I Never Really Liked Goldilocks

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Includes: ANF, BBBY, FAST, GE, GPS, MET, MS, WDC
by: George Acs

Summary

The past week had essentially no news, but still found a reason to move markets forward.

Earnings begin in earnest this coming week and could be the fuel to propel us forward if our expectations have already been sufficiently lowered in fear of currency risk.

This quarter the balance between energy savings and currency liability can be a key determinant of whether those expectations will lead to delight or disappointment.

This was one of those rare weeks where there wasn't really any kind of theme to guide or move markets.

The week started with some nervousness about where the opening would take us after the previous Friday's very disappointing Employment Situation Report statistics. On that day some were obliged to even suggest that it was a conspiracy that the report was released on Good Friday, as the markets were conveniently closed for what was supposedly known in advance to be a report that would have otherwise sent markets tumbling.

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

That was as rational an outlook as was the response of the futures and bond markets trading, as they remained opened for holiday abbreviated sessions. Futures did go tumbling and interest rates plunged, leaving a gap for markets to deal with 3 days later.

But by then, after the mandatory initial response to those S&P 500 levels as the market opened, rational thought returned and the market had a very impressive turnaround beginning within minutes of the open.

Some brave souls may have remembered the market's out-sized response to the previous month's extraordinarily strong Employment Situation Report data that took the market down for the month to follow, only to see revisions to the data a month later. The 3 days off may have given them enough presence of mind to wonder whether the same outlandish response was really justified again.

One thing that the initial futures response did show us is that the market may be poised to be at risk regardless of what news is coming our way. One month the market views too many jobs as being extremely negative and the next month it views too few jobs as being just as negative.

Somewhere right in the middle may be the real sweet spot that represents the "No News is Good News" sentiment that may be the only safe place to be.

That is the true essence of a Goldilocks stock market, no matter what the accepted definition may be. It is a market where only the mediocre may be without risk. However, the question of whether mediocrity will be enough to continue to propel markets to new heights is usually easily answered.

It isn't.

After a while warm porridge loses its appeal and something is needed to spice things up to keep Goldilocks returning. U.S. traded stocks have plenty of asset class competition in the event that they become mediocre or unpredictable.

The coming week may be just the thing to make or break the current malaise that, despite having the S&P 500 within about 0.7% of its all-time high from just a month ago, is only 2.1% higher for 2015.

Granted that on an annualized basis that would be respectable, but if the 2015 pattern of alternating monthly advances and declines continues we would end the year far from that annualized rate.

The catalyst could be this new earnings season which begins in earnest next week as the big banks report and then in the weeks to follow. Where the catalyst may arise is from our lowered expectations encountering a better reality than anticipated, as we've come to be prepared for some degree of lowered earnings due to currency considerations.

The real wild card will be the balance between currency losses and lower input costs from declining energy prices, as well as the impact, if any, from currency hedges that may have been created. Much like the hedging of oil that some airlines were able to successfully implement before it became apparent how prescient that strategy would be, there may be some real currency winners, at least in relative terms.

I actually don't really remember how the story of Goldilocks ended, but I think there were lots of variations to the story, depending on whether parents wanted to soothe or scare.

The real lesson is that you have to be prepared for either possibility.

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

With General Electric (NYSE:GE) getting most of everyone's attention this past Friday morning with plans to divest itself of most of its non-industrial assets, that may leave us with one less "systemically important" financial institution.

Too bad for MetLife (NYSE:MET), which might find it would be less miserable with that proposed assignment if it had more company. It's easy to understand why financial institutions would want to rid themselves of the yoke they perceive; however, it may be difficult to imagine how MetLife's desire to avoid that designation can become reality. That is unless the battle goes a very long distance, which in turn could jeopardize a good deal of whatever confidence exists over the restraints that are intended to prevent another financial meltdown.

I believe that the eventuality of those restraints and capital requirements impacting MetLife's assets is already factored into its share price. If so, MetLife is simply just a proxy for the direction of interest rates which continue to be volatile as there is still uncertainty over when the eventual interest rate increases will be coming from the FOMC.

While waiting for that to happen, MetLife has been trading in a fairly tight range and offering an attractive option premium and dividend. I've already owned shares on 3 occasions in 2015, and look forward to more opportunities while waiting to figure out if the economy is too hot or not hot enough or just right.

With the coming week being dominated by bank earnings, one that isn't reporting until the following week is Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). Thus far, 2015 hasn't been especially kind to the money center banks, but it has held Morgan Stanley in particular low regard.

