Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Saturday, 02/04/2006

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Table of Contents

  1. Market Wrap
  2. New Option Plays
  3. In Play Updates and Reviews
  4. Trader's Corner

Market Wrap

Not Done Yet

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The Fed Is Not Done Yet

Just when investors thought it was safe to go back into the market additional Fed rate clouds appeared on the horizon. The economic reports for the week have put the fear of the Fed back into investors. The idea of one-and-done self-destructed as indicators of economic strength and rising inflation became headlines once again.

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

SPX Chart - 30 min

The Jobs report on Friday came in weaker than expected with a headline number of only +190,000 when analysts had expected +250,000 to as much a +300,000. On the plus side there was an upward revision to the prior two months of +81,000. This was good/bad news as the headline number disappointed but upward revisions suggested stronger growth than previously thought. The unemployment number fell to 4.7% and the lowest rate since mid-2001. This was a drop from 4.9% in December. However, the method of measuring the unemployment rate has changed and the data has been adjusted and may not be comparable to prior reports. Jobs in December were revised up to +140,000 and November was revised up to +354,000.

The bad news came in the form of a +0.4% jump in average hourly earnings for the second straight month. November was flat but October posted a +0.6% gain. The sudden sharp rise in earnings suggests wage inflation has begun and the Fed will have to shift into offensive mode to combat the problem. Hourly earnings have grown +3.3% over the last 12 months. This is the strongest jump since early 2003. With the employment rate falling, hiring lagging estimates and wages rising it is the perfect storm for the Fed. Confirming the concerns in the employment report was the Productivity report on Thursday. Hourly productivity output fell by -0.6% in Q4 while wage costs jumped +3.5% for the same period. This was the first decline in productivity since Q1-2001.

IIf you recall I discussed last week that the market had priced in a one-and-done scenario for the Fed after a drop in Q4 GDP to only +1.1% growth. I warned that a Fed surprise could be detrimental to the markets. The Fed cooperated on Tuesday by taking the measured pace language out of the statement and moving to "further policy firming may be needed" instead of the "will likely be needed" stance. The Fed appeared to be moving to neutral at 4.5% after 14 consecutive hikes. The new language was satisfactory while not really suggesting a halt. The language moved to a stance that would be driven by economic factors. That was the problem. The economic factors took a sudden turn higher after the meeting. The ISM only fell to 54.8 from 55.6 on Wednesday and much better than the whisper numbers in the 52 range. Chain store sales soared +5.1% for January and much better than the +3.5% growth in December. Signs are growing that February sales will also be strong. Construction spending jumped +1.0% compared to +0.5% in the prior month and well over the +0.1% consensus estimate. Vehicle sales jumped unexpectedly in January to a 17.3 million rate and the first sales gain in months. 2006 is expected to be the weakest sales year for automakers since 1998 and a sudden jump in sales was surprising. Jobless claims are falling with weekly numbers hitting lows not seen since mid-2000.


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This sudden burst of good economic data along with the sharp spike in wage inflation and dip in unemployment sent the Fed funds futures into overdrive. Instead of the one-and-done scenario favored just a week ago we are now looking at a strong possibility of at least two more hikes. The futures are projecting better than a 50% chance of a 5.0% Fed rate after the May meeting. Surprised by the sudden turn of events investors began taking profits.

Economic events were not the only factor pressuring the market last week. Negative earnings surprises continued to appear and some from very high profile companies. Guidance continues to be weaker than expected from a broad range of sectors. S&P said Q2 earnings would likely break the string of double-digit quarters dating back nearly four years. S&P estimates are for earnings growth have fallen to only +7.7%. Rising inflation, rising rates and slowing earnings are not a recipe for a bullish market. The markets rolled over after the Fed meeting when resistance proved too strong for a questionable future. Markets want to rally on the final Fed rate hike in any series and the sudden change in outlook from one-and-done in January to at least two more through May was too much bad news. If the Fed did halt in May it might not attract too much investor interest since that would correspond to the beginning of the "sell in May and go away" six month cycle. Add in a drop in earnings expectations into single digits and suddenly the outlook for investors dimmed considerably.

