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Amid a relatively quiet session news-wise, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) is off 12 points, or 0.1%, to 15,109.54, following yesterday's overseas-induced sell-off. Meanwhile, investors remain on edge over whether the Fed will start scaling back its bond-buying program in the near term. Also of note, the updated Treasury budget -- today's lone economic report -- is due to hit the Street this afternoon at 2:00 ET.
Here are a few noteworthy stats at midday:
- The equity put/call volume ratio across all 11 options exchanges checks in at 1.07, with 2.9 million puts crossing the tape so far today, versus 2.7 million calls.
- Among the equities with heavy put activity is Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE:LYV), despite tacking on about 0.4% since the opening bell. Currently, puts account for 99.5% of the security's intraday option volume. At last check, LYV was trading at $13.90.
- The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shows an advance/decline ratio of 0.54, with the number of downward movers almost doubling the advancers.
- Among the NYSE's major decliners is Legg Mason, Inc. (NYSE:LM), which has shed about 2.4% in intraday action, after analysts at Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to "sell" from "neutral" this morning. LM is presently trading at $32.55.
- The CBOE Market Volatility Index (INDEXCBOE:VIX) is 0.5 point, or 2.8%, higher, to rest at 17.54.
- The put/call volume ratio on the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (NYSEARCA:VXX) -- which is currently perched at 20.58 -- sits at 0.69, with calls outnumbering puts.
View a real-time chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average 2 Minute (INDEXDJX:.DJI).
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Analysts are weighing in today on financial firm Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC), biotech company Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB), and food and beverage concern Dean Foods Co (NYSE:DF). Here's a quick roundup of today's bearish brokerage notes.
- WFC -- which sports a 52-week gain of about 30% -- was downgraded to "underweight" from "neutral" at Atlantic Equities this morning. Nevertheless, sentiment among the brokerage bunch remains bullishly skewed. Wells Fargo & Co currently boasts 12 "strong buys" and three "buy" endorsements, compared to nine "holds" and one "strong sell" suggestion. Still, the security's average 12-month price target of $41.26 is just a stone's throw away from yesterday's closing price of $40.66. In other words, a round of upgrades and/or price-target hikes could be on the horizon for WFC.
- Despite a year-to-date climb of more than 52% to trade at $223.03, BIIB was cut to "neutral" from "buy" at Citigroup in pre-market action. (However, Brean Capital raised its price target for the stock to $268 from $219.) Elsewhere, Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) for Biogen Idec Inc. checks in at 0.57, indicating calls almost double puts among options slated to expire in the next three months. This ratio hovers just 1 percentage point above an annual nadir, conveying near-term traders have rarely been more bullishly aligned toward the stock during the last 12 months.
- DF was lowered to "market perform" from "outperform" at Bernstein today, which could chip away at the equity's 2013 advance of about 32%. Meanwhile, Dean Foods -- presently priced at $10.14 -- has been popular with the bears. The stock's 10-day International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) put/call volume ratio sits at 3.11, indicating puts bought to open have more than tripled calls during the past two weeks. This ratio arrives in the 90th annual percentile, signaling speculators have been snapping up puts over calls at a much faster-than-usual clip.
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The Dow has not suffered a three-day pullback yet in 2013, and the index is hoping to keep that trend intact today, as futures are solidly higher this morning. Turning to stock news, here are some companies to watch today:
- Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) is reportedly interested in acquiring Kabel Deutschland Holding AG -- the largest cable provider in Germany. The proposed acquisition would cost the wireless carrier more than $9 billion (according to estimates), but would keep Liberty Global Inc. (NASDAQ:LBTYA) from snatching up the company; it would also add fast fixed-line services to Vodafone's arsenal. (Bloomberg)
- First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) announced plans to unload 9.8 million shares of stock in a secondary offering designed to raise almost $530 million. The company will use the funds collected to help further its global expansion efforts. (Phoenix Business Journal)
- A combination of generic alternatives is as effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis as Enbrel, a drug manufactured by Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN). The study -- published in the New England Journal of Medicine and commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- compared a generic "triple therapy" cocktail that would cost patients an average of $1,000 per year, to Enbrel, which costs $25,000 annually. Last year, Enbrel sales totaled $4.23 billion worldwide. (The Wall Street Journal)
- A recent study conducted by Nielsen found that Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) served roughly 8 million U.S. customers during the past three months. Company CEO Michael Johnson noted that the findings prove that "Herbalife's products have a broad consumer base here in the U.S." (Bloomberg)
- The saga surrounding The Boeing Company 's (NYSE:BA) Dreamliner 787 is not over, even though the previously problematic lithium-ion batteries have been fixed. This week, one flight was grounded after the plane's right-side engine failed to start. Elsewhere, a Japan Airlines flight was cut short due to an issue with the 787's deicing system. (FOX News)
- On Tuesday, Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM) announced a roughly 19% decrease in May sales at its 5,300 restaurants -- most of which are KFCs -- in China. The result, which paralleled the consensus estimate of eight analysts, was an upgrade from April's sales plunge, when the country faced a bird flu outbreak. (Chicago Tribune)
- Rambus Inc. (NASDAQ:RMBS) finally settled its 13-year-old patent dispute with South Korean-based SK Hynix, after a federal judge in California ruled that Hynix did infringe on Rambus' patents, and should pay royalties. Hynix will reportedly pay Rambus $240 million over the next five years, and for the license to Hynix's memory-related patents and the right to some dynamic random access memory products, Hynix will pay Rambus $12 million per quarter for the next five years. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
- Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) will allow subscribers to include five or six individual profiles on a single account, starting later this summer. The purpose of the new feature is so each individual can store his or her personal preferences, and Netflix's data engine can better tailor its recommendations to those preferences. (Yahoo! News)
- Finally, sales of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" surged after the public learned of the National Security Agency's electronic surveillance programs. One edition of the book experienced a 10,000% sales jump, and is now featured as the third hottest book on Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and is ranked 123 overall on the site. (CNN Money)
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Analysts are weighing in today on electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA), search engine giant Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), and semiconductor name Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT). Here's a quick roundup of today's bullish brokerage notes.
- TSLA -- which has more than tripled in value during the past year and is priced at $94.47 -- saw its price target lifted to $118 from $70 at Baird this morning. Despite this technical prowess, Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) for Tesla Motors Inc checks in at 1.71, with puts almost doubling calls among options with a shelf-life of three months or less. In fact, this ratio is just 7 percentage points shy of a yearly acme, meaning near-term traders have rarely been more put-heavy toward the stock during the past year. An unwinding of these bearish positions -- particularly within the June series of puts -- could end up translating into options-related support down the road.
- Up roughly 56% on a year-over-year basis to trade at $879.81, GOOG received a price-target hike to $1,000 from $900 at Needham today. The company -- which has been under scrutiny following last week's National Security Agency (NSA) information leaks -- asked the Department of Justice for permission to disclose data requests received from security agencies yesterday. Elsewhere, skepticism has been growing toward Google Inc, as short interest jumped by about 36% during the past two reporting periods. However, the equity's bearish camp is far from crowded, as these shorted shares make up less than 2% of GOOG's available float.
- AMAT was upgraded to "buy" from "neutral" at Citigroup ahead of the opening bell. The stock has climbed nearly 33% year-to-date date and is perched at $15.19, which may be attracting call players. Data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) shows a 10-day call/put volume ratio of 5.24 for Applied Materials, Inc., confirming traders have bought to open more than five calls for every put during the past two weeks. This ratio ranks higher than 87% of similar annual readings, reflecting a healthier-than-usual appetite for calls over puts lately.
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Pretty eye-opening stuff by Vanguard here:
In a recent study, Vanguard analyzed the personal performance of 58,168 self-directed Vanguard IRA® investors over the five years ended December 31, 2012. Because it is problematic to draw conclusions based on personal rates of return alone, these investors' returns were then compared to the hypothetical results of two Vanguard created "personal rate-of-return benchmarks" for the same five-year period. These benchmarks consisted of, first, an investment in a Vanguard recommended "policy asset allocation" of stock and bond index funds and, second, one of the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds. Most investors held their own against these benchmarks, although a majority trailed their Target Retirement Fund benchmark slightly. However, investors who exchanged money between funds or into other funds fared considerably worse. The resulting performance gap is a good reminder that a simple, broad-based investment solution can minimize the chances that an investor will make a mistake that can reduce returns.
Now remember, of course, they're not an independent observer here; they've made a business of promoting the virtues of simple index funds. But that's not to imply the results are inaccurate or misleading. They ring true.
A lot of why they ring true has to do with the time period measured. In fact, they highlight that point themselves:
This paper's study examined returns for a specific five-year period, 2008-2012. The results are dependent on the market conditions prevailing during that period, including a large U.S. stock market correction following the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and a negative equity premium relative to bonds for both U.S. and non-U.S. stocks.
Results for future periods can be expected to differ in both magnitude and direction; this time period's underperformance relative to the benchmarks used could easily turn into another period's outperformance.
I would add another important factor: Overall market volatility. Again, volatility proxies trading profit opportunities. That 2008-2012 window started at/near a time of extremely high volatility. It's highly likely that more active investors and traders outperformed the market by a big margin in 2008, even if that outperformance meant losing less as the market got slammed. But ever since then, volatility has trended lower and lower. So, it stands to reason that attempts at adding value via fund switching, asset switching, trading, et. al., actually cost investors money.
A side issue is that there's some selection bias to the accounts in the study. They're likely passive accounts to begin with, not "trading" accounts. And they're probably not run by financial planners. It's likely indexing would benefit them in any way, apart from the market backdrop.
Regardless, though, the overall point is a solid one. The best action is often the least action. And that's most especially true in a low-volatility market. Investors are notoriously awful market timer -- it's likely they also shift poorly between stocks and groups too.
Disclaimer: The views represented on this blog are those of the individual author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Schaeffer's Investment Research.