Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Wednesday, 02/22/2006

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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

Pipeline Worries

Pipeline worries captured attention as the market day dawned. CPI was due at 7:30 EST, and economists worried that inflation pressures might be working their way through the economic pipeline. A hostage-taking incident and previous attacks by militants in Nigeria had forced Shell to stop the flow of about 455,000 barrels a day through their pipelines. In Ecuador, protestors took Sardinas Station, and the country's private OCP pipeline suspended operations, demanding that the government provide security. At least temporarily, the decision stopped the flow of about 130,000 barrels a day.

Although the core CPI increased 0.2 percent, as was expected, the headline number jumped even higher than the anticipated 0.5 percent climb: to a 0.7 percent increase. Energy costs leaped higher by 5 percent, with electricity costs 5.5 percent higher, a record climb. In the last 12 months, the headline number has climbed 4 percent while core CPI increased 2.1 percent.

Commentators couldn't decide how to interpret that data, with some headlines touting the "benign" or "tame" inflation data and others emphasizing "surging" energy costs and inflation "anxiety" and "worries." Despite the opinion by some that FOMC inflation hawks might push for more rate hikes than had been previously hoped and those crude pipeline worries, equities bounced and crude dropped ahead of tomorrow's delayed release of crude inventories numbers.

The strong day sent indices up to test rising wedge or other resistance. For the Wilshire 5000, today's test was a retest of January's record high.

Annotated Weekly Chart of the Wilshire 5000:

The SPX tested the rising trendline resistance on its rising wedge, attempting a breakout. A glance at the weekly chart shows that it didn't quite complete that breakout.

Annotated Weekly Chart of the SPX:

The Dow has been trading in a broadening formation within its own rising wedge. Last week, I mentioned that in a traditional broadening formation, prices would not touch the top trendline of the broadening formation for a third time, but that the Dow seemed to be impelled toward 11,117-11,156. That won't-touch-the-top-again theory didn't appear as if it would hold, and it didn't. I mentioned that as long as the TRAN was strong, the SPX, OEX and Dow were unlikely to dip or dip far. Today, the Dow reached a high of 11,159.18, a few points above the possible target mentioned last week. By the end of the day, however, the Dow had closed back at the broadening formation's resistance.

Annotated Weekly Chart of the Dow:

While other indices were at least piercing resistance lines, even if they couldn't close above them, the Nasdaq bounced up toward the resistance of its triangle formation, but neither pierced it nor close above it.

Annotated Daily Chart of the Nasdaq:

Some credited the SOX's bounce from its 50-sma with the strong day seen on other indices.

Annotated Daily Chart of the SOX:

In addition to bouncing from the 50-sma, some may not have noticed that the SOX also bounced from the former resistance line of an even longer-term rising regression channel, in place since September 2004. The SOX broke out of this channel to the upside in December, and the current choppy zone is forming right on top of that channel. While bears don't want to see the SOX move back inside the channel that's shown on the daily chart just shown, bulls don't want to see the SOX close a week back inside that longer-term rising channel on the weekly chart, with the top of that channel now at about 517.75.

Today, the Mortgage Bankers Association released mortgage applications for the week ending February 17 at 7:00 EST. For the first time in four weeks, mortgage activity increased, with the seasonally adjusted purchase mortgage index rising 4.3 percent from the previous week's number, with that previous number being the lowest seen in more than two years. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages dipped, averaging 6.22 percent. After that data and ahead of Toll's earnings report tomorrow, the homebuilding group and mortgage-related financial stocks tended to perform well. The DJUSHB, the Dow Jones Home Construction Index, added 3.96 percent today.

Redbook U.S. Chain Store data for the week ending February 18 was also released. That data showed sales flat for the month through that February 18 date. According to one source, Redbook anticipates that sales will rise only 0.2 percent for all of February. Gap, the Limited and several other retailers report tomorrow, and much attention may focus on their sales figures. Ahead of those earnings report, the RLX, the S&P Retail Index, gained 0.48 percent.


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While market participants ignored an annual CPI figure approaching or slightly exceeding the FOMC's preferred level, crude traders also ignored geopolitical developments to some degree. Crude prices dropped. Transports climbed, with the TRAN driving up into and beyond a test of last week's 4446.96 high, propelled higher with the help of the airlines. The TRAN's high was 4456.44, with the close at 4449.17. The XAL, the airline index continued the bounce off the Tuesday morning low, gaining 2.28 percent today.

