Table of Contents
Leaps Trader Commentary
Thanks to Keene for covering for me over the last two weeks and I really appreciate the strong rebound in oil he produced. Three weeks ago I left him with oil hovering just under $50 and threatening to tag the 200-day average at $47. Thanks to his remarkable efforts oil closed over $55 and bullish conditions are breaking out all over in the oil patch. Keene, I don't know how you managed to do it but we all thank you. Next time the portfolio is in trouble I know who to turn to.
Oil is the main topic today given the +$7 rebound and the various news stories impacting price. In no particular order I will try to list them all.
It was reported on Friday that jet fuel consumption hit a new record for the month/qtr and projections were for even higher consumption ahead.
We are now into the vacation driving season and gasoline consumption is also climbing despite prices over $2 a gallon. In Italy last week diesel was selling at roughly $6 per gallon after making the liter/euro conversion. It seems much of the world has already suffered substantially from the various price factors yet the U.S. as the largest consumer has yet to really feel the pain.
Two refineries each producing 500,000 bbls of gasoline per day suffered outages late in the week right at the time the inventory levels were beginning to slip.
Heating oil levels fell substantially with heating oil trading higher than gasoline on the news. A cooler than normal spring produced some late season buying after many refineries had made the switch to gasoline.
Saudi's King Fahd was said to be seriously ill but late news claims he is responding to treatment. Worries of political unrest should he die helped push prices higher.
Frontline, an oil tanker company, said shipments from OPEC nations were slowing as three OPEC nations saw production fall below their quotas due to failing equipment and declining fields.
Venezuela called for OPEC to cut production even further to push oil prices higher. President Hugo Chavez is at war with the major oil companies producing the very heavy sludge his country calls oil. Chavez is no friend to the U.S. and wants to do anything that will cause us price pain. He currently claims the major oil companies owe an additional $1 billion in new royalty payments for alleged violations of their contracts. He has vowed not to renew any contracts until companies agree to the new royalty schedule. It is not surprising that Venezuela is one of the countries falling behind in their OPEC production quotas. Why should the major bother to produce oil for Venezuela if all their profits will be seized by "new" taxes after the fact. Currently Kuwait, Saudi and Iran are tasked with making up the production shortfalls.
The director of the U.S. Energy Information Association, John Cook, said on Friday that new record prices are ahead and our average price for the year could be over $60. He claimed we will quickly burn through current inventory and new production is not coming online as quickly as hoped. He said the lows for the year are already behind us.
Russia said production for 2005-2006 would only increase by +3% compared to +11% over the last two years. Problems include declining fields, failing equipment and the lack of capital to explore and produce from new fields. Putin is feeling the results from the Yukos debacle. Western oil companies with the exception of COP do not want to play in his backyard. They are afraid their expensive toys will be confiscated like those belonging to Yukos.
The University of Colorado weather research staff predicted a much stronger than normal hurricane season with 8-15 hurricanes in the gulf and Caribbean. Last year hurricanes removed 40 million bbls from production and damaged numerous facilities. A stronger season this year could impact fragile inventories heading into heating oil season in the fall.
China halted exports of diesel due to rising internal demand. China's oil imports were said to be rising after several months of decline over last years record rate of increase.
On Sunday there will be a movie on TV called Oil Storm. This is a docudrama suggesting what would happen given several very plausible events. Oil prices could rise to $150 a bbl according to the film if a hurricane hit Port Fourchon LA crippling production in the gulf. The nation turns to Saudi for help but terrorists chose that time to cripple output given the emergency demand. (check out Fox for times in your area)
I took the extra time and space to bring everyone current on the oil outlook since most of our current portfolio is oil stocks. If we do see the markets move higher our oil stocks should move with them. It the markets begin to retrace into the summer on a failing economy then oil stocks should gain even more favor as investors look for more of a sure thing. Most oil stocks are still valued based on $28-$30 oil and there is little or no chance we will ever return to that level.
Given the rise in the markets to strong resistance at 10550/2100/1205 I am
seriously against adding any new long plays. I am comfortable not adding any new
positions unless something spectacular pops up. I know from past experience
the summer months produce many of the worst trades because traders are
scrambling to find something worth trading when there is not a clearly defined
trend. Given the dead stop at 10550 on the Dow I am going to dabble in the DJX
puts once again. It will give us something to do while we wait for the Intel
update and Greenspan testimony on Thursday.
Changes in Portfolio
Portfolio Listing & Top Picks
Most Recent Plays
new plays today
CHK - $20.97 Chesapeake Energy ** No Stop **
CHK rallied with the sector to trade over $21 and short-term resistance. This is our low budget energy play and the next real resistance level is in the $23-$24 range.
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)
FNM - $58.72 Fannie Mae ** Stop $61.50 **
Low rates helped send FNM to trade over $61 and would have been a good level to sell our $55 call to offset the put. The call rose to trade at $6.30 and well over our $2.00 cost. Currently the call has declined to $3.60 due to the short time remaining to June expiration. I am recommending we close it on Monday and set a stop on our FMN put at FNM $61.50. When I left for vacation FNM was trading just over $53 and I never expected a nearly +8 jump.
