Option Investor
Newsletter

Daily Newsletter, Wednesday, 12/16/2009

Table of Contents

  1. Market Wrap
  2. New Option Plays
  3. In Play Updates and Reviews

Market Wrap

Many Reports, Not Much Action for the Broad Indexes

by Judy Alster

Click here to email Judy Alster
It was a busy day Wednesday for economic reports of all kinds. But in the absence of any really earth-shattering announcements, the major indexes, while finishing mostly up, made no surprise moves.

INDEX WRAPUP, WEDNESDAY, DEC. 16:

However, the Nasdaq did manage a new 52-week high of 2,206.91, up 5.86 points or 0.27%. Where it's headed still remains to be seen.

NASDAQ:

After a more-than-weeklong rise that was the mirror-image of gold's fall, the dollar fell as much as 0.4%, which helped boost stocks early in the session. But other than the opening jump and a post-Fed-Open-Market Committee-meeting fall, things were pretty rangebound. The S&P500 ended up a point at 1,109.18 and the Dow fell 10.9 points or 0.10% to 10,441.12. Both have been trading in a narrow range for over a month. It would have been helpful for them to make a decisive move one way or the other after the FOMC announcement. But no.

DOW JONES INDUSTRIAL AVERAGE:

S&P500:

In mid-afternoon the committee released its latest report of economic activities, resource utilization, inflation trends et cetera, and its always-highly-anticipated Fed funds decisions. The committee told us that economic activity has continued to pick up and that deterioration in the labor market is abating (we knew that). Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says he thinks slack in the economy -- meaning idle plants and the weak job market -- will keep inflation in check. (We're really out of luck if it doesn't.) The Fed also said that conditions in financial markets are looking up, so we shouldn't expect them to keep the money pumps open: the special liquidity programs will end as planned.

The main event as always was the target range for the federal funds rate, which will remain at 0.00% to 0.25%. The committee, as it did last time, cited low rates of resource utilization and very mild inflation trends and expectations, ergo, why not keep interest rates where they are for a long time to come. Well, why not indeed, except for the fact that inflation trends, like the weather, can and do change suddenly, leaving the Fed with no choice but to say Oops and renege. We'll see.

U.S. INTEREST RATES:

The economy is weak enough to keep inflation down but strong enough to increase the pace of home construction and raise hopes for a sustained recovery. Such was the Consumer Price Index report for November, mostly soothing despite the slight rise in the all-inclusive, or headline, number. That number -- and especially the core (excluding food and energy) CPI -- were less inflationary than yesterday's producer price index numbers, which gave the Fed the breathing room it needed to keep rates at record lows. Apparently, core inflation isn't rising through the economy. Companies find it a little tough to jack up prices when consumers are tight-fisted, the job market is weak and the recovery is slow.

Headline consumer price inflation jumped 0.4% in November after gaining 0.3% the month before, matching the consensus forecast. You can blame a 4.1% jump in energy prices (on top of October's 1/4% rise) for the higher headline number, as well as gasoline, up 6.4% after a 1.6% gain the month before. Food prices stayed well-behaved, up a mere 0.1%, same as October. Core CPI inflation, unlike Tuesday's core PPI jump, showed scant change after a 0.2% rise in October, beating estimates.

Down: shelter, including rent and away-from-home lodging, off 0.2%. Up: new and used motor vehicles, medical care, airline fares, and tobacco.

CORE CONSUMER PRICE INDEX:

Year over year was a different story. Although the core number was unchanged from last year at +1.7% -- the first time core inflation was unchanged after 10 straight monthly year-over-year increases -- headline inflation was at +1.9% vs. -0.2% last October. So inflation is still up there when you add in energy and eats, which must make the Fed nervous.

On a related note, as soon as I read in a lead paragraph that the House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday authorizing the government to borrow $290 billion to finance its operations for six additional weeks, I immediately stopped reading and looked at gold stocks. Hardly to my surprise, or yours I bet, I found that after a steady nine-session slide, the S&P Gold Trust (GLD) was up 1.67% and to name merely a few miners, Barrick (ABX) and Goldfields (GFI) were up 2.4% and 1.9% respectively, and Yamana (AUY) up 2.25%. As the night will follow the day, devalue your currency and gold will rise.

