Option Investor

Weekly Newsletter, Saturday, 05/14/2005

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Table of Contents

  1. Commentary
  2. Changes in Portfolio
  3. Portfolio Listing
  4. New Plays
  5. Existing Plays
  6. Watch List

Leaps Trader Commentary

A Strong Dose of Ugly

This week was not fun! I cringed each day as oil prices imploded and oil stocks were taken out and shot. The good news is that the current levels represent a great entry point for adding to positions. I have repeatedly suggested adding to positions under $50 and last week's drop took crude back to very near the 200-day average at 47.54. I consider this a very strong entry point. The December contract is holding at $52 and well above its 100-day average at $49.90. This represents confirmation to me that the big money still believes oil will be much higher before year end.

The markets dealt us some blows to oil but we are protected with the insurance puts. I believe the majority of the selling was an effort by hedge funds to raise cash to cover losing positions or withdrawals. The oil inventory levels were only slightly higher and nothing to create this panic selling. The sudden rise in the dollar also helped devalue oil but the end result will be the same. They are not making any more oil and we are burning it at the rate of 85 million barrels per day. We have plenty of time to be right and we are protected with insurance from being wrong.

Our single watch list entry, CHK, was triggered on Friday at $19. That gives us more positions than my $10K budget and I am going to drop JBLU as a non-performer. JBLU did not break down with the market and given the drop in oil it is holding near resistance.

Next week is a tossup for me and I could build a convincing argument for both directions. I still believe we will see Dow 9800 but maybe not next week. We still have strong overhead resistance, declining volume and zero conviction on the upside. Shorts are getting braver and the hedge fund rumor continues to spook the market.

I don't want to add any more positions but I did see another put opportunity I could not resist. I added CCU to the watch list in anticipation of taking profits on OSTK or TOO.

I added several cautionary exits on the insurance puts on oil. If we do get a continued drop I want to take profits on the puts and reduce our costs in the leaps.

Changes in Portfolio

New Plays


Dropped Plays
JBLU $20.66 Jet Blue

New Watch List Plays Triggered
CHK $18.49 Chesapeake Energy

Portfolio Listing & Top Picks

New Plays

Most Recent Plays

CHK - $18.49 Chesapeake Energy ** No Stop **

We were triggered at $19 on Friday morning when CHK fell below its 100-day average. The two days of drops pushed CHK close to the 200-day average at $17.50. CHK has not violated the 200 since July 2002. I added an insurance put given the recent instability in oil prices. Hopefully we will not need it but we got a good price on the LEAP and I consider it money well spent.

Company Info

Chesapeake Energy derives 90% of its revenues from natural gas. They are very aggressive about replacing reserves and will capitalize on the continued increase in prices. Gas prices have soared in the U.S. due to the addition and conversion of electric plants to the cleaner fuel. Several times over the last winter the gas levels supplying those plants dipped to dangerous levels. The demand is increasing faster than supply and the production peak is now estimated to be 2007. Prices are going to continue higher, much higher and Chesapeake is positioned to benefit.

This summer much of northern California will get its electricity from gas due to a drought in the northwestern hydro-electric grid. Generation levels will be below normal and natural gas is the fall back power.

2007 $20 LEAP Call VEC-AD @ $4.00

Insurance put: July $17.50 CHK-SW @ 90 cents

Entry $19.00 (05/13)


Play Updates

Existing Plays

FNM - $53.65 Fannie Mae ** No Stop **

FNM failed at resistance just under $56 and it appears we got a nearly perfect entry at $55 the prior week. We need to see a move under $52 to scare the rest of the buyers back to the sidelines.

Company Info

Stronger jobs would mean more home loans for FNM but also higher rates from the Fed. That is not the problem we fear. Regulators are increasing their attack on the entity and Greenspan reiterated his warning on May-5th. He wants Congress to limit the multibillion-dollar holdings of FNM/FRE and warned again that any major problem with either could severely damage the U.S. markets. He favors allowing them to only hold the minimum level of mortgages as required by their charter. This would be a drastic cutback from current levels.

Fannie Mae has been suffering from numerous ailments including accounting problems. The regulator for FNM has asked for more power to dig deeper. We suspect any deeper digging could turn up some more skeletons.

