How to Beat, or At Least Stay Sane, in a Volatile Stock Market

Tickers in this article: AMZN INTC NFLX P

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --I wish more people would do what TheStreet founder Jim Cramer did the other night on his "Mad Money" television program: Cut Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve some slack.

As Cramer said, Bernanke can only do so much. Cramer appreciates the Fed's "measured approach" and I appreciate Cramer's calm approach to the market while others wax hysterical.

"As long as I can remember, the rain been coming down. Clouds of mystery pouring confusion on the ground," as Creedence Clearwater Revival sang. The sky was falling, big time, in 1975 when I was born. And it's been falling, almost non-stop, ever since. I can hardly count the number of times Bruce Springsteen has covered Credence over the years as a sign of protest, anger and frustration. It never ends. If you have been following the stock market for any length of time, you should recognize this.

To generate market-beating or, at the very least, consistent returns and, more important, stay sane during volatile times, you need a plan in place that puts you on the offensive. At the top the list for me is to maximize income.

Buy Dividend Growth Stocks

Something Cramer said hit the nail on the head: Because of the Fed's interest rate policy, for at least the next few years ... dividend stocks as the only game in town. That's where I keep about 70% of my money.

I don't go after yield as much as I go after companies that increase dividends and continue to grow even in a sluggish economy and uncertain world. That's why I hold so many big media companies.

Not only do they keep increasing their dividend payments, but they're pumping revenue consistently higher by licensing no longer advertising-friendly content to outlets like Netflix and Amazon.com . Plus, they're lapping up revenue associated with the sports programming they own the rights to as well as pay cable television and movie production and distribution. It's a wonderful business to be in -- volatile stock market or not -- and it's only going to get bigger and better.

Track my article history for coverage of the media companies I own and like.

I do not stop at dividends, though. No matter what the stock market decides to do, I want to maximize the income I generate from my positions as much as possible.

Write Covered Calls

Yes, it's an options strategy, but do not believe the misnomer that long-term investors should not be using options because they're too "risky." If you adhere to a buy-and-hold philosophy on a stock (and even if you do not), you actually hurt yourself by not writing covered calls.

For example, I have positions in Intel and Pandora .

I intend to stay long each stock for the foreseeable future. INTC pays a dividend, P does not. In INTC, I can effectively double the income my investment generates, while in P I can produce income that somebody who does not use options never gets to see.

So far this year, not counting dividend or covered call income, my INTC position is basically even -- down 0.2%. Factor in the dividends I have collected and the return moves positive to 1.2%. Add in my covered call income and the return increases to 1.8%. That doesn't sound like much, but as I grow my position it will add up. It's better than losing or breaking even, even if it's only on paper.

That's actually a key consideration. I always reinvest my dividends. I almost always reinvest covered call income, though it might go into a different stock than the one that produced it. That works best in my situation. Some folks live off dividend and/or covered call income. That's not "on paper" and it's an incredibly powerful way to roll if you're lucky and savvy enough to do it.

I have a much larger position in Pandora. That makes the covered call strategy even more lucrative. I have been up as much as 20% and down by roughly the same amount. As of Thursday's close, I am up 6.6% in my stock position (cost basis of $10.17). Factor in the covered call income I have received and my return pops to 11.5%. With the stock trading at $10.84, I have July $12 calls written against my Pandora shares.

At Day's End

Like Cramer says, the Fed can only do so much. And you can only expect it to do so much. We all agree that a long-term policy of low interest rates and printing cash to pump into the economy does not represent sound economic policy. But, don't blame the Fed for appeasing the market and actually keeping volatility down, relative to what might happen without intervention.

Direct your angst towards Washington. Until politicians put meaningful programs in place to cut spending and generate more revenue the way sound businesses do, we'll be stuck in the type of holding pattern that creates a lot of necessary and some unnecessary anxiety.

Tickers in this article: AMZN INTC NFLX P