SPDR GOLD TRUST:

Two pieces of housing news were out Wednesday. First, the purchase index of the Mortgage Bankers' Association slipped 0.1% last week; even the refinance index (which counts as mortgage applications, don't ask me why), which was up 0.9% in the same week, couldn't boost the final numbers, despite mortgage rates still averaging only 4.92% for 30-year loans. I promise you we will look back on these rates one day and kick ourselves for not buying every house in sight.

Housing starts were announced later Wednesday morning, and that was better news. Starts -- groundbreaking for new construction -- had dropped 10% in October but rebounded 8.9% last month although yes, most of the gain was a comeback in volatile multifamily starts, up 67.3%; the single-family component posted only a mild rebound of 2.1% after a 7.1% fall the month before. The November annualized pace came in almost exactly as expected, but was down 12.4% year over year. Meanwhile the single-family component edged up 2.1 percent after a 7.1 percent fall the month before. Major homebuilders' stocks -- Toll Brothers (TOL), Lennar (LEN), Beazer (BZH), Pulte (PHM) and DR Horton (DHI) responded very positively to the news, reversing a month-long slide:

BEAZER HOMES:

By region, the November rebound in starts was led by 16.4% rebound in the Northeast with welcome gains also seen in the South, up 12.3%. Housing permits, another quiet sign to look for, rebounded 6% in November after a 4.2% fall the previous month to an annual rate of 584,000 thousand units, stronger than hoped for. Lest we get over-excited, let's keep in mind that October's numbers were depressing. But the last two months together indicate that housing is in a recovery, but a slow one. The bad news is that the recovery is slow. The good news is that slow probably means sustainable.

As to petroleum, refineries, already operating at a bare 80% of capacity, cut back output last week to the accompaniment of reduced imports, producing a large 3.7 million barrel draw in crude oil -- almost twice what analysts expected -- to 332.4 million barrels. It was slightly offset by a rise in West Texas crude stocks. Distillate supplies fell 2.9 million barrels, but that was offset as well by a 900,000 barrel build in gasoline.

Crude imports averaged 7.8 million barrels per day last week, down 365,000 barrels from the prior week and well below the four-week average. The demand side remains dull at 9 million barrels per day for gasoline and 3.6 million for distillates. Crude futures rose about $1 in reaction to the Energy Information Administration's report to top $73 a barrel, and West Texas Intermediate Crude went on to gain $1.83 or 2.4%; the US Oil Fund ETF (USO), which tracks it, was up too, with commodities having a fair enough day:

USO Oil ETF:

Also Wednesday, the government said its broadest measure of foreign trade posted a sharp increase in the July-September quarter, signaling higher demand for foreign goods. Economists think the current account deficit will continue to widen next year -- but not reach the record levels seen previously because a weaker dollar will boost U.S. exports and in fact U.S. companies have been seeing export sales rise in recent months.

Electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY) got a downgrade. It beat third-quarter expectations but mainly via a one-off tax settlement; and while same-store sales advanced (Circuit City's exit helped that), the product mix of notebook computers and entry-price TVs killed margins. Best Buy said to expect more of the same -- improved revenue but driven by lower-margin products. Christmas may not be the best time to announce that; the stock plunged yesterday and fell again today. Former resistance now looks strongly like support, so the fall may be over.

BEST BUY:

Health care wasn't a big mover but little pharma Achillion (ACHN) saw its stock jump more than 48% on promising results from an early-stage Hepatitis-C drug, making it the top mover on the Nasdaq.hem the top percentage gainer. Dramatic preliminary results showed what is called "proof of concept" for the drug, ACH-1625. Rather than deal with safety, as is usually the case in early stage trials, the company administered the drug to patients for five days. The next step, which is why the stock soared, will probably be for a big drug company to invest heavily in Achillion.