2007 $50 LEAP Put VFN-MJ @ $5.40

Insurance Call
June $55 FNM-FK @ $2.00

Entry $55 (5/04)

APC - $69.14 Anadarko Petroleum ** No Stop **

The -$4 drop in two days was frustrating but APC is still well over the 200-day average. This has been strong support since 2003. We did get a great entry point at $70.50 the prior week so a drop to $69 is not the end of the world.

Company Info

Anadarko has 2.37 billion barrels of proven reserves. They are the largest independent in a field of giants. Buying reserves is cheaper than finding them.

Anadarko has just completed a restructuring program and raised estimates on May-2nd. They expect output to rise +5% in 2005 and costs to be below industry trends. S&P is estimating $8.55 for earnings in 2005 and a price target of $85.

2007 $75 LEAP Call OCP-AO @ $10.10

Insurance Put
June $65 APC-RM @ $0.85

Entry $70.50 (5/04)

COP - $98.41 Conoco Phillips ** No Stop **

COP was knocked for a -$8 loss in only two days. Sounds really bad but in reality it is still above our $98 entry point. We gave back the gains but continue to have a strong position. The 100-day average is 100.26 and $98 should be temporary support. If this breaks the next support would be the 200-day at $91. If we did get a continued drop I would exit the put at $92.

Close the put insurance with a trade at $92.

Company Info

COP reported earnings of $4.10 that rose +80% over the year-ago period. Analysts had only expected $3.29. They said unplanned down time at refineries kept them from doing even better. They also said they were going to spend $3 billion between 2006-2010 to increase their ability to handle the cheaper sour crude.

COP has been aggressively purchasing assets around the globe and especially in Russia. Putin has said repeatedly that COP assets and agreements are not at risk and that COP is a partner with Russia in producing their oil.

2007 $100 LEAP Call OJP-AT @ $15.77

Insurance put:
June $100 COP-RT currently $2.15

Buy the put insurance only if you feel you need it. We are far enough away from the entry point that I feel relatively safe.

Entry (4/18 $98.00)

OXY - $66.24 Occidental Petroleum ** No Stop **

OXY had been holding away from its averages and developing an upward bias like COP. The drop in oil knocked them back to their 100-day at $66 and it held on the first test. Next support would be the 200-day at $60.50.

Close the insurance put with a touch of $60.

Company Info

OXY declared a quarterly dividend of 31 cents in early May and appointed former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, to their board. Earnings in 2004 were a record $2.6B and as the CEO pointed out on Friday it was more than a billion more than they earned in 2000. Not a bad growth record. Q1 earnings were up +74% over Q1-2004.

OXY reported earnings on April 26th of $2.16 per share compared to estimates of $1.99. OXY said it had higher than expected production, strong pricing and record chemical sales. Still it failed to produce the blowout earnings of COP due to hedging.

OXY reported an agreement with Oman to invest $2B in the Mukhaizna oil field and upgrade production from 10,000 bbls per day to 150,000 per day. I would happily invest $2B once to get $3B return per year. Good job!

OXY is the 239th largest company in the world and an oil giant.
Occidental's principal activities are to explore for, develop, produce and market crude oil and natural gas. The operations are carried out through two segments: Oil and Gas and Chemical. The Oil and Gas segment develops, explores for, produces and markets crude oil and natural gas. The Chemical segment manufactures and markets basic chemicals. The company operates primarily in the United States, Qatar, Yemen, Colombia, Oman, Pakistan, Canada, Russia, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates.

2007 $70 LEAP Call VXY-AN @ $10.00

Insurance Put:
June $65.00 OXY-RM currently $1.40

Entry $68.00 (4/19)

XOM - $53.77 Exxon Mobil ** No Stop **

XOM fell back to just over its 200-day average at $52.50 as it took some serious heat from the sellers. Being the largest oil company with the most shares outstanding it is a major fund holding. The dip to the 200-day should prompt some of those funds to increase positions. This was the first break of the 100-day average since Nov-2003. A break of the 200-day would find even stronger support in the $50-$52 range.

Close the put insurance with a touch of $51.

Company Info

XOM reported a +44% jump in earnings last week but missed analyst estimates. After items XOM earned $1.15 and analysts were expecting $1.20. XOM hedged to capture high oil prices and prices continued to move higher. They also saw a drop in production as mature fields continued to decline. XOM said it will spend $15-$16 billion in capex in 2005 in an effort to discover/produce more oil. They also said they were going to buy back $3.5 billion in stock in the current quarter. Their record profits of $7.86 billion for the quarter give them plenty of cash for anything they desire. Maybe a couple acquisitions would help that sagging production.

XOM has larger reserves and more cash than any other oil company. They have to find something to do with their $30 billion and it will either be returned to the shareholders or used to buy more reserves.

XOM is the largest oil company in the world and while it has the largest reserves it also has the highest overhead cost.

2007 $60 LEAP Call ODU-AL @ $6.70

Insurance Put:
July $55 Put XOM-SK @ $1.20

Entry $58.00 (4/19)

XLE - $38.81 Energy SPDR ** No Stop **

The XLE broke support at the 100-day at $40 and retreated back to our entry point. The $39 insurance put is now in the money and limiting our risk. Strong support at the 200-day at $37 but $36 is possible.

Close the put insurance with a touch of $36.

Company Info

The XLE SPDR is composed of 27 energy stocks and represents about 8% of the SPX. This is the 8% that helped push the SPX to the current levels with the rise in oil over the last year. In fact the XLE has far exceeded the SPX in performance over the past year.

The XLE functions like an energy index and should rebound or bottom before oil stocks in general. Once traders start nibbling at the individual stocks in the index we will get our first glimpse of a rebound in the making.

I chose a leap close to the money because there was no material price difference for the Leaps $2-3 away. Insurance is cheap and I expect this to be a very long-term play.

BUY 2007 $40 LEAP Call ORJ-AN @ $5.60

Insurance put:
Buy June $39 Put XLE-RM @ $1.35

Entry $39.75 (4/18)

VLO - $61.84 Valero Energy ** No Stop **

VLO finally broke the horizontal support at $65 and reached the 100-day at $62.50. It clung to that level for two days and only barely gave up ground at Friday's close. Even with the acquisition news VLO has been a strong performer. We need to expect some further profit taking if oil continues to decline.

Close the put insurance on a touch of $51.

Company Info

VLO has been weak since the announcement it was buying Premcor. This should be a very good deal for them and the combined companies will control a large portion of the refinery business. Think of it as a buying opportunity.

Valero is the largest independent refiner in the U.S. and one that has made the switch to the higher profit margins of sour crude. Oil prices are generally quoted using the West Texas Light Sweet price. The sour crude sells for significantly less and will become the dominant variety as oil supplies dwindle. Sour crude has been running about $10 a bbl under sweet crude. Valero is seeing even bigger discounts from less desirable grades from Mexico and Alaska. It costs more to process the sour crude and fewer refineries can handle it. This forces the price of that sour crude lower. Finished gasoline is priced basically on the price of a barrel of sweet crude. This means the same gas Valero produces from cheaper sour crude sells for the same price as the gas produced from sweet crude. This enables Valero to capture a significant profit margin. They had a record year in 2004 due in part to their ability to process the cheaper grade of oil. The company has already said 2005 profits will be higher in 2005 even if margins narrow for others.

Company website: http://www.valero.com/About+Valero/

Valero reported earnings on April 21st of $1.92 that more than doubled the prior year of $.91 cents. VLO fell slightly in trading because analysts had estimates of $1.97. Shucks, they missed estimates by a nickel but more than doubled last year. Let's sell them. Duh! They rebounded as eager traders rushed into the gap and they closed at $74.86 on Friday, more than $5 above the earnings dip at $69.55.

2007 $75 LEAP Call VHB-AO @ $14.10

Insurance put:
June $60.00 VLO-RL currently $2.05

Entry $68.00 (4/15)

CVX - $51.28 Chevron Texaco ** No stop **

Chevron had been so beaten down after the Unocal announcement that it barely dipped on the oil drop last week. It fell below its averages on the Unocal announcement but has found strong support at $51. We are in the money on the insurance put so further risk is limited. An exit of the put at $48 should give us a free Leap.

Close the put insurance with a touch of $48.

Company Info

Chevron spiked to $54.50 on May 6th on news of an oil find in Utah by Wolverine where Chevron has extensive leases. It was also announced that Chevron had won a portion of the 15 blocs up for bid in Libya.

