from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

Archive for April, 2014

Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Today I would like to talk a little about an important measure in the options world – volatility, and how it affects how much you pay for an option (either put or call).

Terry

Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Volatility is the sole variable that can only be measured after the option prices are known.  All the other variables have precise mathematical measurements, but volatility has an essentially emotional component that defies easy understanding.  If option trading were a poker game, volatility would be the wild card.

Volatility is the most exciting measure of stock options.  Quite simply, option volatility means how much you expect the stock to vary in price. The term “volatility” is a little confusing because it may refer to historical volatility (how much the company stock actually fluctuated in the past) or implied volatility (how much the market expects the stock will fluctuate in the future).

When an options trader says “IBM’s at 20” he is referring to the implied volatility of the front-month at-the-money puts and calls.  Some people use the term “projected volatility” rather than “implied volatility.”  They mean the same thing.

A staid old stock like Procter & Gamble would not be expected to vary in price much over the course of a year, and its options would carry a low volatility number.  For P & G, this number currently is 12%.  That is how much the market expects the stock might vary in price, either up or down, over the course of a year.

Here are some volatility numbers for other popular companies:

IBM  – 16%
Apple Computer – 23%
GE – 14%
Johnson and Johnson – 14%
Goldman Sachs – 21%
Amazon – 47%
eBay – 51%
SVXY – 41% (our current favorite underlying)

You can see that the degree of stability of the company is reflected in its volatility number.  IBM has been around forever and is a large company that is not expected to fluctuate in price very much, while Apple Computer has exciting new products that might be great successes (or flops) which cause might wide swings in the stock price as news reports or rumors are circulated.

Volatility numbers are typically much lower for Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) than for individual stocks.  Since ETFs are made up of many companies, good (or bad) news about a single company will usually not significantly affect the entire batch of companies in the index.  An ETF such as OIH which is influenced by changes in the price of oil would logically carry a higher volatility number.

Here are some volatility numbers for the options of some popular ETFs:

Dow Jones Industrial (Tracking Stock – DIA) – 13%
S&P 500 (Tracking Stock – SPY) –14%
Nasdaq (Tracking Stock – QQQ) – 21%
Russell 2000 (Small Cap – IWM) – 26%

Since all the input variables that determine an option price in the Black-Scholes model (strike price, stock price, time to expiration, interest and dividend rates) can be measured precisely, only volatility is the wild card.   It is the most important variable of all.

If implied volatility is high, the option prices are high.  If expectations of fluctuation in the company stock are low, implied volatility and option prices are low.  For example, a one-month at-the-money option on Johnson & Johnson would cost about $1.30 (stock price $100) vs. $2.00 for eBay (stock price $53).  On a per-dollar basis, the eBay option trades for about three times as much as the JNJ option.

Of course, since only historical volatility can be measured with certainty, and no one knows for sure what the stock will do in the future, implied volatility is where all the fun starts and ends in the option trading game.

How Option Prices are Determined

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Last week was one of the best for the market in about two years.  Our option portfolios at Terry’s Tips made great gains across the board as well.  One portfolio gained 55% for the week, in fact.  It is fun to have a little money tied up in an investment that can deliver those kinds of returns every once in a while.

This week I would like to discuss a little about what goes into an option price – what makes them what they are?

Terry

How Option Prices are Determined

Of course, the market ultimately determines the price of any option as buyers bid and sellers ask at various prices.  Usually, they meet somewhere in the middle and a price is determined.  This buying and selling action is generally not based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of value, but is soundly grounded on some mathematical considerations.

There are 5 components that determine the value of an option:

1. The price of the underlying stock

2. The strike price of the option

3. The time until the option expires

4. The cost of money (interest rates less dividends, if any)

5. The volatility of the underlying stock

The first four components are easy to figure out.  Each can precisely be measured.  If they were the only components necessary, option pricing would be a no-brainer.  Anyone who could add and subtract could figure it out to the penny.

The fifth component – volatility – is the wild card.  It is where all the fun starts.  Options on two different companies could have absolutely identical numbers for all of the first four components and the option for one company could cost double what the same option would cost for the other company.  Volatility is absolutely the most important (and elusive) ingredient of option prices.

Volatility is simply a measure of how much the stock fluctuates.  So shouldn’t it be easy to figure out?   It actually is easy to calculate, if you are content with looking backwards.  The amount of fluctuation in the past is called historical volatility.  It can be precisely measured, but of course it might be a little different each year.

So historical volatility gives market professionals an idea of what the volatility number should be.  However, what the market believes will happen next year or next month is far more important than what happened in the past, so the volatility figure (and the option price) fluctuates all over the place based on the current emotional state of the market.

An Interesting Calendar Spread Trade Idea

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Today I would like to share with you an investment I made in my personal account just today.  It involves buying three calendar spreads and waiting about a month to see if you hit the jackpot.  See if you agree with me that it is a potentially great trade.Terry

An Interesting Calendar Spread Trade Idea 

The underlying company is Keurig Green Mountain Coffee (GMCR).  I have traded options on this company almost every week for the last few years.  I like it because the options carry an exceptionally high implied volatility (IV) because the stock has been so volatile.

A few months ago, when Coke signed an exclusive license with them and agreed to buy 10% of the company, the stock shot up by about 50%.  It has since retreated from those lofty levels, recently pushed lower because several competitors have brought a suit against them because their new Keurig machine won’t accept other companies’ single cup offerings.  That sounds like a good business idea to me, not something that they could be sued over.  But our legal system never ceases to surprise me.

In any event, the stock has settled down a bit, and since the lawsuits won’t get anywhere for several months, I only care what happens in the next month.  The stock closed at $98 Friday.  I think it won’t go much lower than that, and maybe will edge higher over the next month.