ACHILLION--small company, huge jump:

In an odd complaint filed Wednesday against Intel (INTC), the world’s largest chip maker, the Federal Trade Commission said it wanted to address anticompetitive abuses not only now and in the past, but in the future. The agency said it wants to prevent Intel from using its dominance in the market for microprocessors, the main control chips in personal computers, to squash competition in video graphics chips. The graphics-chip market is currently divvied up pretty much among giants Intel, Nvidia (NVDA) and Advanced Microdevices (AMD). Interesting. Nvidia's stock has been flying since November and kept running up today.

NVIDIA has a friend in the FTC:

After the close came the news that Bank of America (BAC) has named Brian T. Moynihan as chief executive and president. He assumes the helm on January 1. The morning will tell what the market thinks of the move. The stock was up a fraction during the day's trading.

No matter how indecisive this market may be in the short run, eventually it will move up more or less steadily and reward everyone who has been patiently buying on the dips. I hope some of your buys have been, and will continue to be, dividend-bearing stocks, including ETFs. After all, why shouldn't you get a piece of that profit every quarter? Or better yet, every month? The best dividend stocks will be your friends through fair weather and foul.

And here's a map of countries by alcohol consumption, measured in litres of pure alcohol consumed per capita annually by persons 15(!) or older, according to the most recent data from the World Health Organization. Good lord, what was the WHO thinking by including adolescents in that survey? Anyway, I guess it's nice that the U.S. is up there in the 5-to-10 liters division, but from their vantage point on the floor, Europe and Russia must be laughing at us.

NATIONAL ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION RANKINGS, don't drink and drive:

Thursday's market mover could be the jobless claims report; the natural gas report could have an effect, while leading indicators and the Fed survey of the Philadelphia region should prove an interesting read.

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New Option Plays

Agricultural Chemicals and Investment Brokers

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

If the market can finally push through the top of its trading range stocks should launch into a new leg higher. We're going to be ready with these new candidates.


NEW DIRECTIONAL CALL PLAYS

Mosaic - MOS - close: 59.68 change: +0.58 stop: 57.95

Why We Like It:
A few of the fertilizer-related stocks are trading near their highs for the year and look poised to rally higher. MOS has been trading sideways in the $58-62 zone the last couple of weeks. Its Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $76 target. I am suggesting readers buy small call positions at $62.55. We want to see a breakout to a new high before launching positions. I'm suggesting small positions because stocks in this industry can be very volatile. This should be short-term trade. MOS is due to report earnings on January 5th. We do not want to hold over the report. If triggered at $62.55 our first target is $69.50.

Suggested Options:
I'm suggesting the January calls. If triggered use the January $65 strike. We want to exit before earnings.

BUY CALL JAN 65.00 MOS-AM open interest=17466 current ask $1.35

Annotated Chart:

Entry  on  December xx at $ xx.xx <-- TRIGGER @ 62.55
Change since picked:       + 0.00
Earnings Date            01/05/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        5.8 million  
Listed on  December 16, 2009         


Stifel Financial - SF - close: 57.26 change: +1.25 stop: 54.95

Why We Like It:
SF set a new 2009 closing high on Wednesday. The stock looks like it's breaking out from a four-month trading range, which actually looks like an inverse H&S pattern. With the market poised to bleed higher SF could out perform the rest of the market. I want to see a little more confirmation so I'm suggesting a trigger to buy calls at $58.05. If triggered our first target is $64.50. Our time frame is January expiration. The P&F chart is bullish and points to a $70 target.

Suggested Options:
Earnings are expected in February. I'm suggesting the January calls but traders may want to use April calls instead. My preference is the January $60 strike.

BUY CALL JAN 60.00 SF-AL open interest= 821 current ask $0.60
 

Annotated Chart:

Entry  on  December xx at $ xx.xx <-- TRIGGER @ 58.05
Change since picked:       + 0.00
Earnings Date            02/11/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        207 thousand 
Listed on  December 16, 2009         



In Play Updates and Reviews

Four New Stops and One Target Hit

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

BUCY hit our bullish target. Meanwhile we're updating four stops.


