Editor's Note:
It was a volatile week for stocks. Traders were still in a buy-the-dip mood on Friday and the afternoon rebound pushed the major indices back into positive territory for the session.

CBI has been removed. Both TSS and MRO hit our entry triggers on Friday.


Current Portfolio:


BULLISH Play Updates

ConAgra Foods, Inc. - CAG - close: 45.25 change: +0.81

Stop Loss: 43.25
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: -0.2%
Entry on August 10 at $45.35
Listed on July 30, 2015
Time Frame: Exit PRIOR to earnings on September 22nd,
Average Daily Volume = 3.3 million
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: CAG is looking a lot healthier after Friday's +1.8% gain. Shares look poised to breakout past resistance at the $45.50 level. I would wait for a rally past $45.60 before launching new positions.

Trade Description: July 30, 2015:
Two years ago CAG spent $5 billion to buy private-label food maker Ralcorp. At the time, CAG called it a "transformational" deal. Unfortunately their private-label business has been nothing but a money pit.

CAG is in the consumer goods sector. According to the company, "ConAgra Foods, Inc., (CAG), is one of North America's leading food companies, with brands in 99 percent of America’s households. Consumers find Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Slim Jim, Snack Pack and many other ConAgra Foods brands in grocery, convenience, mass merchandise and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying frozen potato and sweet potato products as well as other vegetable, spice and grain products to a variety of well-known restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers."

In spite of CAG's troubles with its private-label business the stock was trading at multi-year highs in mid June this year. Then on June 19th the stock soared more than +10%. Shares were already flirting with its all-time highs from the late 1990s in the $38-39 area. They vaulted higher when activist hedge fund JANA Partners announced they had amassed a 7.2% stake in CAG. JANA argued that CAG was undervalued and not doing enough to build shareholder value.

It would appear that CAG's management has embraced JANA's involvement and direction. They have already appointed two of JANA's nominees to the Board of Directors. When CAG reported its Q4 earnings on June 30th they announced they would exit the private-label business.

The private-label business, Ralcorp, makes stuff like cereal, pasta, crackers, jams, jellies, syrups, and frozen waffles. They currently account for about 25% of CAG's sales but they're also the only business segment that lost money last quarter.

Multiple companies, including TreeHouse Foods (THS) and Post Holdings (POST), are said to be bidding for the private-label business. Estimates suggest it could sell for $3.5 billion. That's a big drop from the $5 billion price tag CAG paid.

Shares of CAG saw a two-week correction from its early July highs but traders have started to buy the stock again and recently broke the short-term trend of lower highs. We suspect this activist-investor fueled rally in CAG has further to run. Often activist investors urge companies to break up to unlock shareholder value or push for a company to sell itself. We'll have to see what the next move is. Today's high was $44.51. We are suggesting a trigger to launch bullish positions at $45.25.

- Suggested Positions -

Long CAG stock @ $45.35

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long SEP $45 CALL (CAG150918C45) entry $1.35

08/10/15 triggered on gap higher at $45.35, suggested entry was $45.25
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:


The Hartford Financial Services Group - HIG - close: 49.38 chg: +0.56

Stop Loss: 47.45
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: +2.1%
Entry on August 10 at $48.35
Listed on August 03, 2015
Time Frame: Exit PRIOR to September option expiration
Average Daily Volume = 3.0 million
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: Speculation that HIG was a potential takeover target kept the rally going on Friday. Shares gained another +1.1% to set a new multi-year closing high.

I would not chase it here. We are moving our stop loss to $47.45.

Trade Description: August 3, 2015:
HIG had been hovering near multi-year highs from March through June this year. Then in July the stock began to accelerate higher. The catalyst was merger and acquisition news in its industry.

On July 1st ACE Limited (ACE) announced it would buy Chubb Corp. (CB) for $28.3 billion. This lit a fire under the property and casualty insurance stocks and HIG surged to new highs for the year.

If you're familiar with HIG they are in the financial sector. According to the company, "With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford (HIG) is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. The company is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity."

The last couple of earnings reports for HIG have been mixed. They have been beating Wall Street's bottom line estimate but have missed the revenue numbers. Their most recent report was July 27th. Analysts were expecting a profit of $0.77 per share. HIG crushed the number with a profit of $0.91 per share. That is a +193% improvement from the $0.31 profit a year ago. Revenues were up +1.5% to $4.68 billion.