While the transports climbed, some crude-related stocks and indices such as the OIX fell, capping gains on some indices. XOM dropped in early trading, with OIN's Market Monitor commentator Jeff Bailey noting that XOM is now the S&P 100's number one company in market capitalization.

Intel, a component of many indices, also capped gains. ThinkEquity downgraded Intel (INTC) to a sell rating and cut the company's price target to $16 from its previous target of $26. INTC closed lower by $0.47, but bounced $0.07 in after-hours trading. Sprint Nextel (S) and Dell (DELL) also headed lower during early trading, with S investors reacting negatively the company's earnings miss and Dell investors cautious after the company delayed its planned April analyst meeting until September. S closed lower by $1.13, but DELL had dropped only $0.06 by the day's end, climbing well off its $29.37 low of the day. In addition, in news related to RIMM, today a federal judge denied the government's request for a separate hearing that would explore how an injunction against Blackberry service would impact the government. RIMM closed lower by 1.01 points and was last down another nickel in after-hours trading.

In other news, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson tendered his resignation, effective April 28, with reports further indicating that he will not attend the March FOMC meeting. Some speculate that he may be considering another position, perhaps at a university.

Tomorrow's economic releases include initial claims at 8:30, January's Help-Wanted Index at 10:30 and natural gas inventories at 10:30. Crude inventories will be released tomorrow, too, delayed a day because of Monday's holiday. Earnings reports include those from BEA Systems (BEAS); retailers Gap Inc. (GPS), Kohl's (KSS), Limited Brands (LTD) and Nordstrom (JWN); some construction industry names such as Hanson (HAN) and Lafarge (LR); homebuilder Toll Brothers (TOL) and a smattering of companies from other groups.

Some who have been reading my Wednesday Wraps have probably tagged my continued insistence that indices were in choppy formations might have felt frustrated by that insistence. Some may have tagged those statement indecision or a waffling, but they were always clear statements, derived from long study of charts, that nothing on the charts yet indicated future direction and that care was needed when entering positions. I've advocated smaller positions than normal during this choppy period for those who felt they had to trade, and a glance at the charts in this Wrap shows that the behavior has been choppy and has not yet proven future direction.

I continue to advocate smaller positions than normal until markets prove themselves. They need a breakout, either direction. There will be a breakout at some point, and your job as traders is to preserve a trading account so that you can benefit when it occurs. I've long been suggesting that the SOX was showing behavior typical of a topping-out process, and it did eventually break down out of its rising regression channel, but it still maintains the support above a former and longer-term rising regression channel.

We will soon, perhaps as soon as this week, get a SOX retest of the bottom of the just-broken-through rising regression channel, to see if it now holds as resistance. Perhaps today's climb up to the 30-sma was enough of a retest, but I'm not convinced that's true. I think there are likely to be further tests of resistance on the SOX before SOX bulls give up, if they're going to do so. The 50-sma's support held in late 2005 and it has so far held this week, and so there's as yet no strong reason for them to give up.

In addition, the TRAN still tests the upper resistance of that long-term envelope resistance on its weekly chart. Last week, for the first time in the almost nine years of data that QCharts carries, the TRAN closed a week just above the envelope that's been topping rallies since mid-1997. Today, the TRAN continued its climb, and it's going to be more difficult for any to ignore the bullishness of a second week's close above that envelope, if that should happen. A steep fall after tomorrow's inventories or due to some as yet unknown geopolitical development this week, and a close back inside that envelope, however, will question last week's minimal breakout. That envelope is currently at about 4393.50. Pronounced bearish price/MACD divergence continues on that weekly TRAN chart.

So far, indices refuse to fall far. The SPX, OEX and Dow are not going to fall too far as long as the TRAN shows such strength, but that doesn't mean that the picture is clear as yet. Perhaps by next week, we'll have more answers.