CALL Play Updates

Capella Education - CPLA - close: 76.51 change: -0.28 stop: 74.90 *new*

We have two days left before December options expire. I am suggesting that we exit tomorrow (Thursday) at the closing bell, that's assuming CPLA doesn't hit our target at $78.50 first. We'll raise the stop loss to $74.90.

Picked on  November 24 at $ 72.55
Change since picked:       + 3.96
Earnings Date            02/11/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        126 thousand 
Listed on  November 24, 2009         


EQUINIX Inc. - EQIX - close: 106.37 change: +0.36 stop: 99.75

EQIX hit new highs at $108.14 but pared its gains by the close. I am not suggesting new bullish positions at this time. More conservative traders will want to raise their stops. Our target is $109.50. The plan was to use small position sizes.

Entry  on  December 09 at $103.02
Change since picked:       + 3.35
Earnings Date            02/10/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        501 thousand 
Listed on  December 09, 2009         


F5 Networks - FFIV - close: 50.31 change: -0.71 stop: 49.75 *new*

We need to turn more defensive on FFIV. The stock under performed today with a failed rally at $52.00 and a drop back toward support near $50.00. The stock has created a little head-and-shoulders pattern over the last couple of weeks. If FFIV breaks down under $50.00 again it could portend a correction toward $47.00. I am raising our stop loss to $49.75. I am not suggesting new bullish positions at this time. The plan was to use small positions to limit our risk. Our first target to take profits is at $54.90. Our second target is $57.45.

Entry  on  December 09 at $ 52.08
Change since picked:       - 1.77
Earnings Date            01/20/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        1.2 million  
Listed on  December 09, 2009         


Infosys Tech. - INFY - close: 54.43 change: +1.12 stop: 49.90

INFY has rallied to new 52-week highs and hit $54.99 intraday. More conservative traders may want to take some money off the table right now and/or raise their stop loss. I am not suggesting new positions at this time but a bounce near $52.50-53.00 could be a new entry point. Our first target to take profits is at $55.75. Our second and final target is $59.50. We will plan to exit ahead of the January 12th earnings report.

Entry  on  December 05 at $ 51.88 /gap down entry point
                           /originally listed at $52.46
Change since picked:       + 2.55
Earnings Date            01/12/10 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        1.4 million  
Listed on  December 05, 2009         


General Dynamics - GD - close: 69.45 change: -0.22 stop: 67.45

Traders bought the dip in GD at $68.85. I remain bullish here and would use the intraday bounce as a new entry point to buy calls.

Our first target to take profits in GD is $74.95. FYI: The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $105 target.

Entry  on  December 14 at $ 70.66 (half position)
Change since picked:       - 1.21
Earnings Date            01/27/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        1.6 million  
Listed on  December 14, 2009         


MSC Industrial Direct - MSM - close: 47.13 change: -0.12 stop: 44.90

We are almost out of time and odds are against us for our December position. I would still be tempted to buy March calls on a move over $47.50. However, we will close this play Friday at the close if there is any option premium left.

Picked on  November 17 at $ 46.62
Change since picked:       + 0.51
Earnings Date            01/07/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        513 thousand 
Listed on  November 17, 2009         


Norfolk Southern - NSC - close: 52.86 change: +0.08 stop: 49.75

NSC is still hovering near the top of its trading range. I want to see a new relative high (53.25) or a close over $53.00 before launching new positions. Our first target is now $56.50. Our second and final target is $59.50. Our time frame is several weeks. FYI: The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $65 target.

Picked on  November 21 at $ 51.84 (small positions)/gap higher entry
Change since picked:       + 1.02
Earnings Date            01/27/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        5.4 million  
Listed on  November 21, 2009         


Precision Castparts - PCP - close: 111.15 change: -1.29 stop: 107.25

PCP is seeing a little bit of consolidation with a dip back toward its 10-dma. If that fails look for support in the $110-109 zone. PCP has already hit our first target at $112.45. Our second target is $118.75. The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $131 target.

