It's As Clear As Mud

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Includes: ABBV, ATVI, DWDP, EBAY, FB, GME, LULU, PCYC
by: George Acs

Summary

The FOMC removed the word "patience" from their monthly statement release and the market celebrated for 2 hours until finally wondering what there was to celebrate the following day.

Markets are in a recent trading pattern of higher highs and higher lows, but have been unable to put 2 consecutive moves higher together in almost 4 weeks.

This coming week's GDP report may serve to re-ignite inflationary fears, although previous expectations for a consumer led increase have been unfulfilled.

The past week has to be one to make most people pause and try to understand the basis for what we just experienced.

In a week otherwise devoid of any meaningful news, there was a singular event in the middle of the week, and then a little bit of follow-up to help clarify that event.

That event was the release of this month's FOMC Statement and the subsequent clarifying event was the press conference held by its Chair, Janet Yellen.

In its aftermath, I am more confused than ever.

Not so much about where interest rates are headed, nor when, but more about the thought processes that propel markets when expectations are so clearly defined and what our continuing expectations should be.

Most everyone who follows markets knows that the great debate of late has not been whether the FOMC was going to begin the process of raising interest rates, but when they were going to begin that process. Somehow, we believed that the answer to that question was going to come when we learned whether the word "patience" would continue to characterize the FOMC's timetable with regard to its effort to "normalize the stance of monetary policy."

Most had taken positions that the first rate increase would come either as early as this June or perhaps as late as September. The continuing use of the word "patience" was perceived as a sign that interest rate increases wouldn't occur until sometime after June 2015.

So you have to excuse some confusion when the market reversed course by more than 300 points as it learned that the word "patience" was eliminated, but also received news that the FOMC didn't foresee an interest rate increase before their next meeting in April 2015.

April?

That could mean that an increase by the May meeting was still on the table and the last time I looked, May came before June, especially if you believe a more hawkish approach is warranted.

Presumably, it was the fear of interest rate increases coming as early as June that was a source for recent market weakness.

As I parsed the words, I couldn't understand the way in which the news was initially embraced. While I expected that regardless of the wording outcome, the market would find reason to move forward, I certainly didn't expect the reaction that ensued, especially since the signal was so mixed and really offered nothing to get excited about, nor to fear.

No rate increase likely in April? That's the best the FOMC could do?

But in a world where even the slightest of interest rate increases is feared, despite the past evidence suggesting that it should be embraced, the very thought of an increase possibly coming before June should have sent buyers heading for the exits.

Yet it was more than good enough, at least for a couple of hours, and actually represented the first in 7 trading sessions where the market reversed course intra-day, having had triple digit moves in opposite directions each and every one of those days.

Now clearly that has to inspire confidence for whatever is to come next.

It's a good thing that I don't believe very much in chart analysis, because it would otherwise be very tempting to notice that the previous 7 trading sessions shows a clear pattern of lower highs and higher lows when looking at the net change and an even more compelling series of higher highs and higher lows when looking at the DJIA closing levels.

Yet, at the same time, it has been nearly 4 weeks ever since the DJIA has been able to string together as little as 2 consecutive days of gains.

Perhaps not too coincidentally, the last time the market was able to do that was on the occasion of Janet Yellen's two-day mandated congressional testimony during which time she re-iterated a dovish position regarding the initiation of interest rate increases. But barely 2 days later, suspicion of her intentions set in as the Vice-Chairman of the FOMC, Stanley Fischer struck a more hawkish tone that just a week later seemed to be validated by the Employment Situation Report.

Despite the fact that there has been no other corroborating evidence to drive the data that the FOMC insists that it values, the market lost its forward momentum from February until Janet Yellen once again took center stage.

Why people just didn't believe her all along is a mystery, just as it is a mystery that they again chose to believe her.

How long will the trust in her comforting words last this time?

Perhaps Friday's GDP release, coming on the same day as a scheduled speech by Stanley Fischer will give us some idea of the staying power of the dove when faced with a circling hawk.

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

It was neither a good week to be DuPont (DD) nor eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) as both received analyst downgrades and saw their shares fall significantly when compared to the S&P 500 over the previous 7 sessions.

DuPont's downgrade came amid worries of problems in its agricultural and chemical segments, along with concerns about the kind of currency headwinds that we're likely to be hearing much more about in the coming weeks as the next earnings season gets ready to begin.

While those are all important issues, certainly important enough to see DuPont's shares fall nearly 9% relative to the S&P 500 in the past week, there was lots of activist related news that may be setting the stage for a more contentious kind of fight than Nelson Peltz usually gets himself into. However, it is that activist position that the analyst recognized as a risk to his overall negative outlook as Peltz took to the media last week to be both more accommodating in his requests to DuPont, but also to voice his frustrations.

In the meantime the recent drop in share price is similar to other such drops seen in the past year that have been at levels representing higher lows and that have set the stage for climbs to higher highs.