New Plays

New Option Plays

Call Options Plays
Put Options Plays
Strangle Options Plays
ASEI None None

New Calls

Amer. Science. - ASEI - cls: 72.58 chg: +3.34 stop: 67.84

Company Description:
American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS&E) is the leading worldwide supplier of innovative X-ray inspection and screening systems. With more than 45 years experience in developing advanced X-ray security systems, the Company's product line utilizes a variety of technologies including patented Z Backscatter(TM), Shaped Energy(TM), and Radioactive Threat Detection (RTD). These technologies offer superior detection of threats including plastic explosives, plastic weapons, illegal drugs, other contraband, dirty bombs, and nuclear devices. AS&E offers a complete range of X-ray inspection products including Z Backscatter screening systems, CargoSearch(TM), and ParcelSearch(TM) inspection systems, used for critical detection and security applications to combat terrorism, drug and weapon smuggling, trade fraud, and illegal immigration. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
ASEI was out performing the broader market today with a 4.8% gain fueled by above average volume. The company reported a pretty strong earnings report earlier this month but shares sold off on the news despite the better than expected results. What seems to be driving the stock today are rumors that General Electric (GE) might be acquiring ASEI in the future. This isn't the first time this type of rumor has surfaced with ASEI. Renewed rumors certainly don't help the shorts. ASEI has relatively high short interest in its small eight million share float. What we like about the stock is the technical picture. The Point & Figure chart has produced a bullish triangle breakout pattern with a $100.00 target. The triangle breakout patterns tend to be pretty reliable. We are going to suggest a trigger at $74.05 to buy calls on the stock. The $73-74 levels has been resistance since last September. Actually the $75 mark appears to be round-number resistance and more conservative traders may want to wait for a move over $75.00 before initiating bullish positions. If triggered at $74.05 we will target a rally into the $79.75-80.00 range. More aggressive traders may want to aim higher.

Suggested Options:
We are going to suggest the April calls.

BUY CALL APR 70 KBU-DN open interest= 589 current ask $6.80
BUY CALL APR 75 KBU-DO open interest=1088 current ask $4.20
BUY CALL APR 80 KBU-DP open interest= 229 current ask $2.50

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 02/08/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 178 thousand


Goldman Sachs - GS - close: 145.53 change: +2.08 stop: 141.45

Company Description:
Goldman Sachs is a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
We did well recently playing fellow broker stock LEH and now it looks like we have a chance to catch the next pop higher in shares of GS. The sector index is breaking out to new all-time highs and GS looks poised to do the same. Stocks in this industry tend to run up ahead of their earnings report and GS is due to report in about three to four weeks. We are going to suggest call positions with GS above the $143.00 level. The Point & Figure chart points to a $169 target. We are only going to target the $149.85-150.00 range.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March calls since we plan to exit ahead of GS' earnings report in mid March.

BUY CALL MAR 140 GS-CH open interest=3878 current ask $7.10
BUY CALL MAR 145 GS-CI open interest=4708 current ask $3.60
BUY CALL MAR 150 GS-CJ open interest=4650 current ask $1.45

Picked on February 22 at $145.53
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 03/16/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 3.4 million


MDC Holdings - MDC - close: 64.44 chg: +2.23 stop: 61.15

Company Description:
MDC, whose subsidiaries build homes under the name "Richmond American Homes," is one of the largest homebuilders in the United States. The Company also provides mortgage financing, primarily for MDC's homebuyers, through its wholly owned subsidiary HomeAmerican Mortgage Corporation. MDC is a major regional homebuilder with a significant presence in some of the country's best housing markets. The Company is the largest homebuilder in Colorado; among the top five homebuilders in Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Jacksonville and Salt Lake City; and among the top ten homebuilders in Northern California and Southern California. MDC also has established operating divisions in West Florida, Philadelphia/Delaware Valley, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
Some positive comments about Toll Brothers (TOL) today helped spark a pretty strong rally in the homebuilders. Shares of MDC responded with a 3.5% gain and a breakout over its 50-dma and its long-term trendline of resistance dating back to last July. We suspect that this bounce in the homebuilders has further to go. MDC looks pretty oversold and could easily play catch up with its peers. We're going to suggest a trigger at $65.05 to open call positions. If triggered we will target a rally into the $69.50-70.00 range. We can expect a few hurdles near $67.50 and its exponential 200-dma, currently at 68.50. More conservative traders may want to plan an exit at the 200-ema.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the April calls although March calls would also work well.