Chevron posted earnings that disappointed the street due to several unplanned outages at various refineries. CVX saw refining profits fall -36% but the condition is expected to be temporary. The stock is also weak due to uncertainties about the Unocal acquisition.

Chevron announced in early April that it was purchasing Unocal for $18 billion in cash and stock and both CVX and UCL dropped sharply. This was not a surprise for Chevron to make the purchase but the timing caught everyone off guard.

In theory everyone was waiting for oil to drop in Q2 and allow the next round of acquisitions to be made at a more reasonable value. Instead Chevron did a take under on Unocal by offering less than the current share price. It is a good deal if you can pull it off.

Chevron beat out several other firms including China's CNOOC who had been a hot pursuer but had to drop out at the last minute after it could not complete the final terms in time.

Chevron will likely sell off about $3 billion in non-core assets once the deal is consummated. The main asset Chevron wanted was the 1.7 billion barrels of proven reserves and tens of thousands of acres of additional leases still to be explored. Chevrons current average cost of produced crude is $27. After selling the non-core assets they will end up with the Unocal proven reserves at about $9 a bbl plus billions in other assets like gas fields, power plants and joint ventures around the world. This was a very sweet deal for Chevron.

It may take some time for the cloud to lift from the stock price but the next jump in oil prices should do wonders. Chevron dropped back to its 100-day average at $55.50 on the news and this should be very strong support. There is not expected to be any hurdles to getting the deal approved as most of the assets are either out of the country or will be divested as part of the deal.

The Unocal leap was actually triggered when the price hit $59 on the announcement. With UCL trading at $58.74 at Friday's close there would not have been any material movement. Because any Unocal leap will eventually end up being a Chevron leap I am electing to use the previously recommended Chevron leap as the actual position. I am using Friday's close for the entry price.

2007 $60.00 LEAP Call VCH-AL @ $5.60
2007 $57.50 LEAP Call VCH-AY @ $6.70
Reference: UCL 2007 $60 LEAP Call VCL-AL @$6.60

Insurance Put:
June $55 Put CVX-RK @ $1.65

Entry $56.67 (04/07)

JBLU - $20.66 Jet Blue ** DROPPED **

JBLU refuses to fall but it also refuses to move higher. I am dropping it as a sector survivor. With negative news about Delta, United and Continental almost daily we are seeing positive stories about LUV and JBLU. The end result of high oil will eventually be the same but I had to make room for CHK and JBLU was the least damaging with a -55 cent loss.

JBLU spiked to resistance when it reported earnings that were less than half the same period last year but were still slightly ahead of reduced estimates. JBLU reported +6 cents, +3 cents ahead of estimates but well below the +14 cents for the same quarter last year. Revenue rose from #289 million to $374 million. The main reason for the profit drop was higher fuel prices. They spent $86.6 million for fuel in the last quarter compared to only $49 million for the same period in 2004.

This is a long-term play as airlines will eventually be hit hardest by rising oil prices. It is strictly a play on oil and the change in environment for the airlines. The Q2 demand drop was expected to provide a drop in oil and a rise in airline prices. It happened almost exactly as expected. Now we sit and wait for the reversal.

2007 $20.00 LEAP Put VYO-MD @ 4.60, exit $3.90, -0.70

Insurance Call: June $22.50 JCQ-FX @ .85, exit 1.00, +0.15

Entry $19.50 (4/05)

TOO - $20.45 TOO Inc ** Stop Loss $22.50 **

Break out the parachutes! TOO broke support at the 200-day average at $22.60 and there is nothing to slow the drop until the $15-$16 level. I am placing a profit stop at $17, which should give us a double.

** Profit stop: Exit put with a touch of $17. **

Company Info

Too, Inc. is a specialty retailer that sells apparel, underwear, sleepwear, swimwear, lifestyle and personal care products for young girls. Recently some negative news has begun to surface from brokers and analysts. It appears TOO maybe having some problems and is losing market share. In order to reclaim that share it is offering what some brokers describe as absurd incentives to attract buyers.