I am buying June options and selling May options as a calendar spread.  I bought June 105 calls and sold May 105 calls, June 100 calls and sold May 100 calls, June 95 puts and sold May 95 puts, all as calendar spreads.  The natural price for the call spreads was $2.00 and for the puts, $1.70 (you should be able to pay a little less than the natural prices).

In one month, when the May options expire (on the 16th), if any of those three strike prices are at the money (i.e., the stock price is very near one of the strike prices), the May option will expire nearly worthless and the June option should be worth $6.35 (based on the current value of an at-the-money option with four weeks of remaining life).  That means if I could get back more than I paid for all three spreads today by selling a single spread a month from now.  Whatever I got from selling the other two spreads would be pure profit.

If the stock ends up on May 16th being $5 away from one of my 3 strike prices, based on today’s values, the spread could be sold for $4.45, or more than double what I paid for any of the spreads I bought.  If the stock is $10 away from a strike price, it could be sold for $3.05 based on today’s prices.  That is 50% more than I paid for any of the spreads.

However, the company announces earnings on May 7th.  Because of the uncertainty surrounding that event, option prices are much higher now than they will be after the announcement.  IV for the June options is 55 right now, and it is only 44 for weekly options that expire before the announcement.  If we assume that IV for the June options will fall by 11 after the announcement, this is what the risk profile graph looks like:

GMCR Risk Profile Graph April 2014

GMCR Risk Profile Graph April 2014

This graph has numbers for 5 calendar spreads at each of the 3 strikes, with a total investment of about $4800.  If the stock ends up flat or up to $7 higher than it is right now, there would be about a 60% gain from the spreads.  If it falls by $10 (an unlikely event, in my opinion), a loss of about $400 would result.  Although the graph does not show it, the upside break-even is $15 higher than the current price.  It shows that above $113, losses would result.

Many stocks move higher in the few days before an announcement in anticipation of good results, a good reason I like to have a little more coverage on the upside (if you are more bullish, you would buy more spreads at higher strike prices, and if your were bearish on the company or the market, you would buy more spreads at lower strike prices).

One nice thing about calendar spreads is that the options you buy have a longer life span than those you are selling, so their value will always be higher, no matter how far from the stock price they might be.  You can never lose all of your money with a calendar spread, unlike who might happen in a vertical spread or short iron condor, two popular option spreads.

If the stock moves dramatically either way between now and announcement day, I would add another calendar in the direction the stock has moved (at the 115 strike if it moves higher, or the 90 strike if it moves lower).  That move would give me a wider break-even range than presently exists.

I will report back to you on how these spreads turn out in four weeks.

 

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I like to trade calendar spreads.  Right now my favorite underlying to use is SVXY, a volatility-related ETP which is essentially the inverse of VXX, another ETP which moves step-in-step with volatility (VIX).  Many people buy VXX as a hedge against a market crash when they are fearful (volatility, and VXX. skyrockets when a crash occurs), but when the market is stable or moves higher, VXX inevitably moves lower.  In fact, since it was created in 2009, VXX has been just about the biggest dog in the entire stock market world.  On three occasions they have had to make 1 – 4 reverse splits just to keep the stock price high enough to matter.

Since VXX is such a dog, I like SVXY which is its inverse.  I expect it will move higher most of the time (it enjoys substantial tailwinds because of something called contango, but that is a topic for another time).  I concentrate in buying calendar spreads on SVXY (buying Jun-14 options and selling weekly options) at strikes which are higher than the current stock price.  Most of these calendar spreads are in puts, and that seems a little weird because I expect that the stock will usually move higher, and puts are what you buy when you expect the stock will fall.  That is the topic of today’s idea of the week.

Terry

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

It is important to understand that the risk profile of a calendar spread is identical regardless of whether puts or calls are used.  The strike price (rather than the choice of puts or calls) determines whether a spread is bearish or bullish.  A calendar spread at a strike price below the stock price is a bearish because the maximum gain is made if the stock falls exactly to the strike price, and a calendar spread at a strike price above the stock price is bullish.

When people are generally optimistic about the market, call calendar spreads tend to cost more than put calendar spreads.  For most of 2013-14, in spite of a consistently rising market, option buyers have been particularly pessimistic.  They have traded many more puts than calls, and put calendar prices have been more expensive.

Right now, at-the-money put calendar spreads cost more than at-the-money call calendar spreads for most underlyings, including SVXY.  As long as the underlying pessimism continues, they extra cost of the put spreads might be worth the money because when the about-to-expire short options are bought back and rolled over to the next short-term time period, a larger premium can be collected on that sale.  This assumes, of course, that the current pessimism will continue into the future.

If you have a portfolio of exclusively calendar spreads (you don’t anticipate moving to diagonal spreads), it is best to use puts at strikes below the stock price and calls for spreads at strikes which are higher than the stock price.  If you do the reverse, you will own a bunch of well in-the-money short options, and rolling them over to the next week or month is expensive (in-the-money bid-asked spreads are greater than out-of-the-money bid asked spreads so you can collect more cash when rolling over out-of-the-money short options).

Making 36%

Making 36% — A Duffer's Guide to Breaking Par in the Market Every Year in Good Years and Bad

This book may not improve your golf game, but it might change your financial situation so that you will have more time for the greens and fairways (and sometimes the woods).

Learn why Dr. Allen believes that the 10K Strategy is less risky than owning stocks or mutual funds, and why it is especially appropriate for your IRA.

Order Now

Success Stories

I have been trading the equity markets with many different strategies for over 40 years. Terry Allen's strategies have been the most consistent money makers for me. I used them during the 2008 melt-down, to earn over 50% annualized return, while all my neighbors were crying about their losses.

~ John Collins