In addition to beating the estimate HIG raised its dividend and boosted its stock buyback program by an additional $1.6 billion. The current repurchase program stands at $2 billion through December 31, 2016.

Shares have garnered a couple of price target upgrades since its earnings report. The new targets are $53 and $55. There has been more chatter and speculation that HIG is a potential takeover target, which is probably why shares are outperforming its peers. The S&P SPDR Insurance ETF is up +7.8% year to date while HIG is up +15.6%.

Tonight we are suggesting small bullish positions if HIG can trade at $48.35 or higher.

*small positions to limit risk* - Suggested Positions -

Long HIG stock @ $48.35

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long SEP $50 CALL (HIG150918C50) entry $1.13

08/15/15 new stop @ 47.45
08/10/15 triggered @ 48.35
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:


Total System Services, Inc. - TSS - close: 48.14 change: +0.67

Stop Loss: 45.85
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: +0.2%
Entry on August 14 at $48.05
Listed on August 12, 2015
Time Frame: Exit 6 to 9 weeks.
Average Daily Volume = 969 thousand
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: Bingo! As expected shares of TSS have broken out from their recent trading range. The stock displayed relative strength on Friday with a +1.4% gain. Shares rallied past resistance and hit our suggested entry point at $48.05. I would consider new positions at this time.

Trade Description: August 12, 2015:
TSS is probably one of the best performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year. The S&P 500 index is up +1.3% year to date. The financial sector is up +1%. Yet TSS has surged +39% in 2015 and shares look poised to keep running.

TSS is in the financial sector. According to the company, "As one of the world's largest payment solutions and services companies, TSYS believes payments should revolve around people, not the other way around. Since we got our start in the payments space more than 30 years ago, we have evolved from a supporting role servicing several hundred bank card issuers and bank acquirers to directly touching hundreds of thousands of merchants and millions of consumers.

TSYS is a global, publicly traded company with operations in more than 80 countries, including many of the world’s most high-growth emerging markets. We provide electronic payment services to financial institutions and companies around the globe with a broad range of issuing and acquiring payment technologies, including consumer, credit, debit, healthcare, loyalty, prepaid, chip and mobile payments."

Earnings are supposed to be the main driver behind stock price appreciation. TSS has not disappointed. The company has beaten Wall Street's estimates on both the top and bottom line the last three quarters in a row. Revenues have grown +8.9%, +11.7%, and +15.1%, respectively over the last three quarters.

TSS' most recent earnings report was July 28th. They announced their Q2 results were $0.58 per share. This was a +29% improvement from a year ago and five cents above expectations. Management then raised their 2015 guidance.

Since this late July earnings report shares of TSS have been consolidating sideways in the $46-48 range and essentially ignoring the market's recent volatility. Shares displayed some relative strength today and we want to be ready to hop on board if TSS can breakout. Tonight we're listing a trigger to open bullish positions at $48.05.

- Suggested Positions -

Long TSS stock @ $48.05

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long NOV $50 CALL (TSS151120C50) entry $1.20

08/14/15 triggered @ $48.05
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:


21Vianet Group, Inc. - VNET - close: 20.66 change: +0.41

Stop Loss: 19.80
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: -0.4%
Entry on July 23 at $20.75
Listed on July 22, 2015
Time Frame: Exit PRIOR to earnings on August 26th
Average Daily Volume = 996 thousand
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: VNET also displayed relative strength on Friday. Shares gained +2.0% and look poised to challenge resistance at $21.00 soon. Please keep in mind that we only have about seven trading days left for this play. VNET is scheduled to report earnings on August 26th. We plan to exit before their announcement.

Tonight we will raise the stop loss to $19.80, just below technical support at its simple 100-dma.

Trade Description: July 22, 2015:
Buckle your seatbelt. We are adding a fast-moving Chinese Internet stock to the play list tonight. This trade is not for the faint of heart. The Chinese market has been very volatile in recent weeks. This has been exacerbated by merger and acquisition news.

