With the crowning of the Chicago White Sox as World Series champions, the 2005 baseball season has come to an end. Professional football approaches its halfway point just as hockey and basketball seasons begin. Halloween has come and gone; hopefully, the resultant expansion of my waistline will go soon as well. More people will be depressed now that the clocks have been moved back such that it gets darker earlier. Doctors refer to this phenomenon as seasonal affective disorder, which is related to diminished hours of sunlight, not to the end of the baseball season. Despite these changes, time, the market and life continue to move forward. But looking forward sometimes means looking back. For my first pick today, I go back to one of the great growth stocks of the 1990s: Cisco Systems ( CSCO). I know what you're thinking ... Cisco? When is this guy going to realize we are in 2005, not 2000? Cisco is a tired stock, a little long in the tooth. I have no problem with those comments, because that probably means you are not going to buy Cisco. That means "more stock on sale for me," which I will gladly take! As we all know, this whole business is about supply and demand. The more supply, the cheaper the stock. On the flip side, if you tried to buy a Play Station 2, or PS2, in the year 2000 (there's that year again), then you realized real fast what the word demand meant. On Nov. 9, the day that Cisco releases its third-quarter results, those two words, "supply and demand," will dictate the fate of billions of dollars worth of stock. Now, let's get down and dirty:
Cisco is trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 15.02; Cisco's return on equity is 23.43 %; Cisco's free cash flow is $5.4 billion; Cisco has zero debt, yes -- goose egg! Cisco has just under $7 billion in cash. Looking forward, I expect Cisco to continue to see increased demand for its routers from the many telecom providers upgrading their networks. Also, I expect many corporations to increase productivity -- why? They don't want to chance losing their customers. There is more competition now, the customers have more options. I believe Cisco will report solid growth in its networking business and voice-over-Internet protocol products with embedded security features.
Cisco has maintained its overall business momentum at the same or better levels in all regions this quarter, which should result in solid year-over-year revenue gains. The bottom line: This company has never been in better shape. If Cisco, this flat-out "awesome" company, disappoints again, then we will have to take a serious look at Mr. John Chambers, Cisco's CEO and president. He is paid millions of dollars a year, so it is time for him to step up to the plate (although my guess would be that Mr. Chambers never picked up a baseball bat in his life). What good is having the best stadium, the best players, if there are no fans in the seats? My other pick today is another "tired, old" blue-chip: International Paper ( IP). If this conglomerate were playing in my son's baseball tournament -- it would have had the "mercy rule" called on it just to stop the bleeding, and limit the pain. I'm sure the 80,000 full-time employees, who have seen their 401-k plans experienced the definition of south, aren't too thrilled with the performance of their company stock. But I'm here to help. If you want to make money, with little risk, then follow my game plan. We are going to be in control of (almost like owning) 1,000 shares of International Paper, not for the cost of $29,360, which was Friday's closing price, but for $7,300. How? I was filled Monday on an order to buy 10 International Paper April $22.50s "deep in the money" calls at $7.30. This means we have the option to buy the stock at $22.50, or an effective price of $29.80 on the third Friday in April, or sell our 10 calls that we paid $7,300 for. The reason this is such a safe play is because we are paying almost no time or volatility premium since the bulk of the option's price is based on its intrinsic value, or the amount the option is in-the-money; in this case the call is some $6.86 in the money, based on Friday's close. The premium paid or so-called extrinsic value is the difference between the stock's price, minus the strike price plus the premium paid. In this case, that amounts to 44 cents above the option's intrinsic value.
Remember, we can sell our option, or call, anytime we want. When International Paper spikes up one day, or gradually moves up, we are moving up with it. The ultimate leverage! Just remember, if you are going to get in the option game, stay on top of your position. Nothing is for free my friends, we have to work to get better. (For a list of options definitions, please check out the
glossary for TheStreet.com's Options Alerts newsletter.) last week's picks : Both Jacobs Engineering Group ( JEC) and Agrium ( AGU) reported stellar earnings last week. Jacobs rallied to over $64 last Monday (after trading as low as $62.52 intraday) and then to over $65 Thursday in immediate reaction to its earnings; the stock then suffered a sell-the-news reaction, trading as low as $61.58. But JEC rebounded Friday and was recently up 2.8% to $64.65 Monday. The strong fundamental outlook for this engineering firm that I wrote about last week remains very much intact. Agrium also rallied early last week after my recommendation (to as high as $21.59 intraday Tuesday) and then retreated. I took advantage of that misguided selloff and bought the stock near $20 last week. In recent trading, Agrium was up 0.9% to $20.51 despite a downgrade by Credit Suisse First Boston that I think the analyst will live to regret.
Looking Back, LonginglyA quick word about
The Game of LifeAs I have stated in previous columns, many parallels can be drawn between baseball and investing. For example, I believe you can view each trade as an "at bat." The goal is to make every transaction a quality "at bat." Therefore, even if you don't "get on base," you at least want to learn something from the transaction. Furthermore, it is important to recognize, acknowledge and understand the significance of how you got on base, or why you went back to the dugout. You can earn your way on with a hit or a walk, or you can get on due to an opponent's unintentional generosity via an error or catcher's interference. On the contrary, you can return to the dugout after a screaming line drive deposits itself reflexively in the webbing of an opponent's glove.
Similarly, you can earn profits with intensely researched, well thought out, timely trades, or you can stumble upon profits due to unexpected fortuitous events. Moreover, you can possess what seems like a sure "home run" stock, only to see the majestic arc of the ball knocked down by the wind, thereby turning it into a loud out. Hence, you can be certain that some degree of uncertainty will always be present. Otherwise, we would all make a fortune in the market. In the world of sports, we invariably hear the phrase, "There's no tomorrow," particularly in conjunction with the seventh game of a World Series or other similar elimination contests. This certainly heightens the drama surrounding the event; however, it distorts reality, in that there is a tomorrow. Seemingly, there's always another game, another season, another career, another stage of your life. Remember: Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride!