Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Wednesday, 1/2/2019

Table of Contents

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

Market Wrap

All Hope Is Not Lost

by Thomas Hughes

Click here to email Thomas Hughes


There are reasons to believe 2019 could be a good year for stocks. Secular economic trends are positive, GDP and earnings growth are still on tap, share-buybacks and dividend increases are expected, and the FOMC is set to leave interest rates unchanged. If only trade with China could get settled 2019 could be a perfect year.

Trump says the market had a glitch in December and will fix itself once a trade deal comes to pass. What he needs to understand is that his trade shenanigans, however needed, are having an impact on the global economy and that is what caused the stock market to glitch. Yes, the market will bounce back and with a vengeance, once a deal is signed, probably sooner, and I'm sure Trump will take as much credit for that as he hasn't for causing the market to meltdown.

Wharton School of Business professor Jeremy Siegel thinks we could see the market rise as much as 15% over the next year and I think that is a low estimate. A move to retest the all-time highs is closer to 20% and that could easily come in the first half of the year. A move to new highs is not out of the question by the end of the year.

Slowing GDP growth and slowing earnings growth has caused the market to reevaluate valuations and to revalue the market based on future earnings potential. Now that equity valuations have returned to earth, currently at historically low levels relative to the S&P 500's earnings power, the market can turn its eye to the future and what it might bring. Based on the estimates we're looking at 4-6% earnings growth the first half of 2019 and then a sharp acceleration of earnings growth to over 10% by the end of the year, an acceleration that could easily fuel a rally in the mid to second half of 2019.

Market Statistics

Today's action was influenced by some weaker than expected PMI data from China and the EU. According to Caixin/Markit, China's manufacturing PMI fell to 49.7 from a previous 50.2 and into contraction for the first time in 19 months. The data reinforces the official PMI data released on Monday, data that showed China's manufacturing economy had been in contraction for two months. The difference between the two are often great but together the Official (large cap, state-owned/backed businesses) and the Caixin (small to mid-cap/private) PMI gives a pretty good indication of conditions in China and right now tariffs are hurting growth.

PMI in the EU was also weaker than expected but positive at 51.4. This shows ongoing expansion within the EU economy but at a slower pace than before, the same thing we're seeing around the world. On the trade front, China's President Xi hailed progress made on trade and US/Sino cooperative efforts over the past four decades. While there is hope we're on the upswing regarding the trade war we are far from the end. Countering Xi's remarks are those from Robert Lighthizer to Trump, don't accept empty promises, you may need to increase tariffs to get meaningful concessions from Xi.

Economic Calendar

The Economy

There was only one economic release today and that is the Markit manufacturing PMI which is released the day before our 'official' PMI reading. Markit says the US manufacturing economy is still expanding but at a slower pace than the month before. PMI is now at a 15 month low due to slowing new orders, slowing output, and slowing hiring. While this is a concern the most important factors are that manufacturing is still expanding, and PMI readings are high relative to long-term trend. We may be in a period of slowing but we are not in a contraction. If I remember correctly, this recovery has been spotty and hurky-jerky from the beginning so it's really no surprise we're experiencing some minor turbulence now; it'll most likely pass.

The Dollar Index

The Dollar Index got a big boost from today's data. Global PMI shows manufacturing activity is slowing around the world but has slowed the least, and remains the strongest, in the US. This data gives a reason for both the FOMC and all other central banks to back off of their rate-hiking, policy tightening agenda's and allow global economies to adjust to today's conditions. What this means for the DXY is a continuation of the trading range provided this week's data doesn't support the need for FOMC tightening.

As an added risk, Jerome Powell will be attending an economic conference on Friday. At the conference, he, and two former FOMC chairs (Bernanke and Yellen) will be discussing key economic events. After his last major appearance at the Economic Club of New York Powell's statements will be closely watched. The market will be looking for confirmation the FOMC is going to hold off on future rate hikes, anything the least bit hawkish has the potential to send the dollar skyrocketing. As it is now, there is very little chance of a rate hike at all next year, and a growing chance the FOMC will cut rates at least once by December.

The index gained close to 0.90% in today's session but remains firmly within the near-term trading range.