Picked on  December 01 at $107.35
Change since picked:       + 3.80
                            /1st target hit $112.45 (+4.7%)
Earnings Date            01/20/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        817 thousand 
Listed on  November 28, 2009         


UnitedHealth Group - UNH - close: 32.20 change: +0.88 stop: 27.99 *new*

The rally in healthcare continues and UNH added another 2.8%. Volume continues to surge, which suggests the rally is getting stronger. New stop loss at $27.99.

Our first target is $34.00. Our longer-term target is $36.00. Our time frame is several weeks. If you buy March calls you might want to think about holding over the late January earnings report.

Entry  on  December 10 at $ 30.31 
Change since picked:       + 1.89
Earnings Date            01/21/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        819 thousand 
Listed on  December 10, 2009         


United Tech. - UTX - close: 70.25 change: +0.00 stop: 67.45

UTX hit new 52-week highs at $70.75 but closed unchanged on the session. I'm still bullish with the stock above $70.00. Our first target is $74.75. The Point & Figure chart is bullish with a $95.00 target.

Entry  on  December 15 at $ 70.25
Change since picked:       + 0.00
Earnings Date            01/21/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        4.0 million  
Listed on  December 12, 2009         


Valmont Industries - VMI - close: 81.50 change: -0.06 stop: 78.45

It was a quiet day for VMI with the stock hovering near $82.00 most of the session. Our first target to take profits is at $84.90. Our second target is $88.75. FYI: The most recent data list short interest at 9% of the very small 20.1 million-share float.

Entry  on  December 10 at $ 81.00
Change since picked:       + 0.50
Earnings Date            02/10/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        238 thousand 
Listed on  December 05, 2009         


Vertex Pharma - VRTX - close: 42.51 change: +0.95 stop: 38.90 *new*

VRTX continues to show relative strength. The stock has broken out past its November highs with a 2.2% gain today. I am raising our stop loss to $38.90. Our target to exit is at $44.25. My time frame is several weeks.

Entry  on  December 03 at $ 40.25
Change since picked:       + 2.26
Earnings Date            02/09/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        3.2 million  
Listed on  November 23, 2009         


Weyerhaeuser - WY - close: 43.99 change: +0.88 stop: 40.75

WY gapped open higher for the third day in a row. Shares rolled over under the $45.00 level. I'm still in a wait-and-see mode after Tuesday's big move. Let's hold on another day and just watch WY on Thursday before making any decisions on new bullish positions. No new positions at this time.

Entry  on  December 14 at $ xx.xx 
Change since picked:       + 0.00
Earnings Date            02/05/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        1.6 million  
Listed on  December 14, 2009         


PUT Play Updates

Freeport McMoran - FCX - close: 79.45 change: +1.36 stop: 80.55

Commodity stocks were in rally mode on dollar weakness. Gold was up. Copper and silver were bouncing. Shares of FCX rallied to resistance near $80.00 again and closed with a 1.7% gain. If this commodity rally continues we will get stopped out at $80.55. Given today's performance we should take a more cautious approach to new positions.

Remember, we should consider this an aggressive, higher-risk trade because the dollar, commodities, and shares of FCX can be somewhat volatile. The plan was to use very small positions to limit risk. Our first target is $72.50.

Entry  on  December 12 at $ 76.81 
Change since picked:       + 2.64
Earnings Date            01/26/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =       12.6 million  
Listed on  December 12, 2009         


Goldman Sachs - GS - close: 164.99 change: +2.25 stop: 170.25

We're almost out of time. December options expire in two days. If GS closes above $165 on Friday our suggested option will expire worthless. I'm suggesting more conservative readers start exiting in the $163-162 zone instead of waiting for a dip toward $160. Officially I'm changing our exit target to $160.55.

