Sherpa Wanted

Having spent the day in search of a mystical "vortex" high atop some mountain in Sedona, my eyes have been opened to a greater truth.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the eye opening occured as direct result of the 11 AM wine tasting. There's nothing better than a sampling of Arizona varietals to get you ready to hike up a mountain or two, or even better, to help you forget about hiking up a mountain or two.

I began to wonder at what point could you no longer justify starting to drink so early on the two hour time change.

7 years?

SherpaGuidance and preparation is the key to everything. We all need a personal Sherpa through all phases of our lives.

They do the work and you get the glory.

Everyone out here knows of the "vortex," but their locations aren't publicized widely. You have to find them on your own, given only some rough information.

None of the locals have ever gone to the sacred spots. That has to tell you something, but then again, it took my moving from New York before I ever made it to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I'll always be grateful to Sherpa Snoopy.

Aimlessly following along a path that took us higher and higher, a man in a strikingly loud blue sweat shirt, that seemed to blend in with the clear sky and carrying a hiking stick, appeared from nowhere at the very top of the mountain. He worked his way down toward us and then confirmed for us that the vortex was indeed at the peak.

What he didn't confirm was that the vortex actually had the properties that everyone was seeking. Somehow, the "vortex" was supposed to  deliver vibratory sensations and emanate heat while to providing some magical renewal to the soul.

WIth the two hour time difference and the lack of connection to the world at large. I definitely needed something to renew my soul which was floundering in the void left in the wake of a vacation.

Climbing up a mountain in my all purpose penny loafers seemed to be the answer.

Not having tuned into CNBC or Bloomberg its been difficult to know what's been shaping the markets into their action or inaction for the past two days.

Although I did ask, this particular Sherpa didn't appear to be specializing in that particular area of my interests. I never even thought to ask him what macroeconomic issues were at play today.

As I stared into the incredible carved out red mountains against a sea of bright blue sky, there's probably a greater chance of understanding how those were carved out than we'll ever truly understand market dynamics.

I heard roughly equal number of comments about God and nature being responsible for the wonders before us. The beauty proved both sides of the argument to my satisfaction. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake for me to suggest that the rock formations proved that fetal stem cell research is ordained by a higher energy.

On these recently increasing days that I'm cut off from a reliable income stream the trades still need to be made. They're not going to make themselves, although they could if someone would send an algorithm my way.

What I do know is I made a few trades as I occasionally got an opportunity to check in with my cell phone. I bought more shares of Netflix and Goldman Sachs, sold calls on those, as well as calls on Halliburton and Freeport McMoRan.

I remember thinking that there must be a higher order and authority. How else could a cell phone connection exist in such a remote area other than through divine intervention.

In a misguided attempt to make trades on my Droid phone, which is an entirely unsatisfactory experience, I also ended up buying calls on British Petroleum when my intention was to sell.

That, to me, indicated that there was no such higher authority. How could a loving Supreme Being have allowed such a travesty?

I'm certain that had my personal Sherpa been at my side that sort of thing would never have happened.

I never buy calls. He would have known that.

Having a Sherpa at hand can be very useful. Presumably, to be a qualified Sherpa you have to understand the challenges that lay ahead and then endure and conquer them.

To do so, you have to be prepared.

As we trekked up the mountain, my Sugar Momma, who is usually prepared enough for two, fell right out of her completely ridiculous shoes.

Fashion trumping function, those were the same kind of shoes she fell out of while pregnant with our oldest son many years ago.

So that should answer that question.

In this case, she forgot to change into hiking shoes as we left the car.

Fortunately, the outcome was just embarrassment in front of a  gaggle of Taiwanese friends re-assembled for a college reunion.

We eventually reached the summit together and found the "voretx". The Taiwanese felt the glow, the vibration and the heat.

I'm not surprised. They also don't feel the acupuncturist's needles.

I felt nothing, but I did get a cell signal, so at least I felt the joy of being able to read the morning's Daily Dilbert, high above the roadside.

With SHerpa in hand, I'll be better prepared for tomorrow. I'm certain that my guide and protector will awaken me before the opening bell in New York.

That didn't happen this morning. I actually missed the first 30 minutes or so and whatever opportunities may have come along in that time.

The SHerpa will also guide my as we travel to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, to be certain that I methodically check the settings on my Droid app, so that I don't make the same mistake twice and once again purchase a worthless call option.