The Gold Index

Gold prices were relatively steady in today's session despite the move in the dollar. The spot price was up in early trading, set a new high, and then fell later in the day. The candle is small and potentially bearish but not strong and of little consequence overall. The indicators remain bullish so upward drift in prices is expected but there is a risk. The MACD is showing signs of peaking and divergence from the new high that suggests there is a limit to how high gold prices can go. My next target for resistance is near $1,300, a break above that could go to $1,310 or $1,325.

The Gold Miners ETF GDX tried to move higher in today's session but couldn't do it. The ETF moved up to touch resistance at the top of a near-term consolidation range that is beginning to look a bit like a rising wedge and not a bullish one. The price action is having a very hard time moving above $21 and the indicators don't look good, both are weak and suggest a correction is imminent, so a move higher is questionable at this point. A move up would have to break resistance at $21.50 to be of significance and that, I think, would require a jump in gold prices to accomplish.

The Oil Index

Oil prices went on a wild ride today, first down -3.0% and then up 3.0% as traders try to begin positioning for 2019. Among today's drivers is the start of OPEC's production cut. The cut is designed to create an appearance of global oil market tightening and has worked in the past. The trouble this time is that global growth outlook is under intense pressure and with it outlook for oil demand. And the US keeps on pumping. Whatever happens, WTI is now trading at $46.25 and indicated higher. The black gold may move up to retest resistance at $48 and possibly as high as $52 before resuming downward movement.

The Oil Index gained nearly 2.0% in today's session and looks like it wants to go higher. The sector may not have the support of triple-digit earnings growth anymore but it still has strong earnings, is buying back stock, and dividends are high. Integrated companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell are paying near 6.0% dividends which are attracting new money. The move higher may not last long, not without a move up in oil prices to support it, but a retest of 1,200 to 1,232 looks likely.

In The News, Story Stocks and Earnings

Tesla made the bears happy this morning when it released 4th quarter delivery figures. The company says it delivered 90,700 cars last quarter which is less than expected. Production of Model 3 was also a bit shy of expectations but, with the production of Model S and Model X vehicles, is on track to meet full-year production goals. Tesla also says it will be lowering the price of all three models by $2,000 to help offset the reduction of tax breaks in the US. Shares fell more than -7.0% in premarket trading but were able to catch a bid during the day to move up and reduce the loss to near -5.0%.

GM reports that it has sold a cumulative 200K electric vehicles and triggered the phase-out of tax credits that have until now helped fuel its sales. The credit, now at $7,500, will be cut in half come April and then in half again in October where it will remain for six months before phasing out entirely next April. Tesla reached its 200K cap earlier this year, Tesla and GM have lobbied Congress to extend the break which is intended to cover the difference in price between electric cars and similarly sized combustion engine vehicles. The loss of tax credits could impact sales of electric cars in the coming year, especially since gas prices are falling again. Shares of GM opened with a loss but were able to regain it and more before the close of the session.

Netflix was another stock to take a hit in today's session. The leader in streaming media had its price target downgraded by Suntrust analysts who think subscriber growth will fall short of expectations. The buy rating is held in place but the target was cut to $355 which is still a 30% upside from today's prices. The analyst says a strong mid-year slate of programming will help maintain business but meaningful improvements are not expected in the Q4 data. Shares of the stock opened with a loss but were able to claw their way back to break even and move higher to close with a gain near 0.75%.

Apple shares were halted in after-hours trading so the company could issue a guidance update. The company says it will miss revenue expectations by more than 6% due to slow sales in China, a weak round of iPhone upgrades (I got mine, buy one get one free iPhone X from Verizon), and the generally lousy backdrop for the business that is currently in effect. The news was not well received but is consistent with analysts warnings and other signs of slowing business around the world. Shares of the stock fell more than -6.0% in after-hours trading and likely to head lower in tomorrow's session.

The Indices

The indices began the day in the red and looked like 2019 would get off to a really bad start. The good news is that buyers were waiting to step in at the open and pushed stocks higher almost all day. The indices created green candles, set new near-term highs, and look like they could extend this bounce over the next few days.