Markets reacting to the storm clouds on the horizon could not even shake off the gloom after a -$5 drop in oil from $69 on Wednesday to $63.90 on Friday. There was an initial reaction spike in equities but it was quickly sold. Oil prices are finally showing signs of collapsing after holding near their highs for nearly a month. The price of oil has been holding at an abnormal level due mostly to geopolitical concerns. As the week drew to a close the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delayed a decision on sending Iran's nuclear plan to the UN Security Council. The 35-nation board of IAEA governors had opened an emergency meeting on Thursday in Vienna. The meeting will continue on Saturday. Politics is playing a crucial part in the decision with various countries lobbying for their own interests. One sticking point is the discussion of a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone. Since Israel is already thought to have nukes it would be a challenge to ignore them in the context of the zone. It appeared late Friday that tensions were cooling as many proposals for resolution continued to surface. Russia wants a delay until the March meeting to give diplomats more time to work. The U.S. also appeared to be softening in regard to the timing of a decision. The U.S. does not want to be seen as the instigator of action against Iran. This cooling of tensions sent oil prices spiraling down from their highs.

CCrude Oil Chart - 60 min

Oil has been trading with about a $10 risk premium built into the price. When Venezuela sided with Iran last week the prices rose to hit $69 on Wednesday. According to the EIA oil inventories rose +1.9 mb in the week ended Jan-27th. The API showed a larger rise of +5.9 mb. The EIA showed a gain of +4.3 mb of gasoline while the API showed a gain of +3.7 mb. Crude inventories totaled 321 mb according to the EIA. This is well above the five-year average for this week of 289 mb. Gasoline, jet fuel, distillates and fuel oil are also above their five-year averages. Despite forecasts for colder than normal weather over the next 15 days there is almost no scenario that would produce a significant draw in supplies. Refineries are shutting down for maintenance and to convert from heating oil to gasoline for the summer driving season. This will continue on a staggered basis for another six weeks. I have been telling everyone for several weeks that conditions were not supporting the rise in oil prices. The hurricane impact took a substantial portion of demand off the market in Q4 and this allowed crude inventory to build significantly above normal levels. Eventually this bubble had to burst as the spring demand slump arrived. While the Iran story has yet to play out I believe there is a good chance it will be delayed until March. This should allow prices to correct and take some pressure off equities. The challenge now is to pick the bottom of the correction in preparation for going long energy once again.

The OPEC meeting last week was a neutral event with prices nearing $70 once again. The prospect of a production cut to defend prices at $55 was laughable. They satisfied themselves with the threat of a production cut after the March meeting and a couple warnings that prices could hit $100 if something happened to Iran's output. With their bank accounts overflowing with cash and no real demand drop in sight despite the $69 oil a back slapping good time was had by all. I would personally like to see them slow production to support prices and then get behind the curve again like they did in 2005. The global economy is still growing and the next time OPEC screws up while trying to be cute and protect prices it could have dramatic consequences.

Greenspan has moved off the firing line and into the history books with his term as Fed Chairman now over. CNBC celebrated his retirement by having artist Erin Crowe, a painter of Greenspan portraits, paint her last portrait of Greenspan on the air on Tuesday. CNBC auctioned the painting off on Ebay and will give the proceeds of $150,400 to charity, Autism Speaks. Could this price be true "irrational exuberance"? Not bad for an artist whose previous high for a painting was $12,000. I am sure Bernanke is just hoping somebody will want to paint a picture of him rather than burn him in effigy when he leaves the post. Remember, Greenspan took office in 1987 only two months before the biggest market crash in history in October 1987. He recovered from that disaster and managed to forge a significant legacy. If I were Bernanke I would be very concerned about the next few months of this aging recovery and I would want to be very careful I did not make that one extra hike that breaks our economic back and produces a severe recession.

