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Archive for July, 2014

3% a Week Possible With This Strategy?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Today I would like to share a strategy with you that seems to make sense to me.  I have not back-tested it, and I am not exactly positive that it will work.  But I think it will.  And I will only need to commit $1500 to test it out (actually, a little less than that as you will see).  I invite you to follow along if you wish.  For the next few weeks, I will send out any trades I make so you can mirror them if you wish.

My gut feeling tells me that this strategy could make 3% each week.  I have set up a separate brokerage account with $1500 to test it out.

Terry

3% a Week Possible With This Strategy?

This strategy is based on my favorite underlying “stock” (actually an Exchange Traded Product, ETP) called SVXY.  It is the inverse of VXX, a volatility-related ETP which many people buy for protection just in case the market crashes (when that happens, volatility soars, and so does VXX).  The only problem is that volatility has been pretty much tame for quite a while, and VXX has consistently moved lower.

In fact, VXX is just about the worst investment you could have made over the last few years.  Since it was started 7 years ago, it was at a pre-reverse split price of over $3000 and now it is about $28.  It is hard to find anything out there that has been that bad.

SVXY is the inverse of VXX, and that sounds to me like a better investment for the long run.  SVXY has only been around for 2 ½ years, and in each of the first two calendar years, it has about doubled in value.  So far this year it is up about 40%.

Of course, the big risk with owning SVXY is that a crash or correction will come along and the stock will fall by a large amount.  However, over the long run, because of contango (discussed in this newsletter on many occasions), it inevitably will rise.

One possible good investment might be to just buy SVXY. We do essentially this in one of the 10 portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips, in fact – it has gained over 40% since we set it up in November 2013 (sometimes we sell shares when we have fears of impending market volatility such as the fiscal cliff scare, and buy shares back when it looks like the possible crisis has blown over).

SVXY is an extremely volatile ETP and option prices are extremely high.  For that reasons, we trade it in several Terry’s Tips portfolios.  The proposed new strategy I am telling you about here will not be traded at Terry’s Tips unless it ends up looking highly likely that we could make the 3% a week that I think is possible.

This strategy is based on my observation that weekly put prices on SVXY are more expensive than weekly call prices, and they also seem to be higher than they should be given what the stock does most of the time.  You can sell someone a weekly put that is $5 out of the money (i.e., $5 less than the current stock price) and collect more than a dollar ($100 per contract) for it.  In other words, if the stock does anything other than fall over $6 in a week, you get to keep the entire option price you collected.  SVXY has only fallen $6 in a single week once in 2014 (although in 2013, it fell considerably more on two occasions).

It is possible to sell puts naked (not in an IRA, however), but that would require a huge maintenance requirement that would reduce your return on investment.  Besides, the risk would just be too great for most of us.  Instead, I will buy a longer-term put at a strike about $6 below the strike of the call I plan to sell.  That will create a maintenance requirement of $600 per trade (less the value of the put that is sold).

To start off, today with SVXY trading about $87, I placed the following spread order:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-15 75 put (SVXY150117P75)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Aug-2 81 put (SVXY140808P81) for a debit of $7.20 (buying a diagonal)

The spread executed.  I paid $8.70 for the Jan-15 75 put and received $1.50 for the Aug2-14 81 put that expires in 10 days.  The spread cost me $720 plus a $2.50 commission:

SVXY Diagonal Trade July 2014SVXY Diagonal Trade July 2014

Thinkorswim offers a special commission rate for Terry’s Tips subscribers ($1.25 for a single option trade).  Many people have become Terry’s Tips insiders to qualify for this rate for all their trades.  If you are paying more than this, you might consider it yourself.

My total investment is $720 plus the $600 maintenance requirement, or $1320.  That is the maximum I can lose if SVXY falls below $75 and stays there through next January.  I can live with that unlikely possibility.

