Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Thursday, 7/14/2011

Table of Contents

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

Market Wrap

Bernanke Buzzkill

by Jim Brown

Click here to email Jim Brown
Ben Bernanke must have thought investors got the wrong impression from his Wednesday testimony and he went out of his way today to say there would be no QE3 unless conditions got a lot worse. The little positive sentiment left from Wednesday evaporated like a n ice cube on a Texas sidewalk.

Market Statistics

The clarification from Bernanke during testimony today overcame better than expected jobless claims and retail sales. Bernanke said the Fed expects the economy to improve so the Fed would only step in with more economic stimulus if there were a significant downturn in the economy. "We are not prepared at this point to take further action." That means all stimuli not just a QE3 program. Stocks immediately rolled over and headed for negative territory. The Fed gives and the Fed takes away.

On the weekly Jobless Claims the headline number fell -22,000 to 405,000 but you should not get too excited over that number. Claims always drop in a holiday week because newly unemployed workers wait until after the holiday before signing up for unemployment and beginning the search for a new job. There are also some seasonal factors going into play where factories shut down for retooling for several weeks during the summer months.

The claims for the prior week were revised higher to 427,000 from 418,000. Today's report was the 14th consecutive week with claims over 400,000 per week.

Weekly Jobless Claims Chart

Retail Sales was touted as being better than expected but they were nothing to shout about. Retail sales for June rose +0.1% compared to a -0.1% decline in May. Basically sales have been flat for the last two months as a result of the higher gasoline prices and the soft patch worries. Consumers are spending only when they have to and there is no sign or improvement. Sales did decline slightly as gasoline prices declined and reducing the amount of sales at service stations. That sector decline was offset by a small increase in auto sales. Gasoline sales declined -1.3% while auto sales and parts rose by +0.8%. Home furnishings declined -0.8%, sporting goods -0.7% and food service -0.4%.

The same decline in gasoline prices helped push the Producer Price Index (PPI) lower for June. The headline number declined -0.4% compared to a +0.2% gain in May. The consensus was for a decline of -0.2%. The core rate, which excludes food and energy rose +0.3%. Energy prices rose +1.1% and food rose +0.6%. Inside the food component fresh vegetables rose +19.6% and fresh fruit rose +11.8%. Good thing we don't include food and energy in the Fed's core rate calculation. The Fed still does not have any inflation problems on the core rate but they are headed our way.

The Manufacturers Alliance Survey (MAPI) declined from 72% to 68% for Q2. This should be no surprise to anyone given the soft patch numbers we saw in May from the regional manufacturing reports. The ISM reports also showed declines. This is not a closely followed report.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the highest profile report due out on Friday but Citigroup earnings will probably be more of a market mover.

Economic Calendar

JP Morgan (JPM) reported earnings this morning that increased +13% and better than analysts expected. JPM earned +$5.4 billion or $1.27 per share. That was slightly less than the $5.56 billion they earned in Q1 but still very healthy. They lowered reserves by $1 billion for the credit card division saying credit quality was improving and more people were paying on time. Income from credit cards nearly tripled to $911 million from $343 million in the comparison quarter. They took a charge of $2.3 billion for legal expenses related to the mortgage foreclosure problems. The mortgage unit lost -$454 million. Jamie Dimon ruled out any large-scale job cuts and claimed the bank had added 15,000 jobs so far this year.

Dimon also put some fears to rest on the banks exposure to Europe. Dimon said the banks total exposure to the PIIGS was about $15 billion. The bulk of that exposure is to Spain and Italy. In Dimon's worst case forecast they would lose about $3.5 billion. He said the bank was not cutting exposure to Europe and leaving his customers high and dry. He said, "I hope they appreciate this fact." Most of the exposure to Europe is to corporate clients but country debt. He also warned the U.S. markets would face a major upheaval if the U.S. went into default although he does expect the problem to be resolved before a default.