The four horsemen of the Internet rode into the sunset on Friday after Amazon, the last of the group, reported earnings Thursday night. Maybe I should say they hobbled off into the sunset. It has not been a pretty picture with Yahoo, Ebay, Google and Amazon all disappointing in some form. Ebay was punished the least after a couple upgrades erased some soft guidance. EBAY rallied to $48 on the upgrades the day after earnings but quickly entered a downhill slide, which accelerated as each remaining Internet stock confessed their sins. EBAY finished the week at $40.50 but that -$8 loss was kind compared to the -$50 drubbing suffered by Google. Amazon was the final act with its earnings miss and -10% drop on Friday. After YHOO, EBAY and GOOG expectations for Amazon were already lowered. It did not take long before the old Amazon.bomb nickname penned originally by Barron's returned to print where I saw it several times on Friday.

It was a bad week for the indexes with the highs for the Nasdaq and SPX set on Monday. The Dow managed to hold its ground and set its high on Wednesday on good news from GM and Boeing. However, before the week was out the results would be the same across the board. All the major indexes lost more than 1% for the week with the NDX dropping -2.72% thanks to a -$50 drop in Google. The SOX dropped -4% on the largest decline in semiconductor billings in over a year. Semiconductor billings for December fell -2.3%. This is a three-month moving average so the actual number was probably much lower. Notable declines this week were MOT -7%, AMD -7%, QCOM -6% and RMBS -15%. Let us not forget the Intel massacre of -19% since their earnings on Jan-17th. Despite the -5.5% decline in the SOX since the high on Jan-27th the SOX at 529 is still well above support at 515. Chips have been on fire since the October low but that rally appears to be fading. Despite the high profile disappointments by some chip companies this is probably just a normal sector rotation rather than a new direction. The fourth quarter is typically kind to chip companies in anticipation of a wave of seasonal profits. The first quarter is typically soft for tech and it is only natural for rotation to occur. Chips benefit from the January effect and in case you havent noticed the calendar turned over last week.

SOX Chart - Weekly

The January effect is typically seen late in Q4 and early in January as year-end fund flows migrate into small cap stocks, primarily techs. The Russell 2000 was the primary beneficiary of these fund flows and a new high of 736.45 was set on Wednesday. Given the changing economics, weak earnings guidance and strength of the Oct-Jan rally it should be time for small caps to rest. February and March typically produce volatility in the Russell as fund managers rotate out of stocks and sectors that have outperformed. It is not a fundamental change but only a cyclical event..

On a purely technical basis the Dow posted a lower high last week and closed Friday right in the middle of its recent range at just under 10800. Initial support is just under 10700 at 10675 but without the benefit of earnings hype this may be only a bump in the road as sector rotation accelerates in February. On the Nasdaq the close at 2262 is only +20 points above initial support at 2240 with 2200 not far below.

WWe have been using the SPX as our index of choice for deciding which direction we should trade. Last week the SPX broke out of resistance at 1275 and tried valiantly to crack the next level at 1285. After three days of failure a feeling of resignation began to settle in and upper level support at 1280 finally broke with a straight drop through our neutral zone between 1270-1275. The 1270 level attempted to hold the drop but was unsuccessful. The recommendation for the last several weeks was to be flat or short under 1270 and that puts us into a short bias for the week ahead. The SPX was actually the weakest link for the week with a Friday close very close to critical support at 1260. This was probably due to the implosion in the energy sector after the price of oil finally cracked. That makes it a little harder to predict for next week since energy is due for a bounce. One that will likely fail but still a bounce. That would probably bring the SPX back into parity with the Dow and Nasdaq but still maintain a negative bias.

Russell Chart - Weekly

NYSE Composite Chart - Weekly

The indexes still maintaining a bullish bias are the Russell and the NYSE Composite. The Russell has intermittent support from 700 to 720 and any decline is not likely to be sharp. Dip buyers should appear about every 5 points. The NYSE Composite has been very bullish since the October lows and set a new high at 8130 on Tuesday after the FOMC meeting. That high lasted about one day before investors began taking profits and the index declined to 8000 at Friday's close. Critical support at 7950 is only one good decline away and a level where buyers should appear. If they are unsuccessful the next stop could be just under 7800.

The bottom line for me next week is boredom. The economic calendar is sparse and the majority of earnings excitement has passed. Oil pulled back to support at $64 and buyers appeared at the close on Friday. This could have been just short covering but it may have been strong enough to attract attention from those looking to buy the dip. I hope it was just a false bounce from short covering. I would love to see crude return to real support at $58 and a very good entry point for a summer surge. However, I did buy the dip with some speculative positions on Friday just in case the dip to $64 is all we are going to get. On the broader market it is about time for the post earnings depression to appear and I would be very careful getting married to any long positions, even in energy. Continue to honor the SPX 1270 short indicator and the 1270-1275 neutral zone. Remain short under 1270 and cautiously long over 1275. I say cautiously long because my fundamental bias has become more negative. I don't want my bias to get in the way should a new rally break out so I will only be cautiously long over 1275 and suggest you do as well.

New Plays

New Option Plays

Call Options Plays
Put Options Plays
Strangle Options Plays
None ABK None

New Calls

None today.

New Puts

Ambac Fincl. - ABK - close: 76.09 change: -0.60 stop: 78.05

Company Description:
Ambac Financial Group, Inc., headquartered in New York City, is a holding company whose affiliates provide financial guarantees and financial services to clients in both the public and private sectors around the world. Ambac's principal operating subsidiary, Ambac Assurance Corporation, a leading guarantor of public finance and structured finance obligations, has earned triple-A ratings, the highest ratings available from Moody's Investors Service, Inc., Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, Fitch, Inc. and Rating and Investment Information, Inc. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
The action in ABK looks pretty bearish. Short-term and weekly technicals are negative. The oversold bounce from its mid-January breakdown has failed twice under the $78 level. We believe the stock could trade into the $71.00-70.00 range before finding significant support. That's where the longer-term trendline from its weekly chart offers support. There is some short-term technical support at its exponential 200-dma and simple 100-dma near the $74 level so we do expect a bounce there. Our target is $71.00. Our time frame is four to six weeks, probably sooner.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March puts.

BUY PUT MAR 80 ABK-OP open interest= 20 current ask $4.70
BUY PUT MAR 75 ABK-OO open interest=153 current ask $1.80

Picked on February 05 at $ 76.09
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 01/25/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 463 thousand


Intl Bus. Mach. - IBM - close: 79.97 change: -1.26 stop: 82.05

Company Description:
IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. Drawing on resources from across IBM and IBM Business Partners, IBM offers a wide range of services, solutions and technologies that enable customers, large and small, to take full advantage of the new era of e-business. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
The GHA hardware sector index looks a bit overbought after a 25% run up from its late October lows. IBM looks ready to lead the group lower. Investors were not happy with IBM's latest earnings report and now the stock is breaking down under technical support at the 200-dma and round-number support at the $80.00 level. Volume came in more than 50% above its daily average on Friday's breakdown. We would consider put positions here. However, we would really like to see some confirmation. Therefore we are going to use a trigger at $79.49 to open the play. If IBM trades at $79.49 or lower then we'll target a decline into the $75.25-75.00 range. The P&F chart shows a triple bottom breakdown sell signal with a $74 price target.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March puts.

BUY PUT MAR 85 IBM-OQ open interest= 481 current ask $5.40
BUY PUT MAR 80 IBM-OP open interest=2763 current ask $1.75
BUY PUT MAR 75 IBM-OO open interest= 548 current ask $0.40

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 01/17/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 6.0 million


MGIG Invest. - MTG - close: 64.23 change: -0.60 stop: 66.05

Company Description:
MGIC, the principal subsidiary of MGIC Investment Corporation, is the nation's leading provider of private mortgage insurance coverage with $170.0 billion primary insurance in force covering 1.3 million mortgages as of December 31, 2005. MGIC serves 5,000 lenders with locations across the country and in Puerto Rico, helping families achieve homeownership sooner by making affordable low-down-payment mortgages a reality. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
MTG was soaring higher in January until the company missed the earnings estimates on its January 12th report. The stock has sunk back toward support near $64 and its simple 200-dma. We suspect that MTG is about to breakdown with the potential to trade toward the October lows. We'll suggest a trigger to buy puts under technical support at the 200-dma. Our trigger will be $63.70. If triggered then we'll target a decline into the $58.00-57.50 range.

Suggested Options:
Our time frame is about six weeks so we're going to suggest the March puts but some of our readers might want to consider buying June puts.

BUY PUT MAR 65 MTG-OM open interest=1097 current ask $2.45
BUY PUT MAR 60 MTG-OL open interest=3748 current ask $0.80

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 01/12/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 833 thousand

New Strangles

None today.

Play Updates

In Play Updates and Reviews

Call Updates

Apple - AAPL - close: 71.84 change: -0.25 stop: 69.99

Has AAPL reached a new bottom? We've been suggesting that AAPL should find support near the $70.00 level. On Friday the stock dipped twice to the $71 region and buyers stepped in both times to defend the stock. Aggressive traders may want to consider new bullish positions here. Our concern is the NASDAQ, which looks vulnerable. The strongest stock in the world will struggle to climb if the markets are sinking. Just imagine a hot air balloon trying to rise in an elevator moving lower. The balloon is going to go down in spite of its own strength. Now there are always exceptions and some of you will be quick to point out that this is a market of stocks and we're not betting on the stock market in general. Unfortunately, we wouldn't list AAPL as the strongest stock right now. We listed AAPL as a speculative play given the bullish engulfing candlestick and its bounce from $70 a few days ago. There has not been a very strong follow through and the weekly chart looks very bearish! Conservative traders may want to exit early. We will consider bailing out of AAPL bounces and fails to clear the $75 region soon.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new bullish positions in AAPL at the moment.

Picked on January 30 at $ 75.00
Change since picked: - 3.15
Earnings Date 01/18/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 27.1 million


Aetna - AET - close: 98.32 change: +1.30 stop: 93.99 *new*

AET continues to show relative strength. The stock added another 1.3% on Friday despite the widespread pull back. The stock looks poised to hit our target in the $99.00-100.00 range. Honestly, considering the weakness in the major averages we strongly considered just exiting early right here. More conservative traders may want to jump out now for a profit. We are not suggesting new bullish positions. We are raising the stop loss to $93.99. Conservative traders who don't choose to exit early might want to put their stop closer to $96.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new plays in AET.

Picked on January 30 at $ 94.05
Change since picked: + 4.27
Earnings Date 02/09/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.7 million


Cummins Inc. - CMI - close: 100.10 change: +2.25 stop: 96.95*new*

We are amazed. The trading in CMI on Thursday looked very bearish. We were expecting to be stopped out on Friday. Instead shares of CMI bounced strongly from the $97.00 level. While our bullish play in CMI has been given new life we are not suggesting new bullish positions right here. The major market averages look vulnerable and more conservative traders may just want to thank their lucky stars and jump out of CMI right here to minimize their losses. Or as an alternative you could raise your stop loss. We are raising our stop loss to $96.95, under Friday's low. We would not consider new positions until CMI hit a new high over $102.00.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new positions in CMI right here.

Picked on February 2 at $101.01
Change since picked: - 0.91
Earnings Date 01/30/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 742 thousand


Express Scripts - ESRX - close: 91.90 chg: +1.06 stop: 87.45

Friday's bounce from the $89.50 region looks like a new bullish entry point to buy calls on ESRX. The stock has been relatively resistant to any profit taking following its bullish breakout over resistance near $90 several days ago. We would consider new call positions here but more conservative traders may want to wait for a new high before initiating positions. Currently our stop loss at $87.45 is under technical support at the rising 50-dma. More conservative traders might want to consider putting their stop under Friday's low instead. Our target is the $99.50-100.00 range but we're running low on time with ESRX due to report earnings in the last week of February.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March calls.