Merrill lynch analyst Mark Friedman said several weeks ago that weak sales were a growing concern and we could see an earnings miss for Q1. He lowered same store sales growth estimates to an anemic +3%. He also cautioned that their current sales promotion may be TOO much of a good thing. They call it the TOO Bucks promotion. If you buy $50 of merchandise they will give you TWO $25 coupons to use at a later date. Previously they had offered the same promotion with only one $25 certificate. Friedman feels that giving away $50 in certificates for every $50 sale could be an act of desperation and definitely one that will impact profits. If the promotion catches fire and becomes a strong success then Q2 should suffer greatly as all those certificates come back to haunt them.

The chart clearly shows a loss of momentum and a potential for a sharp drop if an earnings miss occurs. With gas prices putting the squeeze on consumers the retail sector is not a promising place to be long.

TOO does not have LEAPs so I am recommending the November options.

BUY NOV $22.50 PUT TOO-WX @ $2.05

No insurance call.

Entry $24.22 (4/10)

GM - $30.91 General Motors ** Stop $33.50 **

GM is struggling to hold the high ground but the number of attackers is growing. After the bell on Friday we saw a downgrade by Prudential and a warning by Merrill that Moodys would probably cut GM debt to junk very soon. S&P did that last week and Fitch is expected to follow suit. On Thursday Ford debt was cut to a Baa3 by Moody's, one notch above junk. Since Ford is a better credit than GM it is widely expected to slash GM as early as Monday. Despite the Captain Kirk bounce GM is only about $1.50 above our entry point at $29.35. This play is far from over.

Company Info

GM got a huge pop from the obviously self-serving Kirk Kerkorian tender for 28 million shares at $31. GM was trading at $27.50 when he announced the tender. What idiot would tender for $31 when he could buy all he wanted at $27? An idiot who already owned 22 million shares and wanted to make a cool $4 bucks on the pop. Maybe Kirk was sly like a fox rather than dumb like a beginner trader. Now he can unload his shares and cancel his tender for a nice profit.

I was out of the office when the spike to $33 occurred or I would have jumped on the chance to sell the call for a $3 profit. I hope a few readers did not let that opportunity pass them by.

For those who believe as I do that GM with its $200 billion in debt and growing will eventually break $25 to the downside I would suggest doubling up at this level. Ironically the put is worth more today than when we entered at a lower level back in April.

My long-term view is very bearish on the automakers due to the potential for $100 dollar oil over the next year or so. If $2.50 gas is bad for business $5.00 gas will be a death knell for gas-guzzlers.

With earnings approaching there is a good possibility GM will reveal some more negative details about its profits and its pension/healthcare problems.

I am using the 2007 leap puts because I think this will be a long term problem for GM and the other car makers as well. We could easily see prices in the teens before this put expires.

2007 $30 PUT VGN-MF @ $7.20

Insurance Call
May $30 Call GM-EF @ $1.50, exit 5/08 $1.25, -0.25

Entry $29.35 (4/04)

CAL - $12.24 Continental Airlines ** Stop $13.50 **

CAL failed at $13 resistance and appears to have started another down cycle. The drop in oil helped the other airlines but CAL is trading more on the Delta news that they did not have enough cash to finish the year. Maintain the stop and let's hope for a lower low.

Company Info

CAL rose +1.50 on May-3rd after announcing that passenger traffic increased +6.6% over the same period last year. I doubt this has translated into higher profits given the cost of fuel but it did translate to another stall at $13.00.

The airline industry as we know it is doomed. It is only a matter of time before it becomes too expensive to fly due to dwindling oil reserves and the tens of thousands of current routes will be cut in half and possibly half again. There is no substitute for oil to keep the planes in the air and that means costs will continue to skyrocket. Those airlines with defined benefit pension plans will be stuck with shrinking routes, more layoffs, higher costs and lower profits. In the not too distant future air travel for fun will be a fond memory and heading off to grandma's for the weekend or to Vail for skiing will simply be too expensive to justify.

Business travelers will be the majority of the fares and the high cost of those fares will restrict them to only the absolutely necessary trips.

I am very bearish on the future of the airlines and it is only a matter of time until the rest of the world catches on to the coming reality.

2007 $10.00 LEAP Put OVJ-MB @ $3.10

No insurance call due to the low price on the Leap.
A rise to our stop at $14.50 would generate about a
$1 loss in the leap and that is less than an insurance
call would cost today.