VNET is in the technology sector. According to the company, "21Vianet Group, Inc. is a leading carrier-neutral internet data center services provider in China. 21Vianet provides hosting and related services, managed network services, cloud services, content delivery network services, last-mile wired broadband services and business VPN services, improving the reliability, security and speed of its customers' internet infrastructure. Customers may locate their servers and networking equipment in 21Vianet's data centers and connect to China's internet backbone through 21Vianet's extensive fiber optic network. In addition, 21Vianet's proprietary smart routing technology enables customers' data to be delivered across the internet in a faster and more reliable manner. 21Vianet operates in more than 30 cities throughout China, servicing a diversified and loyal base of more than 2,000 customers that span numerous industries ranging from internet companies to government entities and blue-chip enterprises to small- to mid-sized enterprises."

The Wall Street Journal recently noted in June that seven U.S.-listed Chinese companies had been approached with offers to go private. That's a big spike in buyout offers. From January through May this year there had only been five such offers. One of the companies recently approached is VNET.

On June 10th VNET was approached with a preliminary non-binding proposal by Kingsoft Corp. and Tsinghua Unigroup International to go private for $23.00 per American depositary share ("ADSs"). That's the stock we can trade on the NASDAQ. Naturally the stock surged on this announcement. On June 16th VNET announced they had formed a special committee to review this proposal.

Unfortunately for shares of VNET and most Chinese stocks the Shanghai market in China had peaked in mid June and began to crash. The next three weeks saw a -30% plunge in the Shanghai market. The sell-off really accelerated in the first week of July. We can see the impact this market plunge was having on VNET with the big declines in early July.

Shares of VNET produced a huge bounce on July 9th when they announced the company had hired financial advisors and legal counsel to help them review the proposal to go private. In their press release they warned investors that "no decision has been made" nor is there any assurance that any "definitive offer will be made". This warning didn't stop the rally in VNET's stock which has continued to rise.

The Chinese government has thrown billions of dollars at their market to stop the crash and it seems to be working. The fever seems to have broken and this should provide a less dangerous environment for shares of VNET to trade in. We suspect VNET will continue to rally as the M&A talk heats up. However, this is an aggressive, higher-risk trade. There is no guarantee of a deal. Shares of VNET are clearly very volatile. I suggest small positions to limit risk.

NOTE: VNET does have options but the spreads are too wide to trade them.

*small positions to limit risk* - Suggested Positions -

Long VNET stock @ $20.75

08/15/15 new stop @ 19.80
08/01/15 new stop @ 19.20
07/27/15 The Chinese Shanghai index plunged -8.48%
07/23/15 triggered @ $20.75

chart:




BEARISH Play Updates

GATX Corp. - GMT - close: 50.03 change: +0.22

Stop Loss: 50.65
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: -1.4%
Entry on August 12 at $49.35
Listed on August 11, 2015
Time Frame: Exit 4 to 6 weeks
Average Daily Volume = 334 thousand
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: On Wednesday GMT dipped to new lows and bounced, producing a bullish reversal pattern. While shares have not seen much follow through higher we are taking a more defensive approach tonight. Lower the stop loss down to $50.65. No new positions at this time.

Trade Description: August 11, 2015:
Thus far 2015 has not been a good year for GMT stock. Shares are down -13% year to date and the stock looks poised to see its loss widen.

GMT is in the services sector. According to the company, "GATX Corporation (GMT) strives to be recognized as the finest railcar leasing company in the world by its customers, its shareholders, its employees and the communities where it operates. As the largest global railcar lessor, GATX has been providing quality railcars and services to its customers for more than 115 years. GATX has been headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, since its founding in 1898."

GMT started the year on a strong note with Q4 earnings results better than expected and revenues up +12.6%. Management raised their 2015 guidance following a healthy Q4 report. Unfortunately business has slowed down significantly in the last couple of quarters.

GMT's most recent report was July 23rd. The company delivered their Q2 results of $1.03 per share. That's a -10% drop from a year ago and 19 cents worse than expected. Revenues were down -0.14% to $365 million, which is significantly below Wall Street's estimate of $384 million. These results would have been even worse if GMT has not repurchased 727,000 shares last quarter.

The company claims they have strong demand for their rental fleet of rail cars. However, they're seeing new railcar orders slowing down. Their customers are delaying new orders due to the falling price of oil. Oil transport is a significant portion of their business.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) 70% of U.S. production from the Bakken formation and 64% of Niobrara production is transported by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, the U.S. rail system transported 11 times more crude oil in 2013 than all the oil moved by trains from 2005 to 2009 (source: CNBC). At the time that was about 815,000 barrels a day. It has most assuredly risen since then as U.S. production continued to climb through 2014 and into 2015.