BUY CALL MAR 85 XTQ-CQ open interest= 216 current ask $9.70
BUY CALL MAR 90 XTQ-CR open interest=1019 current ask $6.40
BUY CALL MAR 95 XTQ-CS open interest= 524 current ask $3.90

Picked on January 29 at $ 92.42
Change since picked: - 0.52
Earnings Date 02/22/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.1 million


Universal Health - UHS - close: 48.67 chg: -0.83 stop: 48.49

The recent failed rally in UHS is starting to look a bit more serious. Shares may need to retrace to the $48.00-47.50 region before attempting another breakout. We remain on the sidelines. Our trigger to buy calls is at $50.51. If triggered then we'll target a rally into the $54.50-55.00 range. The P&F chart is bullish with a $61 target. We do not want to hold over the late February earnings report.

Suggested Options:
If triggered we would suggest the March calls.

Picked on January xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 02/27/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 613 thousand

Put Updates

Johnson Controls - JCI - cls: 67.91 chg: -0.91 stop: 72.01

Good news! JCI has continued to slide and Friday's 1.3% decline pulled shares under technical support at the 100-dma. The stock looks ready to fall towards our target in the $65.50-65.00 range, above its exponential 200-dma. Currently the Point & Figure chart looks pretty bearish with a $57 target.

Suggested Options:
If you are looking for a new put position in JCI we would consider the March puts although Aprils have more open interest.

Picked on January 25 at $ 69.90
Change since picked: - 1.99
Earnings Date 01/20/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 955 thousand


Meritage Homes - MTH - close: 60.51 chg: +1.75 stop: 62.05

Reversal alert! We are very surprised by the turnaround in MTH on Friday. The stock is still stuck in a bearish longer-term trend dating back to its August peak but short-term MTH is suggesting a turnaround. Friday's session produced a bullish engulfing candlestick pattern on top of a 2.9% gain. More conservative traders, if you entered new positions on Friday, might want to bail out quickly to minimize any losses. We suspect that MTH will make a rally attempt toward short-term resistance at $62.00. Our stop loss is at $62.05 and we're going to keep the play open and see how far MTH will bounce.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new plays in MTH at this time.

Picked on February 02 at $ 58.76
Change since picked: + 1.75
Earnings Date 01/26/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 560 thousand


Phelps Dodge - PD - close: 158.49 chg: +0.39 stop: 167.15

We do not see much change from our original play description from Thursday night. The one thing we would say is that Friday's session was not a very convincing follow through on Thursday's technical bearish reversal. Traders might want to consider waiting for PD to trade under Friday's low (157.21) before initiating new positions. Our original play description is reposted here:

We are fundamentally bullish on PD. The company is a major player in the copper-mining industry and the commodity has been hitting new highs for a while now. Demand seems to be outstripping supply for the malleable metal. PD's recent earnings report came in above expectations and management issued a big buy back program. Both events are positives. Yet shares of PD appear to have gotten ahead of themselves. Today's trading hit a new all-time high and then crashed. The move produced a big bearish engulfing candlestick, which is typically a bearish reversal pattern. This is an aggressive, higher-risk bearish play since we are trying to time a pull back toward its trendline of support. We're going to suggest put positions here (under $160) with a stop above today's high. More conservative traders may want to wait for PD to move under $158 or $156 before initiating positions. We are aiming for the simple 50-dma, currently at 144.50, but since the moving average is naturally a moving target we'll use an exit/target range of $147.50-145.00 for now.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March puts.