BUY CALL APR 60 MDC-DL open interest= 0 current ask $6.50
BUY CALL APR 65 MDC-DM open interest=314 current ask $3.40
BUY CALL APR 70 MDC-DN open interest= 29 current ask $1.50

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 04/18/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 856 thousand


Altria Group - MO - close: 73.38 chg: +1.18 stop: 71.85

Company Description:
Altria Group is the parent company of Kraft Foods, Philip Morris International, Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris Capital Corporation. In addition, Altria Group, Inc. has a 28.7% economic interest in SABMiller. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
Tobacco and cigarette producer MO is bouncing from long-term technical support at its simple 200-dma. Its smaller rival RAI is hitting new all-time highs. We believe that MO could make a run at catching up to its peer. However we want to see some confirmation. The stock currently has short-term resistance near $74.00 and its simple 100-dma (73.78). We are going to suggest a trigger to buy calls at $74.10. More conservative traders may want to wait for MO to trade over its simple 50-dma (currently 74.30) before initiating positions. If triggered we are going to target the $77.50-78.00 range. The high for MO was last December at $78.68. More aggressive traders may want to aim higher and they might also want to put their stop lower under the 200-dma. We're putting our stop at $71.85.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March calls although Aprils would also work well.

BUY CALL MAR 70 MO-CN open interest= 85006 current ask $4.40
BUY CALL MAR 75 MO-CO open interest=123361 current ask $1.25

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 04/19/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 8.1 million


Potash - POT - close: 91.99 chg: +0.94 stop: 89.95

Company Description:
Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. is the world's largest fertilizer enterprise producing the three primary plant nutrients and a leading supplier to three distinct market categories: agriculture, with the largest capacity in the world in potash, third largest in phosphate and fourth largest in nitrogen; animal nutrition, with the world's largest capacity in phosphate feed ingredients; and industrial chemicals, as the largest global producer of industrial nitrogen products and one of only three North American suppliers of industrial phosphates. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
We suspect that the consolidation in POT is about over. Traders have been buying the dips for the last couple of weeks and while the bulls have been losing the fight so far it looks like the tables are about to turn. We are going to suggest a trigger to buy calls at $93.05. This should be enough to confirm a breakout over its two-week trend of lower highs. More conservative traders may want to wait for POT to trade over its simple 10-dma, which is currently at 93.86. If we are triggered at $93.05 we will target a rally into the $99.50-100.00 range.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the March calls although April strikes would also work well.

BUY CALL MAR 90 POT-CR open interest=432 current ask $4.80
BUY CALL MAR 95 POT-CS open interest=556 current ask $2.30
BUY CALL MAR100 POT-CT open interest=702 current ask $0.95

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 04/29/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 826 thousand


Prudential - PRU - close: 76.53 change: +0.99 stop: 73.99

Company Description:
Prudential Financial companies, with approximately $532 billion in total assets under management as of December 31, 2005, serve individual and institutional customers worldwide and include The Prudential Insurance Company of America, one of the largest life insurance companies in the United States. These companies offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, mutual funds, annuities, pension and retirement related services and administration, asset management, securities brokerage, banking and trust services, real estate brokerage franchises and relocation services. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
PRU is a somewhat diversified financial services company and should benefit from the strength in the brokerage industry and the insurance sector. The XBD broker-dealer index is hitting new highs and the IUX insurance index just broke out over resistance near 360 and its 50-dma. The trading in PRU looks positive with a bullish engulfing candlestick pattern on above average volume. We are going to suggest a trigger at $77.05 to buy calls. If triggered we are going to target a rally into the $82.00-82.50 range. We do expect some resistance at $80 and would not be surprised to see PRU breakout, touch $80, and then pull back and retest the $77 level again as support. The P&F chart is bullish and points to a $103 target.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the April calls although March strikes are available and have more open interest.

BUY CALL APR 75 PRU-DO open interest= 25 current ask $3.50
BUY CALL APR 80 PRU-DP open interest=120 current ask $1.00

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 02/08/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.9 million

New Puts

None today.

New Strangles

None today.

Play Updates

In Play Updates and Reviews

Call Updates

Beazer Homes - BZH - close: 67.04 change: +2.33 stop: 63.19 *new*

Homebuilders rebounded sharply today. The DJUSHB home construction index rose 3.9% and broke through resistance at the 900 level. The HGX housing index rose 2.8% and broke through its resistance near 265 and the 50-dma. BZH helped lead the pack with a 3.6% gain and a breakout over the $66.00 level, which had been short-term resistance. BZH's macd indicator on its daily chart is nearing a new buy signal. Our short-term target is the $69.85 mark. The $70 level and its 50-dma (71.92) are likely to be overhead resistance. We are raising the stop loss to $63.19, just under yesterday's low.

