Jingle bells are the second-best sound of the season, after a cash register ringing if you own department store or credit card stocks. The question about how great the holiday shopping season is going to be, however, is up in the air. Some data suggest that Black Friday was actually rather lackluster. So, options are a good way to hedge bets in favor of or against your expectation for the holiday season.
Let’s look at department stores. The big players I like looking at are Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), Macy’s (NYSE:M), Target (NYSE:TGT) and J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP). Each cater to different shopping demographics. I personally think upper-end retailers aren’t going to do well, as the trend of slowing growth in this segment continues. For Nordstrom, I’d consider buying January 60 Puts for $5.28 based on Wednesday’s closing price of $55.20. That gives you an effective short position without paying much premium.
Macy’s could go either way. It’s the hardest to predict, so I’d use options to hedge a long position. Either buy January 40 Puts for $1.62, or sell the January 40 Calls for $1.72, based on Wednesday’s close of $40.36.
I think Target, as a discounter, will do well in this economy. In this case, I’d either sell the January 62.5 Puts naked for $1.66 to gobble up the premium for income purposes, or buy the January 65 Calls for a mere 82 cents. I think Target will be above $65 by January strike.
Penney is everybody’s favorite piñata right now, but that means premiums are spectacular. The stock hit the mid-16s a few days ago and has bounced back. There are a lot of choices here, but I think the best bet is if you can sell the January 19 Puts naked for $2.02, an amazing 10.5% return for seven weeks, and collect that income. You also get great downside protection all the way to $17.
Another way to play the season is with the credit card companies. They’re bound to see action, but again, the question is how much? Some evidence suggests that consumers aren’t delevering but are in fact defaulting in increasing numbers. Meanwhile, the issuers are increasing their offerings to subprime consumers, who will be all too eager to spend. Given this trend, I’d be more bullish in the near-term on credit cards.
Visa (NYSE:V) feels like a steal by buying the January 145 Calls for $5.35 based on Wednesday’s close of $147.29. You’re paying a mere 4.5% premium here, and the stock should go well above $150 by January strike.
MasterCard (NYSE:MA) suggests a different strategy to me because the underlying stock is so expensive at $482. I think here you sell a January 480 Put naked for a whopping $14.81. You’re pocketing $1,481 before commission, or a 3% premium for seven weeks — a 24% annualized return.
If the stock gets put to you, I wouldn’t cry a river. You want to be holding one of these two market leaders for the long term anyway, and that’s quite a bit of downside protection.
Lawrence Meyers is long JCP.