The NASDAQ Composite was today's leader with a gain of 0.46%. The tech-heavy index may have trouble in tomorrow's session with Apple's after-hours warning but momentum is shifting to the upside and that may be enough to carry the index up to the next resistance target. The indicators are consistent with a bullish entry that is in line with the secular bull market but the signal is still early and weak. A move up may find resistance near the short-term moving average and the 7,000 level, a move above that could be bullish longer-term.

The Dow Jones Transportation Average posted the second largest gain for the first day of 2019, 0.34%. The transports created a medium sized candle that confirms support at the 9,000 level and suggests a move higher is on the way. The indicators are still weak but rolling into a bullish signal that will be in line with the secular trend once completed (if completed). A move higher may take the index up to 9,500 or 9,600, a break above that level could signal additional upside with targets near 10,500 or higher.

The S&P 500 posted the third largest advance in today's session with a gain of 0.12%. The broad market had been down more than -1.5% in early trading and was able to recover all of that loss. Today's candle is medium sized and green, it confirms the presence of support at the 2,500 level, and is supported by the indicators. The signal is still weak but both MACD and stochastic are showing bullish crossovers that are in line with the secular trend and suggest upward movement in prices is coming. A move up would confirm this outlook but resistance targets are close at hand. My first target for resistance is near 2,525, a move above that could go to 2,600.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average brings up the rear in today's session. The blue chips advanced a mere 0.08% but staged a 400-point day and created a medium-sized green candle in the process. The index is showing support at the 23,000 level and may move higher if it can surpass 23,350. The indicators are consistent with a bullish shift in momentum that is in line with prevailing trends so a move higher is expected. The next target for resistance, once 23,350 is broken, is near 25,000.

I have to be honest, it didn't look like 2019 was going to get off to a great start but that outlook changed almost as soon as the opening bell sounded. Today's action is not definitive, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but it is a good sign that 2019 will be about buying equities rather than selling them.

The risks to the market are still present but so too are the drivers of the secular rally. The risks include Trump, growth outlook, earnings outlook, trade, and the FOMC. The drivers include share buybacks, dividend increases, and labor trends; I think the drivers are a far more powerful force. I am cautiously bullish for 2019 and long-term positions, I am also bullish for the near-term but even more cautious because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Until then, remember the trend!

Thomas Hughes


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New Option Plays

Rotten Apple

by Jim Brown

Click here to email Jim Brown

Editors Note:

The Apple guidance warning could have lasting market impact. The company warned of a rapid slowdown in China saying nearly 100% of their revenue miss came from greater China. Sales are crashing. The company now expects to post $84 billion in revenue for Q4 and this is down from their prior guidance just two months ago of $89-$93 billion. Analysts believe it is strange that Apple did not see this coming. Economic events don't tend to occur overnight. They take months to develop.

Some analysts believe that Apple may be using the China slowdown story as cover for their already falling sales. Apple had held firm to its aggressive pricing strategy in China and maintaining the high prices on its top of the line phones. With dozens of smartphones now having more or equal capabilities than the iPhones and some selling for half as much, this could be more of an Apple problem than a China problem. This is going to ripple down through the chip sector as unit expectations plummet

The S&P futures are down -35 as I type this, so we will not be adding a new play for tomorrow.


New positions are only added on Wednesday and Saturday except in special circumstances.


No New Bullish Plays


No New Bearish Plays

In Play Updates and Reviews

Regular Session Win

by Jim Brown

Click here to email Jim Brown

Editors Note:

Despite the 400-point Dow drop at the open this was a winning session. Unfortunately, the afterhours session was a major loser. Apple warned on Q4 and the futures have imploded with the S&P futures down -34. This strongly suggests Thursday could be painful. They warned on macro economic trends that also suggest China and the global economy could be declining sharply. This means the opening dip is not likely to return to positive territory as we did today.

Current Portfolio

Stop Loss Updates

Check the graphic below for any new stop losses in bright yellow. We need to always be prepared for an unexpected decline.

Profit Targets

Check the graphic below for any profit stops in green. We need to always be prepared for a profit exit at resistance.

Current Position Changes

QCOM - Qualcomm
The long position was entered at the open on Monday.