JP Morgan Chart

The biggest report for the day was Google (GOOG) after the close. Google posted earnings of $8.74 compared to consensus estimates of $7.85. That was a major beat. To put it into perspective the highest estimate on record was $8.25 and Google blew past that estimate as well. Google shares soared +$67 in after hours trading.

Revenue excluding traffic acquisition fees jumped +36% to $6.92 billion. Analysts were expecting revenue of $6.55 billion. An analyst at Stifel Nicolaus said Google should be viewed as a growth company again this quarter. "The combination of mobile search, Android, Ad Exchange, YouTube and the core search business are all doing well. Google just announced the Google+ service that is poised to go head to head with Facebook and that is expected to do well.

However, Google may be on the path to eventual destruction if the ever-growing behemoth begins to get stale. Expenses rose +49% in the quarter to $2.97 billion. That is a major jump. It is always easy to add people, offices and infrastructure when businesses are growing but eventually Google's growth will begin to slow and trimming the fat is going to be painful. Don't forget the government just began what will be years of antitrust investigations into all areas of Google's business.

Enjoy the gains now and in the quarters to come but remember Microsoft and Dell. Both were in the same growth mode not too many years ago but their time in the spotlight expired and the stocks crashed back to earth. Google is probably quite a ways from that point as long as they keep innovating but eventually their mass will simply become to large to lift any higher.

Google Chart

Conoco Phillips (COP) made news in the energy sector by announcing they were going to split the company into two separate companies. Conoco would remain the exploration and production company and the refining arm would be spun off separately. This is identical to what Marathon (MRO) did last month when they split off the refining and created Marathon Petroleum (MPC).

Conoco said it would conclude its three year restructuring program by shedding the refining business and concentrate on the more profitable oil and gas exploration and production. The breakup won't happen until early 2012 but it will be the culmination of a $17 billion asset sale program Conoco started in 2009. After the split Conoco will become the largest U.S. independent oil and gas producer. That category is defined as companies without refining, chemical or retail fuel businesses. Conoco expects to produce an average 1.7 million barrels per day in 2011. Currently Conoco has more than 2.0 mbpd of refining capacity and they have five refineries overseas.

Apache is currently the largest U.S independent with 732,000 bpd in Q1. Conoco expects to boost its production by another 800,000 bpd by 2015. That is going to be a major improvement for Conoco and the share price could be stratospheric by then since oil in 2015 is likely to be more than $175 per barrel.

Conoco plans to maintain its current 66-cent dividend and the spinoff of the refinery business will be done as a special dividend to shareholders. Conoco is currently buying back $11 billion in stock that will be completed before year-end. Conoco shares rallied +$7 at the open but declined to a gain of just more than a dollar as oil prices fell and the overall market sank.

Conoco Chart

Other than the Bernanke testimony, Conoco and earnings from JPM and Google the balance of the news was mostly on the debt limit crisis. Yesterday Moody's announced it had put the U.S. on credit watch negative on the rising expectations for the lack of a deal by lawmakers and eventual default. This roiled the futures markets overnight but the impact was negated by the open on the economic news. The real problem in the Moody's announcement was the warning that the lack of a deal and potential default, even if it was short lived, would force Moody's to keep the U.S. rating at a lower level for some period of time since it would indicate the potential for future defaults. Moody's has had a triple A rating on the U.S. since 1917.

It was learned today that S&P had privately told U.S. lawmakers and top business groups that it might cut the rating if the government fails to make any other payments but still makes its debt payments. Basically if the U.S. did not make social security payments or payments to contractors but still makes debt payments the S&P would cut its credit rating anyway. Late tonight S&P made it official and placed the U.S. on credit watch negative saying there was a 50% chance it would cut the triple A rating if a deal was not signed soon. S&P said it could cut the rating this month rather than wait for August 2nd if the talks appeared to not be progressing. S&P also said it might cut the rating if an eventual deal did not appear sufficient to start the U.S. on a patch to fiscal responsibility. "In an agreement is reached, but we do not believe that it likely will stabilize the U.S. debt dynamics, all things unchanged, we would expect to lower the long-term AAA rating."

The meetings over the debt limit are becoming increasingly hostile with reports President Obama stormed out of the meeting on Wednesday. Democrats today tried to tone down those news reports saying the meeting was over and he left quickly. The crisis is playing out in the press and it does not appear they are getting any closer to a solution.

The markets are beginning to take the debt risk seriously. While nobody wants to believe lawmakers will not reach an agreement there is always that risk and the results would be devastating. Everyone in the political process understands the game of brinksmanship they are playing but neither wants to be blamed for the outcome this close to the 2012 election cycle. Regardless of which side wins in the 11th hour there will be repercussions in the election process. Everyone is polarized on the issue and fairly evenly divided. There will be winners and losers regardless of the end result.

Unfortunately the market is very efficient discounting mechanism. Future expectations are priced into the market well before those events come to pass. In the case of the debt limit nobody expected it to continue this long so the market pretty much ignored it until now. As we head for August 2nd and the days tick off the calendar the impact to the market should increase. Fortunately once they come up with a deal the market will celebrate and the crisis will be forgotten within a matter of hours.

Gold closed at another new high at $1587 on debt limit worries and concerns over the continuing austerity scenario in Italy and further comments about a selective Greek default.

Gold Chart

News was leaked late this evening of a potential compromise for a $1.5 trillion cut in spending and equal hike in the debt limit that included an option for President Obama to request another hike if needed by the end of 2012. This is obviously a way to kick the can down the road and create a political event around the November 2012 elections. Reportedly the Treasury needs the debt limit raised by $2.4 trillion to get past the 2012 elections. Futures fell sharply on the S&P ratings warning and then rebounded on the news of the potential compromise.

The S&P-500 closed at a new low today after bullish market sentiment evaporated on the Bernanke comments. The increasingly hostile tone of the debt limit discussions was a wet blanket over the market despite the breath of fresh air from the JPM earnings. The S&P closed under the 100-day average at 1316 and appears to be targeting the 1295-1300 range once again. If talks do not produce a compromise soon we could easily see a return to the 200-day average at 1275.

S&P Chart

The Dow also closed at a new low despite the gains in JPM. Boeing, CAT and MMM were big losers that dragged the index lower. The Dow is hostage to debt limit sentiment and appears to be targeting 12,400 or lower if a settlement is not reached immediately.

Dow Chart

The Nasdaq closed right on the 100-day average at 2759. There was a $10 drop in Google and $12 drop in Netflix to help drag it lower. Obviously the Nasdaq will be up at the open on Friday thanks to the +67 gain in Google after the earnings. How long the index can maintain its gains based on one stock remains to be seen. Nasdaq futures are only up +10 overnight so the excitement appears to be fading already.

The Nasdaq has fallen to nearly a 50% retracement of the July gains at 2753. It took nine days to rally and five days to give back 50%. In theory, in a world without news events, this would be a good place for the Nasdaq to rebound but unfortunately we are going to be controlled by the headlines until the debt limit crisis goes away.

The Russell 2000 mirrored the Nasdaq and also closed on its 100-day at 822.

Nasdaq Chart

Russell Chart

This is an option expiration week but most of the fireworks should be behind us. Only the seriously hard core or those hoping for a miracle actually keep their options positions open until Friday. The impact on the market should be minimal because this is not a triple witch.

I believe the market's fate rests with lawmakers. The president is going to hold another press conference on Friday but nobody believes it will be to announce a settlement. If nothing new arises the outcome is likely to be negative ahead of the weekend.

However, with rumors of a deal in the works and lawmakers planning on working over the weekend it is very possible something of substance could be announced on Monday. That would be market positive. That potential may lure many traders back into the market on Friday for a buy the rumor trade.