Picked on February 15 at $ 65.05
Change since picked: + 1.99
Earnings Date 01/19/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.2 million


Cephalon - CEPH - close: 74.06 change: -0.33 stop: 69.99

The BTK biotech index turned in a strong session with a 2% gain and a close at new multi-year highs. CEPH managed a 1.5% bounce but volume continues to be low. The MACD indicator on CEPH's daily chart is nearing a new buy signal. We are suggesting a trigger to buy calls at $76.65. If triggered we'll target a run into the $82.00-82.50 zone. More conservative traders may want to exit near $80.00 since it might be round-number resistance. Traders should remember that any time you're trading a biotech stock there is an elevated status of risk. You never know when an unexpected announcement about a drug in development or even from a competitor can send the stock you're trading gapping higher or lower in an instant.

Picked on February xx at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 02/14/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.5 million


Chico's FAS - CHS - close: 48.85 change: -0.05 stop: 44.89

CHS is not making much progress this week but neither is it giving back the previous week's gains. We continue to look for the $46.00 level and its 10-dma (47.19) to act as the first levels of support. Our target is the $52.00-52.50 range.

Picked on February 14 at $ 47.61
Change since picked: + 1.24
Earnings Date 03/01/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.8 million


Google Inc. - GOOG - close: 365.49 chg: -1.10 stop: 344.48

While GOOG did not decline as much as we expected today the stock still under performed. We would not consider new bullish positions here. Watch for a dip into the $355-350 region and then wait for a bounce to appear. Remember, this is a very aggressive speculation play. We are targeting a rebound to the $394 level before March expiration.

Picked on February 16 at $366.46
Change since picked: - 1.03
Earnings Date 01/31/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 12.4 million


Hartford Fin. Srv. - HIG - cls: 85.80 chg: +1.90 stop: 79.95

We are surprised by HIG's strength today. The stock look poised to test support near $82 yesterday. Instead the stock soared this morning and has closed over resistance at the $85.00 level and its 50-dma. This is great news. More conservative traders may want to consider an early exit. Our target is the $87.50-90.00 range.

Picked on February 14 at $ 82.12
Change since picked: + 3.68
Earnings Date 01/26/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.1 million


Occidental Petrol. - OXY - cls: 90.38 chg: -1.46 stop: 85.95

Oil stocks did not perform well today after a 3% decline in the price of crude. That's okay. We were expecting a dip in OXY back to the $90.00 level and we got it today. A bounce from here can be used as a new bullish entry point. Our target is the February highs in the $97.50-98.00 range.

Picked on February 21 at $ 92.00 *gap higher*
Change since picked: - 1.62
Earnings Date 05/09/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 3.4 million


Total - TOT - close: 127.85 change: -1.06 stop: 124.95

Yesterday we warned readers to expect a pull back in TOT today. Shares dipped to $127.11 before rebounding this afternoon. If crude oil continues to slip lower tomorrow then TOT may retest technical support at its simple 200-dma (now at 126.00). Wait for a rebound to appear before considering new positions. More conservative traders may want to wait for a move over $130 or its 50-dma before initiating positions. Our target is the $137.00-140.00 range.

Picked on February 16 at $127.61
Change since picked: + 0.24
Earnings Date 02/15/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 836 thousand


Tenaris S.A. - TS - cls: 156.85 chg: -3.30 stop: 144.99

There were no surprises here. We warned readers to expect some profit taking today. The real question is where will TS try and bounce. The top of the gap from Tuesday at $156.00 could offer some support as could the bottom of the gap near $154.00. We would watch the $154 level. More conservative traders may want to tighten their stop loss. Our target is the $164.00-165.00 range

Picked on February 21 at $156.22
Change since picked: + 0.63
Earnings Date 03/01/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 516 thousand


Universal Health - UHS - close: 50.80 chg: -0.24 stop: 49.24

Uh-oh! The market produced a relatively widespread rally today yet UHS displayed relative weakness. That doesn't bode well. We are tightening our stop loss to $49.74. We plan to exit on Friday. We are targeting a rally into the $54.50-55.00 range.

Picked on February 15 at $ 50.51
Change since picked: + 0.29
Earnings Date 02/27/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 613 thousand

Put Updates

Apollo Group - APOL - close: 57.74 chg: +0.78 stop: 60.01

APOL produced a bit of an oversold bounce today but we don't see any real change from our previous updates. Our target is the $53.00-52.50 range.