Full updates on all plays on Wednesday and Saturday. Only closed plays are updated on other days.

BULLISH Play Updates

CAT - Caterpillar - Company Profile


China concerns came back to haunt us with weak economic data from their manufacturing sector. Shares declined slightly but were well off the lows.

Original Trade Description: Dec 22nd

Caterpillar Inc. manufactures and sells construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines, and diesel-electric locomotives for construction, resource, and energy and transportation industries. The company was formerly known as Caterpillar Tractor Co. and changed its name to Caterpillar Inc. in 1986. The company was founded in 1925 and is headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois. Company description from FinViz.com.

CAT has failed to decline with the market until the last couple of days. Earnings were good and forecasts were good. CAT has been hobbled by the trade war with China. Investors are worried that tariffs could disrupt its rapidly growing business. CAT said it has raised prices three times to cover the majority of the increased costs and the net impact has only been around $150 million. When a trade deal is reached, you can bet those price increases will not be completely erased. They will make up their losses.

Earnings are January 22nd.

Position 12/24:
Long Feb $135 call @ $2.43, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.

CRM - SalesForce.com - Company Profile


No specific news. Down -$6 at the open with the 400-point drop in the Dow but recovered most of it.

Original Trade Description: Dec 22nd

SalesForce.com, inc. develops enterprise cloud computing solutions with a focus on customer relationship management. The company offers Sales Cloud to store data, monitor leads and progress, forecast opportunities, and gain insights through analytics and relationship intelligence, as well as deliver quotes, contracts, and invoices. It also provides Service Cloud, which enables companies to deliver personalized customer service and support, as well as a field service solution that enables companies to connect agents, dispatchers, and mobile employees through a centralized platform, which helps to schedule and dispatch work, and track and manage jobs in real-time. In addition, the company offers Marketing Cloud to plan, personalize, and optimize one-to-one customer marketing interactions; Commerce Cloud, which enables companies to enhance engagement, conversion, revenue, and loyalty from their customers; and Community Cloud that enables companies to create and manage branded digital destinations for customers, partners, and employees. Further, it provides Quip collaboration platform, which combines documents, spreadsheets, apps, and chat with live CRM data; Salesforce Platform for building enterprise apps, as well as artificial intelligence (AI), no-code, low-code, and code development and integration services, including Trailhead, Einstein AI, Lightning, Internet of Things, Heroku, Analytics, and AppExchange; and solutions for financial services, healthcare, and government. Additionally, the company offers cloud services, such as consulting and implementation services; training services, including instructor-led and online courses; and support and adoption programs. It provides its services through direct sales; and consulting firms, systems integrators, and other partners. salesforce.com, inc. has a partnership with Apple Inc. to develop customer relationship management platform. The company was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California. Company description from FinViz.com

When the market is weak, go with strength. CRM shares rallied on the strong earnings then pulled back only slightly during the latest Nasdaq crash. The Nasdaq was the strongest index on Monday and hopefully we are nearing an actual bottom. With CRM shares showing relative strength, this may be a safe port in a volatility storm.

SalesForce.com reported earnings of 61 cents that beat estimates for 50 cents and the year ago quarter of 39 cents. Revenue rose 26% to $3.39 billion and beat estimates for $3.37 billion. The company guided for revenue as much as $3.56 billion in Q4 and analysts were expecting $3.53 billion. They said they were on path for $16 billion in revenue in 2020 and $22 billion by 2022.

Billings, metric of future performance, rose 27% to $2.89 billion and beat estimates for $2.68 billion. Revenues rose 25% in the Americas, 26% in APAC and 31% in EMEA using constant currency. Sales cloud revenues rose 11%, service cloud rose 24% and marketing and commerce cloud rose 37%. Platform and "other" cloud revenues rose 51% or 30% if you exclude the acquisition of Mulesoft. The number of deals for more than $1 million rose 46%.

Adjusted gross profit of $2.6 billion came from gross margin of 76.9%. They ended the quarter with $3.45 billion in cash.

This company can seemingly do no wrong. When the tech sector eventually recovers SalesForce will be a leader.