Jim Brown

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New Option Plays

Watch List for Friday

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

Editor's Note:

No new trades tonight.

Stocks could be volatile as they react to earnings from Google (GOOG) and Citigroup (C). GOOG reported a very strong quarter tonight. A lot of traders were leaning the wrong way and now GOOG is up +50 points after hours and nearing the $600 level. This could be bullish for the high-profile NASDAQ names.

Meanwhile Citigroup reports tomorrow morning. They are an extremely large financial company but they don't have the same strength that JPM does. C's results could disappoint. Thus the action tomorrow could be very sector specific.

If you are looking for a trade here is what's on my watch list:

AAPL - aggressive traders could buy AAPL on a breakout to a new all-time past $365.00. Shares are already overbought and due for a correction but that doesn't mean they can't get more overbought. Earnings are next week so you'd only have a few days if you plan to exit prior to earnings.

PRGO - Shares have been showing relative strength and set a new closing high today. I would be seriously tempted to buy calls right now and target a move to $100. If stocks dip tomorrow then look for a dip or a bounce near $90.00 as an even better looking entry point.

PVH - This shirt maker rallied to new all-time, record highs today. Aggressive traders may want to buy calls now. I'd prefer to see another dip or a bounce near $70.00.

GLD - gold is in rally mode and breaking out to new highs. A dip back to $152 or $150 on the GLD might be a bullish entry point.

If you're looking for bearish candidates then consider these symbols: ESRX, LIFE, GS, and RIG under $60.00.

- James

In Play Updates and Reviews

Stocks Falter Again

by James Brown

Click here to email James Brown

Editor's Note:

This time a strong earnings report from banking giant JPM was not enough to keep stocks afloat. Investors were also disappointed with Bernanke's follow up comments in front of the Senate when asked about the potential for QE3.

Several of our bullish candidates look poised to drop and hit our stop losses. VMW did hit our stop loss today.


Current Portfolio:

CALL Play Updates

Agrium Inc. - AGU - close: 88.67 change: +0.02

Stop Loss: 85.90
Target(s): 94.00, 98.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: + 7.4% & +22.3%
Time Frame: 4 to 5 weeks
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: AGU tried to rally past resistance at $90 again but shares couldn't last above the $90 level. AGU gave back its gains to close virtually unchanged on the session. Today's move also looks like a failed rally at the multi-month trendline of lower highs. I am not suggesting new positions at this time.

- Suggested Positions -

Long AUG $90 call (AGU1120H90) Entry @ $2.70

- or -

Long AUG $95 call (AGU1120H95) Entry @ $0.94

Entry on July 11 at $88.54
Earnings Date 08/03/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.7 million
Listed on July 9, 2011

BJ's Restaurants, Inc. - BJRI - close: 54.50 change: -1.01

Stop Loss: 53.15
Target(s): 59.50
Current Option Gain/Loss: -28.3%
Time Frame: about one week
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: Our caveat to only buy calls if the S&P 500 was up this morning didn't work so well. The market did open higher, thanks to the strong JPM earnings, but the rebound reversed and the S&P closed near its lows today. Meanwhile BJRI opened strong, rallied to a new all-time high over $56.00, and then reversed for a -1.8% loss. Shares of BJRI are now testing short-term technical support at the 10-dma. I would prefer to wait for a bounce before launching new positions. Cautious traders may want to raise their stop loss tonight.

Earlier Comments:
The most recent data listed short interest at 21% of the 24 million-share float. This as an aggressive, higher-risk trade. I am suggesting we limit our risk with small positions. We do not want to hold over the Thursday, July 21st earnings report.

