plays that I prefer, it isn't expected to trade in a wide range after the announcement. Its implied move is far less than the 10% or greater that I usually look for while still offering a 1% ROI. Instead, it's just like any other stock that happens to be reporting earnings, except that it's approximately 5% off of its recent high, satisfying another of the criteria I look for when considering the risk associated with trading around earnings season.
I already own shares of St. Jude Medical (NYSE:STJ) at a price slightly higher than Friday's close. I rarely think about adding additional shares unless the price has had a significant drop. However, St. Jude Medical has had a fall relative to the market and certainly to the heath care sector. I don't envision it as being at undue risk in the event of a market downturn due to its modest existence during the upturn.
Parker Hannifin (NYSE:PH) and W.W. Grainger (NYSE:GWW) both go ex-dividend this week. Although their share rise on Friday adds to some reluctance to add them to the portfolio next week, if the Employment Situation statistics and the revisions are any guide, there may be very good reason to suspect that industrials and the companies that support the industrials may be ready for a little bit of a resurgence. Neither offer incredibly exciting dividends, but share appreciation may be more a part of the equation than it is for most stocks that I consider due to their option and dividend income potential.
I've been looking for a re-entry point in Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) for a while. Again, hindsight told me that may have been a couple of weeks ago as shares were a relative bargain. The fact that shares have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 12 weeks has appeal for me, as I believe it marks a company that may be better equipped to out-perform going forward, particularly in a downturn.
Finally, Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) is an always exciting stock to own, especially as earnings are approaching. In this case earnings aren't expected until May 15, 2013, so there is a little bit of breathing space to consider shares before the added volatility kicks in. When it moves, the moves are spectacular and certainly the option premiums reflect that kind of risk. My bias at the moment is that if an opportunity will arise it will likely take the form of put sales. However, that is only something that I would do if emotionally prepared to hold shares going into earnings if assigned. If so, a bit of luck may be necessary to turn the tables and sell call contracts going into earnings or sell additional puts if you're really adventurous.
Traditional Stocks: Goldman Sachs, Marathon Oil, St. Jude Medical
Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie & Fitch
Double Dip Dividend: W.W. Grainger (ex-div 5/9), Parker Hannifin (ex-div 5/8), Pfizer (ex-div 5/8), Wells Fargo (ex-div 5/8), Weyerhaeuser (ex-div 5/8)
Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.
Disclosure: I am long PFE, STJ. 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 initiate positions or sell puts in ANF, GS, GWW, PH, MRO, WFC and WY