When is a slump just a slump? That is a key question in both sports and in picking stocks. Most stocks and all players in every sport go through rough patches. It's a fact of life and it's part of the game -- there's no way around it. There are bundles of cash at stake with today's big-time players' contracts, and the front offices want to make sure they are getting the most bang for their buck. However, the key for the owners and management is determining whether a player's downturn is just a slump, or if there is more to the story and reason to be concerned. The Cleveland Indians sat one of their big guns, Travis Hafner, in their Wednesday night match-up vs. the Seattle Mariners. Known as Pronk (a nickname that is a combination of the names "The Project" and "Donkey"), Hafner is batting a painful .210 this season. He has just seven hits in his last 51 at-bats and none in the last dozen. Clearly the underperformance is a disappointment to the organization and to Travis, who is making more than $8 million this season. Hafner is the Tribe's No. 3 hitter, but the team's manager was noncommittal as to where Pronk will bat when he returns to the lineup and just when he would step in the batter's box next. Hafner, one of the biggest threats at the plate in the Majors the last few seasons, is hardly the only player struggling. Aside from several of his current teammates, there are plenty of other big-leaguers riding the pine.
Cleveland's brass is saying it expects Hafner to snap out of it. To them it's a matter of "when," not "if," he returns to form. With many athletes, a prolonged slump can be an indication of deteriorating skills, an injury or ailment, loss of confidence or any number of factors that could ultimately decrease a player's value. It's key to correctly determine whether the slump is a short-term event and the player will bounce back, or if the player is on the downside of his career. These same principles apply to picking stocks. The answer to this very basic question will help you determine whether a company is worth investing in. Regular readers of my column have sent me emails asking if picking stocks near their 52-week lows is the major part of my process. It's an important piece of the puzzle, but it is just one of many factors. There are a lot of bad companies trading at their lowest levels in the last 12 months and we don't want to get on a sinking ship. So today, I am going with a company that is down, but still has a lot of life left in it: chip-maker Texas Instruments ( TXN). Texas was in the news on Tuesday when it formed an alliance with Intel ( INTC), Infineon ( IFX) and Panasonic to push for standards on how home entertainment products will work with each other. The stock is trading near its 52-week low of $27.51. It closed down 52 cents, or 1.7%, yesterday at $29.16. Its highest point in the last year was $39.63. I think this company will be on the rise again. That's why I am placing an order to buy 10 DITM calls going all the way out until January 2009. I will place a limit order at $7.90, or better, for the $22.50 (VXTAX ) calls. That should leave plenty of time for the company to get back in the swing of things. If the order is filled, don't forget to place a GTC sell order $1.00 above the fill price. Always Remember: Life is a journey, enjoy the ride!