- Suggested (small) Positions -

Long AUG $55 call (BJRI1120H55) Entry @ $3.00

Entry on July 14 at $55.77
Earnings Date 07/21/11 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 245 thousand
Listed on July 13, 2011

Caterpillar - CAT - close: 107.58 change: -1.06

Stop Loss: 105.95
Target(s): 114.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: - 3.1%
Time Frame: Until the earnings report
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: Warning! The action in CAT today is the second failed rally near $110.50 in as many days. If there is any market follow through lower tomorrow CAT could easily hit our stop loss near $106. More conservative traders may want to abandon ship right now. I am not suggesting new bullish positions at this time. Aggressive traders willing to handle the risk may want to lower their stop under the $105 level.

Don't forget that we do not want to hold over the July 22nd earnings report.

- Suggested Positions -

Long Aug. $110 call (CAT11H110) entry @ 3.15

07/11 Triggered @ 107.50.
07/09 adjusted trigger to $107.50, stop to $105.95, target to $114.00

Entry on July 11 at $107.50
Earnings Date 07/22/11 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 8.4 million
Listed on July 2, 2011

Cerner Corp. - CERN - close: 61.80 change: -0.76

Stop Loss: 61.45
Target(s): 64.75
Current Option Gain/Loss: +21.8%
Time Frame: 3 to 6 weeks
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: Readers may want to hit the eject button here and close positions early. CERN has closed under what should have been support near $62. The stock looks like it will hit our stop loss at $61.45 tomorrow. I am not suggesting new positions at this time.

Earlier Comments:
We do not want to hold over the late July earnings report.

- Suggested (small) Positions -

Long Aug. $62.50 call (CERN1120H62.5) Entry @ $1.60

07/09 new stop loss @ 61.45
07/08 Planned exit. July calls @ +125.0%
07/07 new stop loss @ 60.90
07/07 plan on exiting July calls on Friday at the close.
07/02 New stop loss @ 58.75
07/02 Cautious traders may want to exit the July calls now for a gain

Entry on June 29 at $60.76
Earnings Date 07/28/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 624 thousand
Listed on June 28, 2011

Diamond Foods Inc. - DMND - close: 76.23 change: -1.07

Stop Loss: 72.75
Target(s): 79.50
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: 3 to 4 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see trigger

07/14 update: The bounce in DMND has reversed. Shares look poised to correct lower. I am adjusting our entry point. We will move our buy-the-dip trigger down to $74.25. and move our stop loss to $72.75.

If triggered our first target is $79.50. FYI: The Point & Figure chart for DMND is bullish with a $90 target.

Trigger @ $74.25 *new trigger*

- Suggested Positions -

buy the AUG $75 call (DMND1120H75) -small positions-

07/14 Adjusted entry point to $74.25 and stop to $72.75

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 10/05/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 237 thousand
Listed on July 11, 2011

Joy Global - JOYG - close: 95.41 change: +0.54

Stop Loss: 89.75
Target(s): 102.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: Unopened
Time Frame: 3 to 6 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see trigger

07/14 update: Thursday was a volatile day for commodity-related names. Bernanke seemed to step back from any QE3 talk. Shares of JOYG had surged higher this morning only to quickly reverse. The stock traded in a $4.50 range. I am adjusting our entry point strategy. We will move our buy-the-dip trigger down to $92.00 and move our stop loss to $89.75. I would keep positions small.

Trigger @ $92.00 (Small Positions)

- Suggested Positions - Buy the Aug $95 call (JOYG1120H95)

07/14 Adjusted strategy. New trigger @ 92.00, stop @ 89.75
07/11 relist this play with a trigger at $93.00 and stop @ 91.40

07/11 JOYG hit our trigger at $96.00 (actually $95.97) and then hit our stop at $94.75. The option opened at $2.32 (ask) and we were stopped out at $2.20 (bid) for a loss of -5.1% We were fortune this loss was not larger!

07/09 Adjusted trigger to $96.00, stop to $94.75, target to $102.00, and option strike to Aug. $100 call.