Picked on  November 25 at $168.75
Change since picked:       - 3.76 
Earnings Date            12/15/09 (unconfirmed, could be in January)
Average Daily Volume =        9.5 million  
Listed on  November 21, 2009         


Strangle & Spread Play 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.)

Apple Inc. - AAPL - close: 195.03 change: +0.86 stop: n/a

Our December strangle is pretty much dead with just two days left. I wouldn't be surprised to see AAPL settle at $195 on Friday. I am not suggesting new strangle positions at this time.

We have an aggressive December strangle and a less aggressive January strangle. The options in the December strangle were the December $210 calls (AJL-LV) and the December $190 puts (APV-XR). Our estimated cost is $3.83. We will try and recoup some capital if either option hits $3.00.

The options in the January strangle were January $220 calls (AJL-LV) and the January $180 puts (APV-XR). Our estimated cost is $5.60. We want to sell if either option hits $10.00 or more.

Picked on  November 30 at $199.91
Change since picked:       - 4.88
Earnings Date            01/21/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =       15.1 million  
Listed on  November 30, 2009         


Goldman Sachs - GS - close: 164.99 change: +2.25 stop: n/a

We have two days left. I am no longer suggesting new strangle positions on the stock.

The options suggested were the December $180 calls (GPY-LP) and the December $160 puts (GPY-XL). Our estimated cost is about $4.61. We may want to sell if either option hits $3.50 or higher just to recoup some capital.

Picked on  November 21 at $171.67 /gap open entry
Change since picked:       - 6.68
Earnings Date            12/15/09 (unconfirmed, could be January)
Average Daily Volume =        9.5 million  
Listed on  November 21, 2009         


Ultra(Long)-S&P500 - SSO - close: 37.94 change: +0.13 stop: n/a

There is no change from my prior comments. This trade is dead and we're just watching the clock.

The options suggested for this strangle were the December $40 calls (SUC-LN) and the December $34 puts (SOJ-XH). Our estimated cost was $1.70.

Picked on  November 11 at $ 37.08
Change since picked:       + 0.86
Earnings Date            --/--/--
Average Daily Volume =         32 million  
Listed on  November 11, 2009         


United Parcel Service - UPS - close: 59.00 change: -0.25 stop: n/a

The lack of movement in UPS this last month has been pretty amazing. Our December strangle looks like it will expire worthless.

December Strangle
The options suggested for this trade were the December $60 calls (UPS-LL) and the December $55 puts (UPS-XK). Our estimated cost is $1.05. At this time we want to sell if either option turns positive again.

January Strangle
The options suggested for the January strangle were the January $60.00 calls (UPS-AL) and the January $55.00 puts (UPS-MK). Our estimated cost was $1.35. I would plan to sell if either option hit $3.50 or more.

Picked on  November 21 at $ 57.99 /gap open entry
Change since picked:       + 1.01 
Earnings Date            02/02/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        4.7 million  
Listed on  November 21, 2009         


CLOSED BULLISH PLAYS

Bucyrus Intl. - BUCY - close: 53.31 change: -0.53 stop: 49.85

Target achieved. BUCY spiked to $55.18 this morning. Our target to exit was $54.90 so the play is closed. If shares can breakout past the top of this trading range near $55.00 we might reconsider new bullish positions.

Chart:
loss.

Entry  on  December 09 at $ 50.72 
Change since picked:       + 4.18 <-- target hit @ 54.90 (+8.2%)
Earnings Date            02/18/10 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        2.8 million  
Listed on  December 01, 2009         


Fedex Corp. - FDX - close: 89.95 change: -1.41 stop: 86.75

FDX hit a new 2009 high at $92.59. Unfortunately shares reversed and FDX ended up producing a bearish engulfing candlestick (reversal) pattern. Our original trade listed the December options, which expire in two days. Given this deadline I'm suggesting an immediate exit.

Chart:

Picked on  December 01 at $ 85.75 
Change since picked:       + 4.20 <-- early exit @ 89.95 (+4.8%)
Earnings Date            12/17/09 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume =        2.6 million  
Listed on  November 30, 2009