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
Entry $55 (5/04)
APC - $76.09 Anadarko Petroleum ** No Stop **
APC has rebounded strongly from its 200-day average at $67 and is currently holding over $76. Any further rise in oil prices should help take out the old highs at $82. The insurance put will expire in June and is currently worthless at $65. This is the kind of problem we wish for.
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
Entry $70.50 (5/04)
COP - $55.02 Conoco Phillips ** No Stop **
COP split 2:1 on June-2nd and is trading very near its all time highs at $114/$57. Our entry at $98/$49 was very near the lows for the year. The June insurance put at $100/$50 is worthless but remains our insurance against a catastrophe. Once these stocks start making new highs it will be a race to the clouds.
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.
2:1 Split on June 2nd gave us 2 of each.
(2) 2007 $50 LEAP Call OJP-AJ @ $7.88
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 $49.00)
OXY - $75.42 Occidental Petroleum ** No Stop **
OXY broke out to a new high last week and the first of its peers to do so. This is a very positive sign and one that I hope we see a lot more in the future. The June $65 put is now worthless but I doubt anyone cares since OXY is up nearly +$10 since our entry.
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.
2007 $70 LEAP Call VXY-AN @ $10.00
Entry $68.00 (4/19)
XOM - $57.50 Exxon Mobil ** No Stop **
XOM is the laggard of the bunch and is struggling at resistance at $58. XOM has billions of shares to go with its 21 billion bbls of reserves and it can be a slow mover due to the volume of shares that must trade. Once oil breaks out again it will catch up.
XOM reported a +44% jump in earnings 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
Entry $58.00 (4/19)
XLE - $42.61 Energy SPDR ** No Stop **
XLE broke its downtrend resistance and has rebounded +4 off its May lows. $45 is the real test as the all time high and not far away.
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
Entry $39.75 (4/18)
VLO - $71.85 Valero Energy ** No Stop **
VLO - $71.85 Valero Energy ** No Stop **
VLO has rebounded back above the support at $65 and should continue higher. VLO has shaken off the Premcor acquisition news and is moving back into range of its highs at $80.
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
Entry $68.00 (4/15)
CVX - $55.06 Chevron Texaco ** No stop **
CVX is fighting resistance at $55 and the 100-day average. The Unocal acquisition is still weighing on the stock but we are making progress. We are almost back to where we entered before the Unocal acquisition news knocked it back to $50.
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
Entry $56.67 (04/07)
TOO - $21.17 TOO Inc ** CLOSED **
The earnings warning on the 18th sent TOO to $18.65 and in retrospect it would have been a good exit point. TOO struggled for nearly two weeks and looked like it was about to roll over once again. On June 1st TOO spiked sharply on no news to $21 and is showing more volume and a decidedly bullish trend change. While I think TOO will eventually crater at downtrend resistance I do not want to fight the uphill trend. Hopefully readers took a quick exit on the plunge towards $18. Now +$3 higher I am going to bite the bullet and exit for a small profit.
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, 06/06 exit 2.65
No insurance call.
Entry $24.22 (4/10)
GM - $30.93 General Motors ** Stop $33.80 **
OK Kirk, you can buy it now. GM has slipped back under the Kirk Kerkorian $31 tender and appears about ready to break support. Keene did us a big favor moving that stop to $33.80 and we are in great shape for Kirk to cancel his tender. It should not take him long to get his 28 million shares with the price below the offer.
GM is considering selling its GMAC division to raise cash for its struggling auto works. Unfortunately GMAC supplied more than 50% of GM's profit in recent quarters an a sale would only garner them something in the $1.5B range. Selling an asset that generates 50% of your profits sounds like an act of desperation to me.
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
Entry $29.35 (4/04)
CAL - $14.52 Continental Airlines ** Stopped $13.50 **
The sudden transport rally and news that seat miles were rising sent airlines soaring last week. CAL hit our stop at $13.50 and we are done.
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.
Entry $12.00 (03/31)
Leaps Trader Watch List
The Dow appears to have stalled at 10550 once again and with Greenspan likely to eject Fisher's comments from the game the outlook will revert to a 4% Fed rate and more hikes to come. With weakness growing in the economy I can't help but believe that we will eventually get a summer swoon.
I added a DJX put position just in case. This is cheap thrills in a calendar period where no real opportunities exist.
I also raised the entry point on EBAY just in case we do get that drop.
I am watching the homebuilders and the HMO stocks like WLP and AET for signs of weakness. They are breaking out again and I would love to see one more dip into summer for some new entries. The homebuilders are on fire as well with rates falling through the floor. Once Greenspan reintroduces the fear factor into rates I am hoping to buy those on a pullback as well.
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.
Current Watch List
DJX - $104.61 Dow Puts
EBAY - $38.30 Ebay Inc
CCU - $29.73 Clear Channel Communications
DJX - $104.61 Dow Puts
** Breakdown Target $104.00 **
No insurance call - Stop at $106.50
CCU - $29.72 Clear Channel Communications
** Breakdown Target $28.00 **
Radio is changing with the advent of satellite and conventional AM/FM is fighting an uphill battle.
No insurance call - Stop at $35.00
EBAY - $37.79 EBAY Inc
** Breakdown Target $34.00 **
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 $34. It appears investors have forgotten that Meg Wittman considered leaving to go to Disney.
Insurance put -
OCT $30 PUT XBA-VF currently $1.40
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