Entry on June xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 08/31/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.9 million
Listed on June 30, 2011

Norfolk Southern - NSC - close: 74.04 change: -0.57

Stop Loss: 73.40
Target(s): 79.75
Current Option Gain/Loss: -12.8%
Time Frame: up until its earnings report.
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: Readers may want to abandon ship or in this case train. The bounce this morning failed at its 10-dma. Now NSC is flirting with a drop under $74. The low today was $73.54. Our stop is at $73.40. The S&P 500 looks like it is headed lower toward the 1300 area. If the market does continue lower I would expect NSC to hit our stop loss.

- Suggested (SMALL) Positions -

Long Aug. $75 call (NSC11H75) Entry @ $1.95

07/14 readers may want to exit early
07/13 the option is back to breakeven. readers could exit here.
07/12 NSC has broken support at $74. Readers may want to exit early
07/11 triggered @ 74.50
07/09 new stop loss @ 73.40. Small positions!
07/06 adjusted entry trigger to $74.50 and stop to 71.75

Entry on July 11 at $74.50
Earnings Date 07/27/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.3 million
Listed on July 2, 2011

Panera Bread Co. - PNRA - close: 130.60 change: -1.15

Stop Loss: 128.35
Target(s): 138.50, 144.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: -13.2%
Time Frame: 3 to 4 weeks
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: PNRA displayed some volatility today. This morning saw a spike to a new high. Only the rally did not last and shares eventually traded below the bottom of its recent trading range. The low today was $129.00. We have a stop loss at $128.35. I am still not suggesting new positions at this time.

We do not want to hold over the late July earnings report.

Don't forget that PNRA has significant short interest and could see a short squeeze higher. FYI: The most recent data listed short interest at 8.6% of the small 28.2 million-share float.

- Suggested Positions -

Long AUG $135 call (PNRA1120H135) Entry @ $3.40

07/13 option back to breakeven (+0.0%)
07/12 new stop loss @ 128.35

Entry on July 11 at $130.61
Earnings Date 07/26/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 337 thousand
Listed on July 9, 2011

Starbucks Corp. - SBUX - close: 39.13 change: -0.45

Stop Loss: 37.75
Target(s): 44.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: unopened
Time Frame: 3 to 4 weeks
New Positions: Yes, see below

07/14 update: It should not be surprising to see SBUX breakdown. Shares have been forecasting a move lower with the recent consolidation and trend of lower highs. Currently our plan is to buy the stock (or calls) on a dip at $38.50. More nimble traders could try and time an entry closer to the $38.00 level instead. We do not want to hold positions over the late July earnings report.

Trigger @ $38.50

- Suggested (Small) Positions -

buy the AUG $40.00 call (SBUX1120H40)

07/12 adjust trigger to $38.50
07/11 Our first attempt at a call play on SBUX did not pan out. Shares opened lower at $39.98 and then hit our relatively tight stop loss at $39.45. The option opened at $1.49 (ask) and we were stopped out at $1.22 (bid)for an -18% loss.
We are reloading this trade with a buy-the-dip trigger at $38.75.

Entry on July xx at $ xx.xx
Earnings Date 07/28/11 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 6.8 million
Listed on July 9, 2011


VMware, Inc. - VMW - close: 100.55 change: +0.27

Stop Loss: 99.75
Target(s): 109.75, 114.00
Current Option Gain/Loss: -35.4%
Time Frame: seven trading days
New Positions: see below

07/14 update: VMW is still flirting with a breakdown under support at the $100.00 level. The stock did breakdown intraday and hit a low of $99.52. Our stop loss was hit at $99.75.

I would still keep VMW on your watch list but readers may want to wait until after the July 19th earnings report before considering new positions.

- Suggested Positions -

AUG $110 call (VMW1120H110) Entry @ $3.10, exit $2.00 (-35.4%)

07/14 stopped out @ 99.75, option @ $2.00 (-35.4%)


Entry on July 11 at $103.19
Earnings Date 07/19/11 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.9 million
Listed on July 9, 2011