With its well-respected CFO heading to warmer pastures, it still has a fairly young CEO and lots of depth, with key people continually being exposed to different parts of the company, thereby lessening dependence on any one individual.

With earnings from other banks coming this week, the option premiums on Morgan Stanley are a little higher than usual. However, since it reports its own earnings before the market opens on Monday of the following week, it would be a good idea to attempt to rollover weekly contracts if not likely to be assigned or to simply sell extended weekly contracts to encompass the additionally enhanced premiums for both this week and the next.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is no stranger to significant earnings related price drops. It did so again last week and the options market correctly created the price range in which the stock price varied.

While Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to those kind of drops, it does tend to have another common characteristic in that it frequently recovers from those price drops fairly quickly. That's one reason that when suggesting that consideration be given to selling puts on it last week prior to earnings, I suggested that if threatened with assignment, I would rather accept that than to try and rollover the put contracts.

Now that the damage has been done I think it's safe to come back and consider another look at its shares. If recent history holds true, then a purchase could be considered with the idea of seeking some capital gains from shares in addition to the option premiums received for the call sales.

SanDisk (SNDK) reports earnings this week and has been on quite a wild ride of late. It has the rare distinction of scaring off investors on two occasions in advance of this week's upcoming earnings. Despite an 11% price climb over the past week, it is still down nearly 20% in the past 2 weeks.

The option market is implying a relatively small 6.8% move in the coming week which is on the low side, perhaps in the belief that there can't possibly be another shoe to be dropped.

Normally, when considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings, I like to look for a strike price that's outside of the range defined by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the week. However, that strike level is only 7.1% lower, which doesn't provide too much of a safety cushion.

However, I would be very interested in the possibility of selling puts on SanDisk's shares after earnings in the event of a sharp drop or prior to earnings in the event of significant price erosion before the event.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) also reports earnings this coming week and didn't change its guidance or offer earnings warnings as it occasionally does in the weeks in advance of the release.

It actually had a nice report last quarter and initially went higher, although a few weeks later, without any tangible news, it nose-dived, along with some of its competitors.

What makes Fastenal interesting is that it is almost entirely U.S. based and so will have very little currency risk. The risk, however, is that it is currently trading near its 2-year lows, so if considering an earnings related trade, I'm thinking of a buy/write and using a May 2015 expiration to both provide some time to recover from any further decline and to also have a chance at collecting the dividend at the end of April.

With a much more expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) long awaiting an opportunity to sell some calls upon, I'm finally ready to consider adding more shares. The primary goal is to start whittling down some of the losses on those shares and Abercrombie is finally showing some signs of making a floor, at least until the next earnings report at the end of May.

With its dysfunction hopefully all behind it now with the departure of its past CEO, it still has a long way to go to reclaim lost ground ceded to others in the fickle adolescent retail market. The reasonable price stability of the past month offers some reason to believe that the time to add shares or open a new position may have finally arrived. Alternatively, however, put sales may be considered, especially if shares open on a lower note to begin the week.

Finally, I don't know why I keep buying The Gap (NYSE:GPS), except that it never really seems to go anywhere. It does have a decent dividend, but its premiums are nothing really spectacular.

What appeals to me about The Gap, however, is that it's one of those few stocks that is continually under the microscope as it reports monthly sales statistics, and as a result, it regularly has some enhanced premiums and it tends to alternate rapidly between disappointing and upbeat same-store sales.

All in all, that makes it a really good stock to consider for a covered option strategy. It's especially nice to see a stock that does trade in a fairly tight range, even while it may have occasional hiccoughs that are fairly predictable as to when they will occur, just as their direction isn't at all predictable.

The Gap reported those same-store sales last week and this time it disappointed. That actually marked the second consecutive month of disappointment, which is somewhat unusual, but in having done so, it still hasn't violated that comfortable range.

I already own some shares and in expectation of a better than expected report for the following month, my inclination is to add shares, but rather than write contracts expiring this week, I will look at those expiring on either May 8 or May 15, 2015, taking advantage of the added uncertainty coming along with the next scheduled same-store sales report. In doing so, I would likely think about using an out-of-the money strike, rather than a near-the-money strike in anticipation of finally getting some good news and getting back on track at The Gap.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Fastenal (4/14 AM), SanDisk (4/15 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: The author is long ANF, FAST, GPS.

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 ANF, BBBY, FAST, GPS, MET, MS and SNDK