Entry $12.00 (03/31)

OSTK $35.49 Overstock.com ** Stop loss $39.00 **

OSTK filed a very rosy 10K on Thursday that read like an investment prospectus. You would have thought they hung the moon. The stock jumped to a two week high at $37 before cooling. No change here in my outlook and I expect an identical implosion like we got in TOO before long. Exit on a touch of $31.

**** PROFIT TARGET $31.00 (NEW PRICE) ****

Company Info

OSTK imploded on April-22nd after reporting a loss that nearly doubled the same period last year. OSTK reported a loss of -21 cents when analysts were expecting a loss of -12 cents. Expenses were skyrocketing and red ink showing everywhere.

Overstock.com is poised to repeat the Amazon story. They rallied to the excess peaks on the story and promise of the future and are now finding it difficult to follow through on that promise.

For a complete and lengthy explanation of this play please refer back to the April 3rd edition of the LEAP newsletter.

I believe Overstock.com will return to its $20 roots and with earnings just ahead we could easily have some negative surprises. Unfortunately they don't have leaps but we can still play with September puts. I realize many readers may not have the same incentive to short OSTK that I do and I understand. However, looking at a chart should suggest to you that others have found them lacking as well.

September $40 Put QKT-UH @ $5.70

No insurance call due to prices out of range.
Use a stop at $39 instead.

Entry $42.60 (04/04)


Leaps Trader Watch List

XMSR and SIRI have captured the hearts and minds of the investing listener with 100 channels of clear programming. The Ipod and its clones have captured the younger generation and conventional radio is dying. I read an article last week that said CCU, despite its size and diversity, was only growing at a +3% rate and that was in danger. The U.S. has clearly embraced the satellite radio craze and with almost all new cars offering satellite radio as an option it is only a matter of time before Clear Channel begins to shrink rather than grow.

The stock has traded in a range since last September from $30-$35. It appears that range is about to break. While I would like to see one more bounce to something in the $32.50 range I think a breakdown is imminent. I added it to the watch list this week.

I can't afford to add a bunch of new targets given the volatility of the market and the calendar period ahead. We have a good mix of calls/puts and until we take profits on some I am going to refrain from any new targets.

I personally think CME is about to crater big time given the various exchange combinations and new offerings being discussed. I would target something in the $120-150 range but the LEAPS are far too expensive. If you have a big budget you might try some in the money puts rather than leaps.

ADSK is taking off again. We exited that play as a non performer back at $30 and it is pressing $36. I still like the company and I believe the rally will continue but summer is not kind to tech stocks. Try to enter on a pullback.

TIVO is ripe for a takeover. It can't seem to get over $6.50 but is holding over $5. Market share is growing but so is competition. I have heard numbers mentioned in the $10 to $12 range given their brand. You could probably buy some November $5 calls for a buck. Consider it a lottery play.

EBAY is starting to show some life after putting in a bottom at $31. Unfortunately it is considered a tech stock and I think we stand a good chance of another dip. I am going to add it with a breakdown target only and not expect to be triggered until summer.

If you see any obvious LEAP plays that could work through the summer please email them to Jim at Option Investor and I will post them for everyone to see.

Dropped Entries


New Watch List Entries
EBAY $35.00 Ebay, Inc.
CCU $29.93 Clear Channel Communications

Current Watch List

CCU - $29.93 Clear Channel Communications

** Breakdown Target $28.00 **
** Breakout Target $32.50 **

Radio is changing with the advent of satellite and conventional AM/FM is fighting an uphill battle.

Breakdown Target
BUY 2007 $25 LEAP PUT VYU-ME currently $1.80

Breakout Target
Buy 2007 $30 LEAP PUT VYU-MF currently $3.70

No insurance call - Stop at $35.00


EBAY - $35.05 EBAY Inc

** Breakdown Target $32.00 **
** Breakout Target - None **

EBAY has finally started finding a bid and $31 appears to be a bottom. If we get another dip over the summer I would be happy with an entry at $32. It appears investors have forgotten that Meg Wittman considered leaving to go to Disney.

Breakdown Target
BUY 2007 $35 LEAP CALL OYI-AU currently $6.60

Insurance put - OCT $30 PUT XBA-VF currently $1.40


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