In the meantime, Sherpa and I can celebrate the ultimate victory.

Even with Tuesday's little erroneous trade mishap, I hit a personal best month ever in terms of options premiums with the most recent trades.

Even if we fall off the cliff, they can't take that away from me, but of course, if that does occur, the loyal Sherpa is likely to break my fall.

And that's exactly why selling covered calls is like having a personal Sherpa. They protct and guide you toward a defined strike price.

As Green Mountain Coffee Roasters took that huge earnings related hit last week, that fall was nicely cushioned by lots of options premiums the previus three weeks.

Cost averaging down on Monday and selling even more call actions at the lower price strime just served to further reduce the cost basis. Now, despite that $25 drop, the shares are no longer a losing proposition.

The options will expire and no one will ever really remember that they existed. The glory is all mine and I live to trade another day, as long as those calls are out there to protect.

Now, if only I could get a Sherpa to protect me from Sugar Momma's ire as I play with my various "devices" while I'm supposed to be communing with nature and the energy of the vortex.

That would truly be something special and a worthy cause.

Until that time comes, I'll attempt to sneak peaks at what's going on in the markets and attempt to squeeze a few more trades out before the November cycle ends.

Besides, I have to pay for this vacation and Sherpas don't come cheaply, either.




Mile High Club

Mile High ClubI’m no longer at a stage in my life that I fantasize about becoming a member of "The Mile High Club."

As I look around the bleary eyed passengers of a 6:15 AM flight to Phoenix, Sugar Momma’s present company excluded, no one really appears to be Mile High appropriate.

Part of that assessment may also be related to the fact that Sugar Momma is peering at the screen and another part may be related to the very cramped spaces in the airplane lavatory.

America is not a thin nation. Airplane lavatories that may have sufficed a generation or two ago just won't do it anymore.

Combine that with the fact, as I’ve previously made clear, that I don’t use public restrooms and you’ve got a non-starter kind of situation.

If I had the ability to read minds, my guess is that anyone on board thinking about entertaining in a Mile High fashion is equally disinterested in me, although to my credit, I don’t take up much space.

But that’s not the Mile High Club that I was hoping to be part of this morning.

As we begin a few days trip, here we are on a Monday morning, when I would normally be very anxious to trade in on the good names of my holdings and sell whatever call options as I could.

With a monthly record of accrued options premiums already safely at hand, I’m within distance of achieving a 100 on the 1964 Color TV Metric for the November 2011 option cycle. That was a figure that I could barely even fantasize about.

There was an extended period of about 7 years when I flew twice a week but never really gave any thought to what I was missing in the world of streaming data by virtue of being aboard a plane. Besides, back then we were lead to believe that an Internet connection of any kind was incompatible with flight safety.

Back in those days I flew after the markets had closed and besides, options only came in the monthly variety, so I would have a flurry of activity on that first Monday and Tuesday.

Not so this morning.

I’m still anxious, but unable to perform.

Actually, that sounds like the situation for the original Mile High Club, as well.

Having started the morning off so promisingly, seeing the CNBC logo emblazoned on airport newsstand, I was so hopeful that the Southwest Airlines flight would be Wi-Fi enabled.

I had flown the previous week to Nashville, but did so on a late Thursday morning, usually a slow time for my kind of trading activity. It really didn’t matter to me that there was no Wi-fi on that 2-hour flight.

Today, I just knew that it was going to be different.

Despite the fact that the cashier at the CNBCstore gave me a blank stare when I asked for her advice on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and snapped at me "what do you think? Do I look like friggin’ Herb Greenberg to you?"

As it turns out, those people aren’t really employees of or contributors to CNBC, although the cashier looked strangely like James Altucher.

If I’m not mistaken, Altucher did once have a blog entry entitled "The 12 Things I Learned from the People who made Impulse Purchases at the Register before Boarding their Flight."

So, it could have been him,

Yet, despite the lack of helpful guidance at the CNBC store, I still held hope that everything would fall into place today.

I was completely prepared to stream CNBC, engage that trading platform and join that Mile High Traders Club, ready to pounce and thrust trades out from this ad hoc trading machine.

I even had visions of having a celebratory cigarette afterward basking in the glow of victory.

Well, guess again.

First of all, it turns out that there is no smoking allowed on airplanes.

Secondly, no Wi-Fi.

To make matters even worse, next to public restrooms the thing that I like the least is making casual conversation with strangers aboard a plane.

In several hundred flights over that 7 years period, I probably averaged 7 words per flight, usually related to the offering of peanuts or a beverage.

While Sugar Momma slept with her head on my shoulder, someone asked what I did for a living and I was begrudgingly engaged me in conversation.

I can’t remember the last time anyone really asked me that question and I really didn’t have an answer.

Without giving her reason to ask, she then told me that her husband, a physician, as if I had cared, wanted to invest all of their money in gold.

She wanted to know what I thought.

Odd, Is what I thought initially.

See he wasn’t there to defend himself, I gave my opinion.

I then made the mistake of mentioning stocks and options.

But I do enjoy rambling on about that topic until she asked me if I only bought shares in corporations that were socially responsive.

I gave her the same "are you serious look" that I've given to others on other occasions. I like to make money with my stock investments, and not see them predictably trail the indices.

She had no concept of opportunity costs, when she countered that "if stocks make 10% and your investment made 7%, then you're not really losing money."

I tried to tell her that when purchasing shares in Altria, for example, that was a hands off transaction for Altria. They didn't own the shares, someone, perhaps me, owned those shares. A buy or a sell was transacted with another individual or  institution, and not with Altria.

Donate the capital gains to charity, was my solution to any pangs of guilt.

How I wanted that conversation to end.

But first she had to tell me that what was necessary was a boycott of stocks. She used flawed history to point to the case of South Africa and how people got the system to change.

She had mistaken consumer boycotts for a stock boycott.

Of course, I never wanted to point out the socially irresponsible way that gold may be mined, yet that was there "go to" investment strategy.

All I really wanted to to get off that plane, forget about any hopes of joining the Mile High Club and get on with life.

We landed at about noon New York time. Plenty of time to make a couple of trades. Adding shares of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and JP Morgan, certainly among the most socially responsible corporations out there.

With quick sales of call options on both it was then time to meet up with friends and head out for a day of hiking.

We didn't make it very far on this first day, but tomorrow, we all plan to join the Mile High Club together.

I think I mean that in a literal sense, but there'll be lots of Margaritas, so you never know if the figurative interpretation will show its face.

Tomorrow's another day. I'm still a bit shy of that 100 Color TV mark, but am hopeful.

Socially responsible or not, someday I'll reach that Mile High Club, even if it's by myself.

Won't Get Fooled Again

How universal is that theme?

How many times have we been fooled, or used our best judgment and made a mistake that we've come to regret?

Ask Eddie Murphy that question.

What do you think would pop up first in his mind among the mistaken paths he's taken?

Beverly Hills Cop 3, Pluto Nash, transvestite hookers, accepting hosting duties for the Academy Awards or walking away from hosting duties?

He's only human, as are we all, so there's probably many more regrets in the mix.

Until I started writing this blog I never realized how obsessed I must be with Eddie Murphy, as he's been cited now for a third time and on the other two occasions his was the illustrative photo.

Not so this time.

I've learned my lesson.

The WhoAs a product of the 60's and 70's the classic song from "The Who" always comes to mind. Certainly Peter Townshend learned his lesson and now probably removes all traces of child pornography from his computer.

After all, isn't "learning your lesson" the desired endpoint of any mistake?

The depressing close to that song is that what we think of as change is most often not.

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" also has a universal truth about it. That and the fact that we always do get fooled again.

This weekend we learned that Billy Crystal, the one time host of the Oscars is coming back to rescue the production after the surprise departure of Murphy.

The surprise departure came after the surprise selection.

Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.

And then comes news that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was truly resigning his position following Parliament passing economic reforms. He didn't use Twitter to make the announcement as he had earlier to deny the announcement.

Instead, Berlusconi blamed "transformati" as the reason for his sad state. That is, the tendency of Italian politicians to change their policy positions based on shifting winds.

He described his decision to resign as being a "generous act."

Replacing him and seeking to pull off the same kind of rescue as Billy Crystal is expected to do, is Mario Monti, a past member of the European Commission and who just a week ago was appointed Senator for Life.

With that a"Senator for Life" appellation also goes the title "Colonel", befitting such previous lifetime luminaries as Moammar Khaddafi, who also had quite an Italian connection.

I'm not certain what the designation entitles the bearer to, but it would look great on a desk nameplate. Monti has already asured the populace that he will devote his complete attention to the task of rescuing the Italian economy.