Picked on February 19 at $ 58.06
Change since picked: - 0.32
Earnings Date 03/16/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.0 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: 74.18 chg: +0.56 stop: n/a

The market rally today helped BMHC bounce but the stock couldn't break through the $75.00 level. We are not suggesting new strangle positions. 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.

Picked on December 18 at $ 80.95
Change since picked: - 6.77
Earnings Date 02/07/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 527 thousand


Encana Corp. - ECA - close: 42.04 chg: -1.61 stop: n/a

A 3% drop in crude oil futures pushed the oil sector lower. ECA lost 3.68%. We are not suggesting new strangle positions. Our strangle 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.

Picked on January 10 at $ 45.56
Change since picked: - 3.52
Earnings Date 02/15/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 4.4 million


Loews Corp. - LTR - close: 94.80 change: -0.11 stop: n/a

Lack of movement in LTR continues to be a good reason to bail out of this strangle play. We don't see any change from our weekend update on LTR. We are not suggesting new strangle positions. Buying this strangle was a bet that LTR will be trading at more than $102 (above resistance) or less than $88 (under support) by March expiration. The options in our strangle are the March $100 calls (LTR-CT) and the March $90 puts (LTR-OR). Our estimated cost is $1.75.

Picked on February 13 at $ 95.72
Change since picked: - 0.92
Earnings Date 02/16/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 513 thousand


Ryland Group - RYL - close: 72.84 change: +3.13 stop: n/a

Homebuilders produced a big rally today. RYL helped lead the charge with a 4.4% gain and a breakout through resistance at $70 and its 200-dma. We are not suggesting new strangle positions at this time. 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.

Picked on January 22 at $ 75.19
Change since picked: - 2.35
Earnings Date 01/24/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.1 million

Dropped Calls


Dropped Puts

MGIG Invest. - MTG - close: 65.12 change: +2.20 stop: 65.51

It's time to exit. MTG produced way too much strength for us today. The stock rallied back above technical resistance at the 200-dma and back through resistance at the neckline to its bearish head-and-shoulders pattern in the $64.00-64.50 region. We're suggesting traders exit early immediately.

Picked on February 06 at $ 63.70
Change since picked: + 1.42
Earnings Date 01/12/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 833 thousand

Dropped Strangles


Trader's Corner

Technical Indicators: More On 'Oscillators'

In last week's Trader's Corner I wrote about Oscillators, or the technical indicators that measure up or down PRICE MOMENTUM, with readings that can 'oscillate' between a maximum low of zero and a maximum high of 100, although neither the Slow Stochastics or Relative Strength Index (RSI) Indicators will ever reach these absolute maximums.

Extreme readings, ranging from below 20 to above 80 in the Stochastics model, or below 30 and above 70 in the RSI, are typically used in default settings in PC charting applications or on web sites that use these studies, to indicate an 'overbought' or 'oversold' condition in stocks and stock indexes.

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence Indicator or MACD for short is the third of the oscillator type technical indicators. This indicator measures overbought/oversold also, but its formula is not set to produce a number between 0 and 100. With MACD we need to look at how low or high this indicator has been relative to past weeks, months and years. The MACD was originally thought (by it's originator) to be especially useful on Weekly charts.

Last week, besides a general discussion of the concepts involving Oscillator type Indicators, I covered Stochastics in depth as to how this indicator is calculated. I'll continue this week with more of an in-depth look at the Relative Strength Index (RSI), which I myself use the most of the three. Last week's article can be seen by going back to your e-mailed Option Investor Newsletter (OIN) of 2/15 or online, by clicking here.

But first, last week's column generated this Subscriber question.

Enjoy your (2/15) Trader's Corner! Could you address the selection of Moving Averages (or direct me to a past article). In reading the Market Wrap by Linda Piazza, I'm wondering about the selection of various time frames, i.e., 72 DMA.

While I've written on just the topic of Moving Averages before (and it's covered in my book in-depth), but I don't have a column that has a 'live' (archived) Link to it; but, can write on the subject in an upcoming Trader's Corner on Wed, March 8.

In most of my work I try to keep analytical tools simple, literally. With moving averages I use SIMPLE moving averages, nothing weighted or 'smoothed'. These other more complex formulas seem especially favored by those loving bells & whistles. But, I'd also say that the usefulness in these tools is seeing over time (the more the better) how individual stocks or indexes tend to trade relative to the moving average type and length you use.