Now that crude oil prices have crashed it has cut demand by producers to transport it. Technically shares of GMT are in a bear market. Investors have been selling the rallies for months. They just sold the oversold bounce a couple of weeks ago. Today GMT has closed below round-number support at $50.00 and is poised to hit new two-year lows.

The point & figure chart is forecasting a $45.00 target. I will point out that short interest is almost 15% of the 42.8 million share float. We should probably consider a slightly more aggressive trade due to some volatility. Tonight I am suggesting a trigger to open bearish positions at $49.35.

FYI: GMT has a $0.38 dividend coming up in September. The ex-dividend date should be in the September 11-15 time frame.

- Suggested Positions -

Short GMT stock @ $49.35

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long SEP $50 PUT (GMT150918P50) entry $2.45

08/15/15 new stop @ 50.65
08/12/15 Caution: GMT has produced a bullish engulfing candlestick reversal pattern.
08/12/15 triggered @ $49.35
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:


Marathon Oil Corp. - MRO - close: 17.40 change: -0.62

Stop Loss: 19.55
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: +2.2%
Entry on August 14 at $17.80
Listed on August 13, 2015
Time Frame: Exit
Average Daily Volume = 7.8 million
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: Our new bearish play on MRO is off to a good start. Crude oil sank to new six and a half year lows on Friday. This undermined the energy sector. MRO broke down under short-term support near $18.00 and hit our suggested entry point at $17.80.

Trade Description: August 13, 2015:
Falling crude oil prices are crushing oil-sector stocks. A -50% drop in crude oil that began in the second half of 2014 was horrendous for the U.S. and global oil industry. Oil managed a bounce off its March 2015 lows but that rebound has failed.

Since late June the price of oil has fallen about -30%. Today saw crude oil close near $42.00 a barrel, the lowest since March 2009 (during the bear market in stocks).

Shares of MRO are getting hammered on this oil slide. According to the company, MRO is a global energy company. They explore for, produce, and market oil and natural gas. They are also involved in the oil sands mining in Canada and the big shale oil and gas basins in the United States. The company has operations in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

There are a ton of factors impacting crude oil and the energy sector. OPEC's largest producer, Saudi Arabia, has decided keep production high. They would rather suffer low oil prices than lose market share to rival producers.

According to CNBC today, "OPEC's second-largest producer, Iraq, plans to export near-record volumes of Basra crude in September, adding to an already oversupplied market." Plus, "The U.S. Energy Information Administration also said on Thursday that Iran's release of oil held in storage could boost global supplies by 100,000 barrels per day this year, and that it had the 'technical capability' to boost output by 600,000 bpd by the end of next year."

If that wasn't enough the recent focus on China is undermining oil prices. China is one of the largest, if not the largest, consumer of commodities on the planet. Their economy has been slowing down for years. The central bank of China's decision to devalue their currency this week stokes fears that China's economy is falling even faster than previously expected. That doesn't bode well for China's future oil demand.

Meanwhile back at home in the U.S. we see crude oil inventories building. Wall Street is worried that domestic oil companies have not cut their spending budgets enough. There is growing concern that MRO may have to slash its dividend. The plunge in MRO's stock price has boosted its dividend yield to more than 4%.

A quick look at MRO's last few earnings reports shows the trend in revenues. Their Q3 2014 results saw revenues fall -5%. Q4 results saw revenues drop -16% from the prior year. Their Q1 2015 report said revenues plunged -46%. Their most recent report, their Q2 report on August 5th, said MRO's revenues dropped -47.9% to $1.53 billion. The company reported a loss of ($0.23) per share. Management has been slashing their budgets and cutting expenses but it wasn't enough.

The last few days have seen MRO's stock hovering above short-term support at $18.00. Unfortunately today's drop (-5.45%) left shares poised for a breakdown. Tonight we are suggesting a trigger to launch bearish positions at $17.80. We're not setting a target tonight but I will point out that the point & figure chart is bearish and forecasting at $5.00 target.

FYI: MRO does have a 21-cent dividend coming up. The stock will trade ex-dividend in the August 17-19th time frame.

- Suggested Positions -

Short MRO stock @ $17.80

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long OCT $17 PUT (MRO151016P17) entry $1.03

08/14/15 triggered @ $17.80
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:


Whiting Petroleum - WLL - close: 19.18 change: -0.01

Stop Loss: 20.35
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: +3.4%
Entry on August 03 at $19.85
Listed on August 01, 2015
Time Frame: Exit PRIOR to earnings
Average Daily Volume = 7.1 million
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: Hmm... the early morning rally on Friday in WLL quickly failed. Yet there was no follow through selling either. Shares spent most of the day drifting sideways and closed virtually unchanged for the session.

