The data coming out regarding retailers and consumer confidence isn’t wholly encouraging as we head into the holiday shopping season.
A great deal of uncertainty remains regarding the economy. Employment numbers continue to struggle, and there is no momentum on the job front. The luxury sector is seeing a significant slowdown in growth.
All of this makes me very bearish on holiday shopping results, and you should consider hedging your portfolio as we approach Christmas — or taking advantage of any bearishness you might have to make a straight trade.
There are a number of ways to do this, though I think the most efficient tactic is to just buy straight puts on various securities, regardless of whether you hold individual stocks or ETFs.
If you are down on the entire retail sector — and I think that’s a good idea — then have a look at the Market Vectors Retail ETF (NYSE:RTH). Holdings here include Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and TJX (NYSE:TJX). The December 45 Puts are trading at around 80 cents on an ETF price of $44.25. This is good, cheap insurance. Because sales reports come in almost weekly during this season, you might be able to see a profit before the full season is done. Do not buy puts on the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (NYSE:XRT), however — it is filled with auto part companies and dollar stores, which should do fine.
Another way to go is to buy puts on the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (NYSE:XLY). Top holdings here include McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), which is struggling with slower sales, Amazon, Home Depot and Target (NYSE:TGT). XLY presently trades at $45.89. The December 46 Puts trade at $1.09. I think paying a 2.4% premium to protect against a downside here is reasonable, and it’s also a small price to pay for a return that could be larger. A dismal shopping season could send this ETF down to $40.
There are individual plays, also. I think Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF) will continue to struggle, as the luxury market starts to wobble. The $62.50 stock seems poised for further downside. The January 67.5 Puts are trading at $5.85, so you are already halfway to seeing a profit on this trade. Tiffany could have its crown handed to it should the company miss already underwhelming projections.
I think Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) is also vulnerable. The stock trades at $55, and the January 57.50 puts are going for $2.94. In addition, I think the stock is overvalued. With earnings of $3.50, a long-term growth rate of 12%, plus a premium for its strong cash flow to give it a 15 multiple, you’re looking at a $48 stock at best.
Finally, I’d take a hard look at Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL). The $155 stock is trading at 21 times earnings on long-term growth of 13%. Even accounting for a premium, the stock seems vulnerable in the present environment. The January 165 Puts are going for $13, and I think the risk-reward here is attractive on the puts.
As of this writing, Lawrence Meyers did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. He is president of PDL Capital, Inc., which brokers secure high-yield investments to the general public and private equity. You can read his stock market commentary at SeekingAlpha.com. He also has written two books and blogs about public policy, journalistic integrity, popular culture and world affairs.