BUY PUT MAR 160 PD-OL open interest=702 current ask $11.90
BUY PUT MAR 155 PD-OK open interest=316 current ask $ 9.00
BUY PUT MAR 150 PD-OJ open interest=232 current ask $ 6.70

Picked on February 02 at $158.10
Change since picked: + 0.39
Earnings Date 01/31/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.6 million


XM Sat.Radio - XMSR - close: 24.34 chg: -0.70 stop: 27.01 *new*

XMSR continues to sink, hitting new one-year lows. Shares do look very oversold and way overdue for a bounce. We would not suggest new put positions here. XMSR could easily rebound back to the 10-dma (now at 26.45) before sliding lower again. We are lowering our stop loss to $27.01. We plan to exit ahead of its earnings report. Currently we have an unconfirmed report date of February 9th. Our target is the $21.00 level.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new plays at this time.

Picked on January 30 at $ 26.43
Change since picked: - 2.09
Earnings Date 02/09/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 5.0 million

Strangle Updates

(What is a strangle? It's when a trader buys an out-of-the-money (OTM) call and an OTM put on the same stock. The strategy is neutral. You do not care what direction the stock moves as long as the move is big enough to make your investment profitable.)


Building Materials - BMHC - cls: 78.27 chg: +1.51 stop: n/a

Earnings from BMHC are just around the corner. When the company announces on Tuesday, February 7th this week we'll expect some volatility and probably see shares move in a new direction instead of this choppy, sideways action. We are not suggesting new strangle positions at this time. The options in our strangle play are the March $90 calls (BGU-CR) and the March $70 puts (BGU-ON). Our estimated cost is $8.20. Our target is $12.50 by March expiration.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new strangle positions in BMHC at this time.

Picked on December 18 at $ 80.95
Change since picked: - 2.68
Earnings Date 02/07/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 527 thousand


Encana Corp. - ECA - close: 46.78 chg: -0.65 stop: n/a

ECA has pulled back along with the rest of the oil sector and crude oil futures. The stock might continue to churn sideways between $45 and $50 until its earnings report on February 15th. We're not suggesting new positions in ECA right now. Our strategy involves the April $50 calls (ECA-DJ) and the April $40 puts (ECA-PH). Our estimated cost is $3.45. We are aiming for a rise to $5.95.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new strangle positions in ECA at this time.

Picked on January 10 at $ 45.56
Change since picked: + 1.22
Earnings Date 02/15/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 4.4 million


Google Inc. - GOOG - close: 381.55 chg: -14.48 stop: n/a

Shares of GOOG are on the move and the stock lost 3.6% on Friday although GOOG closed off its worst levels of the session. Currently the stock is flirting with the simple 100-dma ($383), which was support back in October. We are not suggesting new positions. The put side of our high-risk, speculative strangle is the February $420s (GOP-ND). These puts hit a high of $46.40 on Friday and are currently trading at $39.30bid/$40.00ask. Our estimated cost was $40.10 and we're aiming for a rise to $60.00. You may want to adjust your own target to whatever you deem is appropriate (whether that's an exit at $50 or $70 or something else). It might be wise to exit early since GOOG is fast approaching what looks like support at the bottom of its rising channel (see chart). Just remember that the February options are running out of time with just two weeks left of life.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new strangle positions in GOOG at this time.

Picked on January 29 at $433.49
Change since picked: -51.94
Earnings Date 01/31/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 11.1 million


Ryland Group - RYL - close: 71.00 change: +2.22 stop: n/a

Homebuilding stocks bounced on Friday and RYL did so with volume coming in above average. The afternoon rebound did stall under its 200-dma but the bounce may not be over yet. We're not suggesting new positions. Our play involves the April $80 calls (RYL-DP) and the April $70 puts (RYL-PN). Our estimated cost is $7.00. Our target is $12.00.

Suggested Options:
We are not suggesting new strangle positions in RYL at this time.

Picked on January 22 at $ 75.19
Change since picked: - 4.19
Earnings Date 01/24/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.1 million

Dropped Calls

SFBC Intl. - SFCC - close: 25.35 chg: +2.37 stop: 19.90

Target achieved. Positive broker comments, a reiterated buy rating, and a new higher price target did the trick for us on SFCC. The stock gapped open at $25.69, fell back to $24 and then rebounded again. Our target was the $24.50-25.00 range but due to the gap higher we're adjusting our exit.