A week from Friday when the Aug2-14 81 put expires (most likely worthless), I will either  buy it back for a small amount and sell a new put for the Aug-14 series that expires a week later (at a strike which is about $6 less than the then-current stock price) or do nothing and wait until Monday to sell a new put.

If the Aug2-14 81 put ends up in the money because SVXY has fallen below $81, I will buy it back and sell an Aug-14 81 put as a calendar spread, collecting a credit of some amount.

In any event, as soon as I make a trade, I will tell you about it.  I think this strategy might be a little fun to play, and if it does manage to make 3% a week, I could live with 150% a year on my money.

Finding Lessons in a Trade

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Last week I told you about a bullish short-term bet we made on SVXY because the stock had dropped over $3 in the previous week (and historically, 4 out of 5 times when that happened earlier this year, the stock rose at least $3 in the subsequent week).  We placed an order to sell half the calls if they had doubled in price, and that occurred on Tuesday.  On Thursday, volatility soared due to the plane being shot down over Ukraine and Israel invading Gaza.  It looked like we would just break even on the trade since  we had recovered the initial investment, but then, on Friday, the stock rallied $6 and we were able to sell the remaining half for enough to give us a 32% gain on the trade.  Not as much as we had originally hoped, but a gain of any sort is always welcome.

Terry

Finding Lessons in a Trade

The big lesson from our experience last week, one that we have had many times, is that there is nothing wrong with taking all or some of your gains off the table when you can.  We were hoping for a 200% gain on the call purchase but sold half of our positions when the price had doubled.  This insured that we would break even at worst.  Anything we could sell the remaining calls for would be profit.

If we had not taken the gain on Tuesday, it would have been a losing week.  As the old saying goes, the bears make money and the bulls make money but the pigs get slaughtered.

As I write this Monday morning, SVXY has fallen another $3.50.  Does that mean we should buy a short-term call in hopes that it will go higher by at least $3 in the next week?  Not necessarily.  This time around, the drop in SVXY (caused by a spike in options market volatility – VIX has gained 12% today) does not seemed to be caused by a specific world event like it was last Thursday.  This time, it feels like a growing unrest of the market in general is taking place, and volatility might not fall back as quickly as it did last week.  This time around, we do not advise making a bet that volatility will fall in the very short term.  Best to sit on the sidelines when a spike in volatility does not seem to have occurred from a specific event that will most likely be forgotten in a few days.

A Possible Great Option Trading Idea

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Just before the close on Friday, we made a strongly bullish trade on our favorite underlying stock in a portfolio at Terry’s Tips.  In my personal account, I bought weekly calls on this same underlying.  As I write this in the pre-market on Monday, it looks like that bet could triple in value this week.

I would like to share with you the thinking behind these trades so next time this opportunity comes up (and it surely will in the near future), you might decide to take advantage of it yourself.

Terry

A Possible Great Option Trading Idea: As we have discussed recently, option prices are almost ridiculously low.  The most popular measure of option prices is VIX, the so-called “fear index” which measures option prices on SPY (essentially what most people consider “the” market) is hanging out around 12.  The historical mean is over 20, so this is an unprecedented low value.

When we sell calendar or diagonal spreads at Terry’s Tips, we are essentially selling options to take advantage of the short-term faster-decaying options.  Rather than using stock as collateral for selling short-term options we use longer-term options because they tie up less cash.

With option prices currently so low, maybe it is a time to reverse this strategy and buy options rather than selling them.  One way of doing this would be to buy a straddle (both a put and a call at the same strike price, usually at the market, hoping that the stock will make a decent move in either direction.  In options lingo, you are hoping that actual volatility (IV) is greater than historical volatility.

The biggest problem with buying straddles is that you will lose on one of your purchases while you gain on the other.  It takes a fairly big move in the underlying to cover the loss on your losing position before you can make a profit on the straddle.

A potentially better trade might be to guess which way the market will move in the short term, and then buy just a put or call that will make you money if you are right. The big challenge would be to find a price pattern that could help you choose which direction to bet on?

