Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm Back, after a Very Bleak October

It's been over a month since my last post, and i have been very busy. School has been hectic and I have had many (thus far fruitless) internship/co-op interviews, so blogging had to take a back seat to more important matters.

I've missed out on commenting on a very noteworthy month of market activity. Taken from

The Dow rallied a whopping 11.3% for the week, even as it plunged 14.1% for the month, its worst October since the stock market crash of 1987. See The Month that Was.
The S&P posted a monthly decline of 16.9% -- its worst month since 1987, but a weekly gain of 10.5%. The Nasdaq slumped 17.7% in October, its worst month since 2001, but it rose 10.9% from last Friday's close.

If not for the rally this week, the final statistics would have been much bleaker. Still, October had many spooky moments (note: obligatory Halloween joke is now complete). The VIX (an options volatility index) still sits in previously-uncharted territory; after hitting highs above 80, the index closed at 60 on Friday. Prior to this month, peaks had been made around 40 with a normal range between 10 and 25. The VIX measures options premiums (which can represent sentiment or "fear") - readings this high show that traders expect big moves, and are either trying to capitalize on swings directly or are hedging longer-term bets with options.

Because of a busy schedule (or at least I'll use that as an excuse) I have largely ignored the market over the past month. I have generally held all of my long-term positions (though I did need to meet a margin call due to declining prices) as I was comfortable with long-term valuations and prospects. This past week, I did well with buying and selling some MRO and VLO calls (I sold Friday fearing a Monday selloff and a decline in options premiums), but energy companies are grossly undervalued right now.

Valero, a refiner, made $1.86 per share during this past quarter (after backing out one-time items and other extras). The stock was trading at $16 earlier in the week ahead of earnings and ended around $20.50 on Friday. It had traded below $15 earlier this month. As a refiner, Valero actually does better in an energy environment like the one we have now - crude oil prices are falling faster than gasoline (and other distillate) prices are. With oil at $60-70, Valero makes a very desirable margin on the difference between input costs and output prices.

Marathon Oil (MRO) has equally bright prospects. MRO has both upstream (finding/drilling oil) and downstream (refining, gasoline retailing) operations, which helps buffer the impact of a fluctuating price of oil. Marathon reported adjusted net income of $2.76 per share for this quarter - once again, before the announcement, shares were trading at less than 10x QUARTERLY earnings. Marathon is expected to make about $6/share this year - a reasonable 8-10x earnings valuation would put MRO shares around $48-60, where they were trading before this market mayhem. Additionally, Marathon is moving to possibly break up the companies upstream and downstream components into two different publicly traded companies. Jim Cramer estimates that the market values of the two companies would value current shares between about $70-$100, though trusting that pundit is always risky.

I will happily reenter calls for either company if there is market weakness early this week. Long-term valuations are wonderful - Price to Cash Flow for the trailing twelve months is just 2.8 compared to a 10-year average of 4.6. MRO is currently trading at book value, while the 10-year average for that metric is a price-to-book of 1.7. There isn't much money available to flow into the market and buy great stocks like these, but shares should clearly appreciate over time.

That's all for now, but a lightening schedule should lead to frequent posting once again. There's certainly a lot to write about, so I hope to continue to commentate during this wild market.

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