Picked on January 25 at $ 20.92
Change since picked: + 4.43
Earnings Date 02/22/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.5 million

Dropped Puts


Dropped Strangles


Trader's Corner

Step Away from the Computer

Knowing when to stop trading proves as important as setting up a system for trading. This last week provided traders with a prime example.

Annotated 7-Minute chart of the SPX:

The immediate post-FOMC reaction was a series of wide swings that eventually tamped down into a chartable formation, a triangle. That settling into a formation more than a day in the making allowed wise traders to watch for an opportunity to play a breakout. That breakout was to come to the downside on the SPX about 10:30 Thursday morning when the SPX broke through the trendline then at about 1278. As of this writing Friday morning, the SPX had reached a low of 1261.02. The patient trader was well rewarded for that patience. The trader who must trade every day may have participated in the bearish gains, too, if that trader guessed correctly, endured the pre-FOMC ennui without bailing and wasn't stopped on the post-FOMC swings. Some would rather miss that boredom-to-terror trajectory.

Although its pattern was different, the more volatile SOX also saw price patterns pre- and immediately post-FOMC that would have whipsawed many traders.

Annotated 7-Minute Chart of the SOX:

Such activity can also be seen surrounding announcements that participants widely expect to move the markets. An economic number that might impact a rate-hike decision, a market general's earning's report or an OPEC decision at a sensitive time number among those kinds of events.

While the January option expiration Thursday proved different, many traders note a tendency for equity and equity index prices to be pinned at certain levels beginning about mid-morning Thursday during option expiration week.

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the SPX:

Again, the patient and experienced trader might have expected an untradable pattern near option expiration and have waited for a more tradable pattern to set up. Since that rather neutral triangle--it's perhaps slightly more bullish than neutral--formed after a climb, the anticipated break might have been to the upside, so anyone guessing about next direction late in opex week might have guessed wrong.

Light-volume holiday weeks also present their own challenges, but they tend to come in two varieties: prices that chop around or big price movements that come out of nowhere, with big moves made possible by the light volume. Examples of both occurred near last Labor Day.

Annotated 15-Minute Chart of the SPX:

These provide a few examples of instances when it's better to step away from the computer and not click that mouse. Others include times when known price patterns do not predict eventual movements. Over the previous month, many technical traders complained about a persistent underpinning of the markets that renders technical analysis less useful than at other times. Until recently, breakdowns did not see follow-through to the downside. Chart patterns signaled breakdowns that never came. When a strong trend persists but warning signs begin to appear, trading in the direction of the trend may be the only trade that's workable, but even the active trader should consider lessening position size in such a market.

All examples listed here reference external events. Other articles have dealt with other issues related to a trader's experience, such as not trading during times when work or family stresses do not allow clear focus or attention to trades, when frequent losses drive the need to make up the losses, or even when frequent gains have created an I'm-a-genius attitude. Those cautions should not be ignored, either.

Traders should love what they do. They should want to trade, or they're in the wrong business. However, experienced traders know that times exist when it's best to step back and not trade. This article addressed a few of those times. Occasionally a price movement that might have been wildly profitable will occur after a patient trader has determined not to trade on one of those days. Oh, well. Other trading opportunities will arise. Learn when to step away.

Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown, Trader's Corner by Linda Piazza, and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.


Option Investor Inc is neither a registered Investment Advisor nor a Broker/Dealer. Readers are advised that all information is issued solely for informational purposes and is not to be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy, nor is it to be construed as a recommendation to buy, hold or sell (short or otherwise) any security. All opinions, analyses and information included herein are based on sources believed to be reliable and written in good faith, but no representation or warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, is made including but not limited to any representation or warranty concerning accuracy, completeness, correctness, timeliness or appropriateness. In addition, we do not necessarily update such opinions, analysis or information. Owners, employees and writers may have long or short positions in the securities that are discussed.

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