Those efforts are already being hailed as "The Full Monti."

After 20 years of dealing with the antics of Berlusconi, Italians are now ready to go back to their old ways and form a new government every few months. Even then, the unifying theme was that the old boss was the same as the new boss.

Monday is the start of yet another week and I've had a personal best for total options income generation, even compared to some options cycles that were 5 weeks long.

Sounds great, but I'm wondering whether I'll have the strength to resist the lure of Berlusconi-like generous option premiums or whether I'll get fooled again.

At question is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

This week, I'll have only cash that's been made available through the assignment of my Caterpillar shares. Every other holding that had calls written against it are still right where they belong. Still in my portfolilo and very close to their most recently written strike prices.

On Fridays that end like that I want something other than a "Down Monday", which typically gives the opportunity to repurchase shares.

This week, other than Caterpillar, there's nothing to buy back.

The prudent me would do what I've done the past few weeks. In fact, this has been the third time in 3 weeks that my Caterpillar shares have been assigned. Each time I've bought shares back and resold options. Along the way, I've been very happy as the "in the money" weekly options provided an adjusted 2% ROI.

To buy shares back again seems like such a "no brainer" especially if they open lower than the price where exercised, as they did last week.

But then there's Green Mountain just waving at me, sort of like those underage hookers that Berlusconi seemed to favor.

In return for picking up shares about 3 weeks ago, I received a 6-7% premium each week. But likewise in return, the devil required accepting a 35% share price haircut.

So with so much uncertainty and questions out there regarding Green Mountain, is it possible that a momentum stock can actually be a value, or is it destined to spend the rest of its existence along with the heap of one time momentum stocks that never see glory days again.

I know that I should stick with Caterpillar or some other proven cyclic winner, but human nature refuses to believe that lightening will strike twice. Even if it does, human nature then tells us that we won't be the unlucky guy who keeps getting shown in the Guinness World Records for the number of documented times he's been actually struck by lightening.

Alright, so there's human nature, but there's also that need to "do as I say" kind of thing, as my segment on last week's "Bloomberg Rewind, where I mentioned that I was holding Green Mountain and would continue to do so even after the precipitous fall, was replayed the next evening.

As Rick Perry would say "Oops".

To compound things a bit, I'll be enroute to Arizona when the market opens and am sitting on a number of new short call positions that I was hoping to open. With luck of the draw a week earlier I'd boarded a Southwest flight for Nashville that didn't have Wi-Fi service, but it was an otherwise quite Thursday.

I'd missed nothing on that day, besides most of my weekly trades come on Monday and Wednesday.

There's not too much that I can do about tomorrow's flight. That too, will be hit or miss, but if a miss, our feet will be on ground before noon, NYSE time. At that time I can decide whether to ignore what common sense tells me to do.

In the meantime, I'm still somewhat confused by the goings on in the GOP quest for the Presidential nomination.

In that regard, it's hard not to get fooled again. What other choices are there? The perfect example of how an intelligent person doesn't get fooled again is to consider whether you've ever re-ordered from Godfather's Pizza.

Without a single real vote being cast, the infinite number of debates, the most recent on The Cartoon Network, it appears the the choice is narrowing down to a steady and unexciting Mitt Romney or a ridiculously resurgent Newt Gingrich.

Either way, that represents getting fooled again.

The reality, though, is that American politics, sometimes those who lose in their quest to become boss, eventually do become the new boss, so giving up is never a good idea.

Look at Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Using Berlusconi's view of politics, Romney's perceived shifts are reflective of "transformati", while Gingrich's dogmatic adherence to 20 year old policy positions are the sign of a principled politician.

And if anyone knows a principled politician, it's likely Berlusconi, as he's purchased many over a lifetime of public service.

I suppose that many are saying the same thing about our current President, but many will likely change their minds if we can string 3-4 months of good employment numbers together.

In the meantime, knowing that giving up is never a good idea, there may be hope for Green Mountain, yet.

Maybe so, but I can tell you that regardless of what I finally do with the money, I wont get fooled again, again.

That gives me at least one more opportunity to take a stab at Green Mountain. If shares have at least another week of life left in them before the expected implosion, there may be very good opportunity to sell in the money weekly calls and erase some of last week's loss.

If that strategy works, all that will remain is wondering how long to keep pulling that off until I do get fooled one last time.



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