While Dow Chemical (DOW) may be suffering from some of the same issues as DuPont and has the added liability of oil interests in Kuwait, it is at least seemingly at peace with its own activist investors, or at the very least the relations are not overtly adverse at the moment.

Dow Chemical has been very much tied to energy prices these past few months even as its CEO Andrew Liveris has clearly stated that on a net basis the decrease in energy prices is beneficial to Dow Chemical, as it pays more for energy input than it depends on revenue from energy outputs.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and are attractively priced, although as long as energy is under pressure and as long as Liveris' contention goes ignored, the shares will be under pressure. I currently own shares and Dow Chemical was for a long time a staple in my portfolio, both as a long-term holding and as a frequent trading vehicle. At the current price, I think a new position could be used as either a longer-term holding or a serial trade.

eBay has been absent from my portfolio for a couple of months as I've grown too uneasy with it flirting near the $60 level to consider re-purchasing shares. Even the $57.50 level puts me at unease, but a recent downgrade calling into question the value of its PayPal unit in light of increasing competition, most recently from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was welcome and did bring shares closer to the upper level at which I had some comfort.

Shares recovered nicely from the initial reaction to the downgrade, but still trailed the S&P 500 by 5% over the past 7 trading sessions.

In the past, I have very much liked owning eBay when it was mired in a tight range, yet still delivered appealing option premiums due to the occasional earnings related surprises. The story changed once activism entered the picture and shares started moving beyond the 2-year price range in the belief that PayPal had great value beyond what was already reflected in eBay's price.

With each passing day, however, the luster of PayPal may be diminishing, even as it still remains an extremely valuable brand and service.

As it sits at the upper end of where I would consider taking a position, I would be very interested in either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts on any further drop in price. If selling puts, this is one position that I wouldn't mind taking assignment on in the event of an adverse price move, but would still look at the possibility of simply rolling over those puts to forward weeks.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is increasingly becoming an interesting company. While it certainly has some challenges as its chief revenue generating drug goes off patent next year, it has certainly been actively pursuing other lucrative areas, including management of Hepatitis C and cancer therapy, with its planned purchase of Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ:PCYC).

While shares have recovered somewhat from its recent low following an analyst downgrade, they are still nearly 8% lower YTD, but the company is certainly not standing still. In addition to upside potential, the shares offer attractive option premiums and an upcoming dividend that's well ahead of that offered by its one time parent.

I'm not much of a video gamer even though I can get easily get sucked in by useless activities of a repetitive nature. My guess is that a combination of lack of skill, lack of attention span and allegiance to pinball have kept me indifferent to much of the last 25 years of home entertainment.

This week, however, GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) have my attention.

I was actually happy to see my shares of GameStop get assigned this past week ahead of earnings this week. The timing was good as its generous dividend was captured without having to think about the risk of its upcoming earnings.

GameStop is a company that many have written off for years, pointing toward its paleolithic business model, the challenges of brick and mortar as well as streaming competition and the always large short interest looming over shares.

But somehow it continues to confound everyone.

With shares about 10% higher in March, the option market is implying a price move of 7.8% upon earnings release. Meanwhile a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained even if shares fall almost 10% following the news. As with eBay, GameStop is a company that I wouldn't mind owning if puts were at risk of being assigned. However, I'd be much more willing to sell puts if there was some price weakness heading into earnings. Otherwise, I would wait until after earnings and again consider the sale of puts in the event of a large price drop.

The last time I purchased Activision was after its own large price drop following earnings this past February when the company announced record earnings but provided weak forward guidance.

Shares, however, recovered quickly as Activision announced a large share buyback and increased dividend. Since then, the shares have been trading in a fairly tight range and they are ex-dividend this week.

That dividend, however, is an annual one and on that basis is paltry. However, if shares end up being a short-term holding, the dividend yield can be very attractive, especially taken together with the option premiums available when selling calls.

Finally, Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings this week and appears to be back in favor with shoppers as the company appears to be sufficiently distanced from its founder. Time may have been the best of all remedies to their particular problem as shares have shown great recovery.

The option market is implying an earnings related move of 8% and a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained when selling puts at a strike level 10.1% below Friday's closing price. In the past, Lululemon has had some very significant earnings moves, with 15-20% moves not being out of the norm.

However, unlike a number of other stocks mentioned this week, Lululemon had nicely outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 7 trading sessions. For that reason, I would be inclined to wait until after earnings are released and would consider either a sale of puts or a buy/write in the event of a large price drop.

Traditional Stocks: AbbVie, DuPont, eBay.

Momentum Stocks: None.

Double Dip Dividend: Activision (3/26), Dow Chemical (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/26 PM), Lululemon (3/26 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 DOW.

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 ABBV, ATVI, DD, DOW, EBAY, GME, and LULU.