Earnings February 26th.

Salesforce will be a fast mover if the market turns positive. This is a crowd favorite and has only declined because of the market.

Position 12/24:
Long Feb $135 Call @ $4.04, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.

QCOM - Qualcomm - Company Profile


No specific news. Down -$1.50 in afterhours on the Apple guidance warning.

Original Trade Description: Dec 31st

QUALCOMM Incorporated designs, develops, manufactures, and markets digital communication products worldwide. It operates through three segments: Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT); Qualcomm Technology Licensing (QTL); and Qualcomm Strategic Initiatives (QSI). The QCT segment develops and supplies integrated circuits and system software based on code division multiple access (CDMA), orthogonal frequency division multiple access, and other technologies for use in wireless voice and data communications, networking, application processing, multimedia, and global positioning system products. The QTL segment grants licenses or provides rights to use portions of its intellectual property portfolio, which include various patent rights useful in the manufacture and sale of wireless products comprising products implementing CDMA2000, wideband CDMA, CDMA time division duplex, and/or long term evolution standards and their derivatives. The QSI segment invests in early-stage companies in various industries, including automotive, Internet of things, mobile, data center, and healthcare for supporting the design and introduction of new products and services for voice and data communications, and new industry segments. The company also provides products and services for mobile health; products designed for the implementation of small cells; development, and other services and related products to the United States government agencies and their contractors; and software products, and content and push-to-talk enablement services to wireless operators. In addition, it licenses chipset technology, and products and services for use in data centers. QUALCOMM Incorporated was founded in 1985 and is headquartered in San Diego, California. Company description from FinViz.com.

The last 12 months have been turbulent for Qualcomm. First they tried to acquire NXP Semiconductor (NXPI). They received approvals from 7 of the 8 countries that needed to approve the transaction. While they were waiting on China's approval, Broadcom (AVGO) made a hostile offer to acquire Qualcomm for $121 billion. Qualcomm would be forced to drop the bid for NXPI if they accepted the Broadcom bid. Qualcomm fought Broadcom and finally got the government to veto the deal under a national security rationale.

Broadcom quickly made a big show of becoming a U.S. company by changing its domicile to the U.S. That was not enough to convince CFIUS they were not a threat. Eventually Broadcom dropped its bid.

Qualcomm tried to continue its acquisition of NXPI but China refused to approve the acquisition and Qualcomm was forced to abandon the acquisition attempt and pay a $2 billion breakup fee.

While Qualcomm and NXPI would have been stronger together, Qualcomm is not sitting still. They are rapidly moving forward on 5G communications, automotive chips, internet connectivity, Internet of Things, network processing, etc.

The company just announced a $30 billion stock buyback. That is one-third of the company using the funds they had set aside for the NXPI acquisition.

The next challenge for Qualcomm is settling the patent dispute with Apple. The phone company has protested the way Qualcomm collects royalties on its products. Instead of only charging a royalty on the specific parts in the phone, Qualcomm has always charged a royalty on the entire cost of the phone. In the beginning, companies did not balk because without Qualcomm's parts the phone would not have been possible. After paying royalties to Qualcomm for years, Apple decided they were paying too much money to Qualcomm and sued them to change the patent. Since Apple and every other phone manufacturer had been paying Qualcomm under this structure for years, Apple does not have a very good chance of winning. They do have a lot of money and the best lawyers in the world but the law is the law and signed agreements are tough to fight.

This suit is expected to be settled soon. Qualcomm has been successful in getting some models of iPhones blocked from sale and with each court action they are making it more likely there will be a settlement soon. The CEO said he thought it would be in Q4 but it has not happened yet.

With a 4% dividend and buying back 33% of the stock, there is no reason for Qualcomm shares not to rise in the coming months. The stock should also be somewhat immune to market movement over the coming weeks thanks to the monster buyback.

Qualcomm reported earnings of 90 cents that beat estimates for 83 cents. Revenue of $5.80 billion also beat estimates for $5.52 billion. However, the company guided for Q4 revenue of $4.5-$5.3 billion and earnings of $1.05-$1.15. Analysts were expecting $5.57 billion and 95 cents. The decline was due to a lack of Apple sales. Apple normally buys 35-50 million chips in Q4 but they have dropped Qualcomm as a supplier until the royalty fight is concluded in court. Shares lost $7 post earnings.

Cowen recently reiterated a buy rating and $73 target. Canaccord Genuity reiterated a buy and $75 target. Bank of America reiterates a neutral and $67 target.

Earnings Feb 6th.

Apple is trying to push out a software update to force phones to remove patent liabilities in China. Qualcomm is pressing the court to force an immediate halt to sales. Apple said late in the day that the China sales ban would force them to settle the patent suit with Qualcomm. Obviously that is exactly what Qualcomm has been trying to accomplish. Apple said being forced to settle with Qualcomm would force all other manufacturers to pay higher royalties as well. Everyone has been hoping Apple would be victorious and they would benefit from the same lower royalties if Apple won. Apple is trying to claim that Qualcomm's royalty agreements, which they signed and paid royalties on for years, is no longer valid because the price of the phone has risen so high. The agreement calls for a set percentage of the sales price as the royalty amount. When phones sold for $400 it was a smaller amount but now with $1,000-$1,500 phones that same percentage is a lot bigger number.

Apple is also playing politics in their court filings warning that China will lose millions of dollars in taxes and revenue if the ban is enforced. Of course, they could just pay Qualcomm what they owe and there would be no ban.

Qualcomm also won an injunction in Germany to force Apple to halt sales of iPhones.

Starting on January 4th, Qualcomm will participate in a 10-day non-jury trial against the FTC. This trial is the key to the settlement of Apple's suits around the world. Qualcomm will argue for its current patent and licensing model and fee schedules. The outcome of the trial will either boost Qualcomm's $5.2 billion a year royalty stream or crash it to a fraction of that amount. LINK

Nobody disagrees that Qualcomm's engineering and designs are the best in the business. They are simply whining that Qualcomm charges too much to license those technologies.

The outcome of this trial could move the stock $10 or more in either direction. I am proposing we buy a call and a put and hang on for the ride. One of them could been deep in the money and the other will expire worthless.

Position 12/31/18:
Long Mar $60 Call @ $2.06, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.
Long Feb $52.50 put @ $1.39, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.

We should know from the trial watchers if Qualcomm proved their case by the middle of January. I only recommended the Feb put because any downside move should be nearly immediate while any upside move could be lasting.

QQQ - Nasdaq 100 ETF - ETF Profile


Minor gain after a major drop with the market at the open. However, the Apple guidance warnings is going to take a huge bite out of the market on Thursday.

Original Trade Description: Dec 7th

Invesco QQQ is an exchange-traded fund based on the Nasdaq-100 Index. The Fund will, under most circumstances, consist of all of stocks in the Index. The Index includes 100 of the largest domestic and international nonfinancial companies listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market based on market capitalization. The Fund and the Index are rebalanced quarterly and reconstituted annually.

The Nasdaq looks like it wants to decline further. I am profiling a dip buy at $158.15 on the hope that the Nasdaq/ETF will not decline below 6,800/155.00.

Position 12/17 with a QQQ trade at $156.85:
Long Jan $168 Call @ $1.12, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.

Position 12/24:
Long five Jan $168 Calls @ .12 each.
Adjusted cost for 6 = $.29 each.

SPY - S&P-500 SPDR ETF - ETF Profile


The SPY is still fighting resistance at 2,500 on the S&P.

Original Trade Description: Dec 22nd

The SPY is the SPDR ETF for the S&P-500. It was the first exchange traded fund listed in the USA starting in 1993.

If the market is going to rebound the SPY would be our vehicle of choice. This avoids single stock risk and capitalizes on the most oversold big cap index.

This is a bet on an end to tax loss selling and a post-Christmas market rebound. There is no guarantee there will be a rebound and there is the risk of some early January volatility.

There are hundreds of billions in cash on the sidelines waiting for the selling to end. Investors want to establish positions for 2019 and at the current lows there are plenty of bargains.

Position 12/24:
Long Feb $255 Call @ $3.25, see portfolio graphic for stop loss.

BEARISH Play Updates

No Current Puts