Last week's bounce snapped a six-week trend of losses.

I am not suggesting new positions in WLL at this time.

Trade Description: August 1st, 2015:
The price of crude oil has fallen more than 50% in the last year. It's wreaking havoc on energy company earnings and revenues. Unfortunately the outlook is not very bullish. The global economy is stalling. China, the biggest buyer of commodities, is growing at multi-year lows. The U.S. is creeping along at +2% GDP growth while oil inventories in the U.S are near 80-year highs.

The Middle East OPEC cartel is pumping a high-volume of oil, regardless of price declines, to maintain market share. A recent report showed that OPEC boosted production by +140,000 barrels a day in July from its June production. OPEC is hoping to pressure the U.S. fracking industry out of business but it's not working. U.S. production remains resilient and near record highs.

If that wasn't enough the Federal Reserve is desperate to raise interest rates and would like to raise in September. Rising interest rates usually boost a country's currency. If the Fed does raise rates the U.S. dollar should rally even further. A rising dollar puts downward pressure on commodity prices. This paints a bearish picture for crude oil prices.

Given this outlook for crude we're adding a bearish play in the energy industry. Some view WLL as a barometer of the U.S. shale oil and gas industry. If that's the case the stock price is suggesting a dire forecast.

WLL is in the basic materials sector. According to the company, "Whiting Petroleum Corporation, a Delaware corporation, is an independent oil and gas company that explores for, develops, acquires and produces crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids primarily in the Rocky Mountain and Permian Basin regions of the United States. The Company’s largest projects are in the Bakken and Three Forks plays in North Dakota, the Niobrara play in northeast Colorado and its Enhanced Oil Recovery field in Texas."

WLL just reported its Q2 earnings on July 29th. Analysts were only expecting a profit of $0.02 per share. WLL delivered $0.04. However, that's a -97% drop from a year ago. Revenues plunged -29.4% to $590 million, which was significantly below analysts' estimates of $677 million.

We have to give the company credit for cutting costs dramatically during a tough time in the oil industry. Otherwise they would not have managed a profit for the quarter. WLL also managed to set a new company record for production of 170,000 barrels a day in the second quarter. Unfortunately, these positives are not enough to outweigh the overall bearish impact of plunging oil prices.

Plus, investors and analysts might shun WLL as the company is sending mixed messages. The company claimed that based on strong results during the second quarter they were raising their capex budget from $2 billion to $2.3 billion. That was two weeks ago. This past week WLL has already cut its capex budget. Now they're forecasting $2.15 billion. They only plan on running eight drilling rigs in the second half of 2015 instead of their previous guidance of 11 rigs.

Wall Street is turning more cautious on WLL. The stock has seen several downgrades and lowered price targets recently. The stock has been very weak. Momentum is bearish. The oversold bounce last week just failed under technical resistance at its simple 10-dma. Now WLL is testing round-number resistance at $20.00. We are suggesting a trigger to launch bearish positions at $19.85.

- Suggested Positions -

Short WLL stock @ $19.85

- (or for more adventurous traders, try this option) -

Long SEP $20 PUT (WLL150918P20) entry $2.05

08/05/15 new stop @ 20.35
08/05/15 new stop @ 21.25
08/03/15 triggered @ $19.85
Option Format: symbol-year-month-day-call-strike

chart:



CLOSED BULLISH PLAYS

Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. - CBI - close: 51.78 change: -0.09

Stop Loss: 50.85
Target(s): To Be Determined
Current Gain/Loss: Unopened
Entry on August -- at $---.--
Listed on August 10, 2015
Time Frame: Exit PRIOR to October option expiration
Average Daily Volume = 1.8 million
New Positions: see below

Comments:
08/15/15: CBI is not cooperating. Shares are still stuck in the $51.00-54.00 trading range. We are cutting it loose since CBI has not hit our entry trigger yet. Investors might want to keep CBI on their watch list for a couple of days and wait for a breakout past $54.00 as a potential bullish entry point.

Trade did not open.

08/15/15 removed from the newsletter, suggested entry was $54.05

chart: