Walmart, up about 26% so far this year, may just be hitting its stride.
We don’t say that lightly about a stock that is sharply outperforming the market, but Walmart (ticker: WMT) offers a rare combination of qualities in a market assaulted by uncertainties, ranging from a president who faces impeachment to a trade war between the two largest economies.
Walmart’s e-commerce abilities—something that could potentially supercharge its earnings—are allowing it to hold its own against Amazon.com (AMZN). This is especially apparent in its online grocery sales.
“Walmart is by far the leader with pickup of online orders—which especially drives its grocery sales—as many shoppers prefer that to home delivery,” Madison Global Partners analyst Bernard Sosnick, who has long followed the retailer, tells Barron’s. “By year end, Walmart will have 3,100 pickup stations. Drive up, order is placed in trunk, and drive away. 1-2-3, no need to get out of car. Pickup is a convenience that Amazon cannot match.”
Of course, at a time when the U.S. economy appears to be weakening, Walmart’s reputation for offering low prices will certainly resonate with cost-conscious shoppers. And in a time of low rates, Walmart’s dividend yield is 1.81%, compared with 1.52% for the 10-year Treasury.
The test of this thesis will come Nov. 14, when the company reports third-quarter earnings. If the report is a strong one, Walmart’s share prices could spike.
To pre-position, investors could consider selling a downside put option and buying an upside call to buy the stock on a decline and participate in any rallies. If this appeals, consider selling the November $115 put at $2.45 and buying the November $120 call for $2.20. The options expire the day after Walmart reports earnings. Because the put costs more than the call, the trade generates a small credit of 25 cents. (Puts increase in value when the underlying security price declines, while calls increase in value when the underlying security price increases.)
The key risk to the suggested trade is that Walmart’s stock falls far below the $115 strike price. Such a move could happen if earnings, or the financial outlook, disappoint investors. And the recent weakness in the broad market could sweep up the stock, and many others, and drag everything lower.
If Walmart is at, say, $110 at expiration, investors are obligated to buy the stock at $115 or cover the put at $5. Should that happen, investors are arguably best served by just buying the stock and managing the position by selling an upside call against the long stock position to take in some incremental income on a blue-chip stock with staying power. Should the stock rally on earnings, and be at, say, $125 at expiration, the call would be worth $5.
Over the past 52 weeks, Walmart’s stock has ranged from $85.78 to $119.86. It closed Tuesday up 0.3%, at $117.58.
It’s hard to imagine a time in the foreseeable future when Walmart’s qualities won’t prove appealing to investors and consumers. For now, its options pricing is attractive ahead of earnings as investors are unsure of what to expect. This uncertainty makes selling Walmart puts an attractive way to potentially control a stock, while the upside calls position investors to profit from an advance.
This is a very speculative idea, but if you’re worried about “Washington risk” after President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw troops from Syria, it could make sense to hedge China stocks that are listed in the U.S.
Trump has threatened to ban U.S. investments in China and even delist China stocks from U.S. exchanges. The threat was walked back, but investors increasingly fret about presidential tweet risk that could roil stock prices at any given time.
J.P. Morgan’s Shawn Quigg looked at some of the biggest China-listed stocks and found none are trading with fear premiums, which means you can hedge them without paying top dollar. When Alibaba Group Holding (BABA) was around $170, he advised buying the December $160 put for $5.35. He also liked the iShares China Large-Cap exchange-traded fund (FXI) December $38 put when the ETF was at $40.24.