What I've found useful in moving average LENGTHS, and that is only one of two decisions you have to make (i.e., length and 'type' of average like simple, weighted, exponential), is to employ moving average lengths based on the 'fibonacci' number series; e.g., 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 (50 is most common), etc. Each number in this series is the sum of the preceding two numbers.

For Daily charts, I use the 21-day Simple Moving Average (SMA), and also 50-day and the 200-day moving averages, as they are in such widespread use. For Weekly charts I use the 8 and 13-week SMA. For HOURLY charts, I tend to use a 21-hour SMA if I use one at all. I do use a 21-day RSI often and example charts are below.

I'll have more on the topic of Moving Averages in a more detailed Trader's Corner column to come.

As said before, oscillators are technical indicators that track the (price) trend up or down and measure price 'momentum' in various ways. The 3 best known are (Slow) Stochastics, the Relative Strength Index (RSI) and the MACD ('macdee') formulas.

When the price trend moves up or down steeply, these indicators will also start to rise or fall steeply. They are LAGGING indicators like moving averages, as they are calculated on closing prices that have occurred over the past 5, 10, 20, etc. trading periods, based on whatever number is set as 'length'.

Oscillators are probably best known for their use in measuring potential extremes in a trend, especially in a strong up or down trend where the index or stock is defined as 'overbought' or 'oversold'. This information is useful for getting alert to timing an exit on calls or entry into puts after a steep rise in prices; or, to buy calls and exit puts after a steep decline.

Another important use of these indicators is when there is a failure of an oscillator to match prices at a new high or new low, setting up a possible bullish or bearish DIVERGENCE. Here the RSI has a key DUAL use. Besides its regular use as an overbought-oversold indicator, the RSI tends to be the best (of the 3 indicators discussed) for spotting bullish or bearish divergences as potential early warnings of a trend reversal.

While I often examine the RSI on Daily charts, a great number of examples of overbought/oversold extremes and price/RSI divergences is seen on the short-duration HOURLY charts in two key indexes using a 21-hour RSI ('length' setting = 21) below. NOTE: Charts are updated through TUES only. Recent divergent trends in prices with the RSI were suggesting possible pullbacks.

The Dow 30 (INDU) has been leading the market higher in February and there has been a question in my mind if this was precursor to another broad-based advance or a 'solitary walk of the Dow' as sometimes happens. The most recent advance to new highs above 11,100 was not accompanied by a rising 'relative strength' as suggested by the RSI (Relative Strength Index).

Looking at the RSI above, 3 overbought 'peaks' were seen at the 3 red down arrows on the extreme right. The RSI was 'overbought, overbought, overbought', but prices continued rising. Of greater interest were the declining peaks in RSI. The price trend slope of rising prices points up, the RSI slope of falling peaks points down. Opposite trendline slopes like the above equal DIVERGING trends and warn of reversals, up or down.

INDU fell Tuesday and touched key near-term support at 11050. If the Average starts to pierce this support, the bearish price/RSI divergence will have been usefully predictive for trading. Stay tuned on that!

Looking again at the same hourly Dow chart below, at earlier peaks and valleys in the hourly RSI and at one earlier price/RSI divergence, will further illustrate some points. On the extreme left (early-Jan), there was another set of diverging trendlines applied to the hourly INDU price chart and the RSI below it:

Prices climbed to new highs, but after RSI stopped following to new highs in its own readings (at point 'a'), there was a substantial decline that followed.

At point 'b', the RSI had again dipped to a level below 30 where which we've defined as 'oversold'. A short-term rally followed this but it was short-lived. At point 'c', RSI was more deeply into 'oversold' territory and this time a more substantial rally developed. This is the 'plain vanilla' use of the RSI to alert to the POTENTIAL for a counter-trend move. It's then important to watch price action for definitive clues to a reversal.

On the 'overbought' side, RSI point 'd' above was a first and sole 'overbought' reading. Prices trended sideways, with one higher high, which lacked (upside) follow through, followed by a substantial collapse. Note that the lows made in early-Feb. never were accompanied again by an oversold RSI. That and the formation of a third point on an up trendline, suggested that the price bias was UP.

Finally, point 'e' on the RSI got to an overbought reading; a pullback followed, but was short-lived. When corrections are shallow, the existing and prior trend is still dominant.

With the Nasdaq 100 (NDX) HOURLY chart below, I note a couple of recent price/RSI divergences: a bullish one in early-Feb, and a recent bearish divergence. In the later, prices go sideways as the RSI trends lower, suggesting declining 'relative strength' and the formation of at least a minor top.

This line of price resistance at 1685 in NDX above is from a prior resistance, the top end of an earlier (downside) gap. The falling RSI was a tip off to the fall that came next.

The RSI is constructed in a way that its numerical scale goes from a fixed point on the low end (0) to a fixed point on the upper (100) end. [This is not the case in the Moving Average Convergence Divergence or MACD, which will be the subject of the final article in this series on Oscillators.]

The Relative Strength Index, usually referred to as the 'RSI' was developed by a trader and market analyst named Welles Wilder back in the 70's. A simple way to understand the RSI is that it is a ratio (one number divided by another) that compares an average of up closes to down closes. There is only ONE variable, which is the length or the number of periods (hours, days, weeks, etc.) that the RSI formula works with.

The common RSI default (the preset value) for length is often 9 or 14, which is what Wilder used a lot. The RSI calculations will be based only on the number of closes specified as the length setting. The commonly used default settings are 30 to represent an oversold reading and 70 and above to suggest an overbought condition.

The optimum length settings are a function of your time horizons relative to trading or investing. 5 to 10 as the RSI length on a daily or hourly chart is appropriate for the minor trend and short-term trading. A length setting of 13 up to 21 for daily charts is good for looking at the longer trend, such as over 2-3 weeks or more. On weekly charts, my preference is an 8-week period for the RSI 8 represents a 2-month period or 1/6th of a year, which provides a good picture of the secondary trend.

RSI is derived by calculating the average number of points gained on up days, during the period selected (e.g., 13), then dividing this result by the average point decline for the same number of bars this ratio is 'RS' in a 13-period formula for RSI or 100 100/1+RS. RS = the average of 13-days up closes divided by an average of 13-days down closes. 8 or 21, or any other number, would be used instead of 13 in this example.

Every up close during this period is added and this sum is divided by the number of bars that had up closes to arrive at a simple average. Every down close during the period selected is added, then this sum is divided by the number of bars that had down closes. If 10 of 14 days had up closes, the result of this division is a ratio that rises rapidly. Subtraction from 100 of the result of the division is what makes for a 'normalized' scale of 1100.

In a period of a rapid and steady advance the RSI will reach levels over 70 rather quickly and RSI can then remain above 70 for some period of time. The reverse is true in a decline, as readings under 30 are seen.

Once the RSI retreats from high levels, it can offer an alert that the trend may be reversing. It is also true that relatively brief sideways consolidations or even a minor counter-trend movements will cause the RSI reading to back off from the preset 70/30 'extremes' and get back below 70.

The reverse situation would be where a steep decline causes the RSI to fall well under 30; a brief sideways move or counter-trend rally can put the RSI back above 30. Once a strong trend continues, the RSI can quickly get back into oversold or overbought territory again.

Indicators, besides their usefulness in providing some idea of whether a market is overbought or oversold, will also generate occasional divergent buy or sell 'signals', on either an intraday, daily or weekly chart basis.

RSI will normally move to a new low or new high when prices do the same - this is 'confirmation' by an indicator. When confirmation does not occur, the resulting divergence is an important alert for the possibility that its signaling an upcoming reversal to the current trend.

In a sense, divergences are more important than indicator confirmations as they can provide an upcoming alert to either a buying or shorting opportunity. If the divergence is one that indicates a possible reversal to a trend that you are participating in, this is a valuable advance warning. One of the chef risks to potential gains is being caught in a trend reversal that you did not see coming and were not prepared for.

Please send any technical and Index-related questions for possible use in my next Trader's Corner article to support@optioninvestor.com with 'Leigh Stevens' in the Subject line.

** Good Trading Success! **

This Wed. Trader's Corner article serves as an adjunct to my weekend 'Index Trader' column. In my Trader's Corner article I update a midweek technical picture of the major indexes and use recent chart/technical indicator patterns to more fully explain their possible relevance to trading decisions in general.

More on my specific predictions, support and resistance, etc. is found in my weekend Index Trader column, available on the Option Investor.com WEB site (and not part of the e-mailed weekend OI Daily). You will see a web LINK to the Index Trader at the top of your weekend Option Investor Daily e-mail. My most recent (Sat, 2/18) Index Trader can also be viewed online by clicking here.

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


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