One historically consistent pattern for most market changes (the law of cycles) is that the direction of the change from one period to the next is about twice as likely to be in the same direction as it was in the previous same time period.  In other words, if the stock went up last week (or month), it is more likely to go up again next week (or month).

We tested this pattern on SPY for several years, and sadly, found that it did not hold up.  The chances were almost 50-50 that it would move in the opposite direction in the second period.

Maybe the pattern would work for our most popular underling, an ETP called SVXY.  You might recall that we love this “stock” because it is extremely volatile and option prices are wonderfully high (great for selling).  In the first 22 weeks of 2014, SVXY fluctuated by at least $3 in one direction or the other in 19 of those weeks.  Maybe we could use the pattern and buy weekly either puts or calls, depending on which way the market had moved in the previous week.

Once again, the historical results did not support the law of cycles pattern.  The stock was almost just as likely to move in the opposite direction as it had in the previous week.  Another good idea dashed by reality.

In making this study, we discovered something interesting, however.  In the first half of 2014, SVXY fell more than $3 in a single week on 5 different occasions.  In 4 of the subsequent weeks, it made a significant move ($3 or more) to the upside.  Buying a slightly out-of-the-money weekly call for about a dollar and a half ($150 per contract) could result in a 100% gain (or more) in the next week in 4 out of 5 weeks.

If this pattern could be counted on to continue, it would be a fantastic trading opportunity.  Yes, you might lose your entire investment in the losing weeks, but if you doubled it in the winning weeks, and there were many more of them than losing weeks, you would do extremely well.

For  those reasons, I bought calls on SVXY on Friday.  The Jul-14 90.5 call that expires this Friday (July 18th) could have been bought for $1.30.  The stock closed at $88.86.  I plan to place an order to sell these calls, half at $2.60, and half at $3.90.  The pre-market prices indicate that one of these orders might exercise sometime today and I will have all my money back and still own half my calls.  It might be a fun week for me.  We’ll see.

On another subject, have you got your free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Last week I reviewed the performance of the Terry’s Tips options portfolio for the first half of the year.  I should have waited a week because this week was a great one – our composite average gained another 6%, making the year-to-date record 22%, or about 3 times as great as the market (SPY) gain of about 7%.

Last week I also discussed a GOOG vertical put credit spread which is designed to gain 100% in the year if GOOG finished up 2014 at any price higher than where it started, something that it has done in 9 of its 10 years in business.  I want to congratulate those subscribers who read my numbers closely enough to recognize that I had made a mistake.  I reported that we had sold a (pre-split) 1120 – 1100 vertical put credit spread and collected $5.03 which was slightly more than the $500 per spread that I would have at risk. Actually, if the difference between the short and long sides was $20, and the maximum loss would be almost $15 (and the potential return on investment would be 33% rather than 100%).  We actually sold the spread for $10.06, not $5.03, and I mistakenly reported the post-split price.  We are now short 560 puts and long 550 puts, so the difference between the two strikes is $10 and we collected $5.03, or just about half that amount.  Bottom line, if GOOG finishes the year above $560, we will make 100% on our investment.  It closed at $585 Friday, so it can fall by $25 from here and we will still double our money.

Today we will discuss two other spreads we placed at the beginning of 2014 in one of the 10 portfolios we conduct for all to see at Terry’s Tips.

Terry

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2:

We have a portfolio we call Better Odds Than Vegas.  In January, we picked three companies which we felt confident would be higher at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.  If we were right, we would make 100% on our money.  We believed our odds were better than plunking the money down on red or black at the roulette table.

Late in 2013, the Wall Street Journal interviewed 13 prominent analysts and asked them what they expected the market would do in 2014.  The average projection was that it would gain slightly more than 5%.  The lowest guess was that it would fall by 2%.  We decided to make a trade that would make a nice gain if any one of the 13 analysts were correct.  In other words, if SPY did anything better than falling by 2%, our spread would make money.

In January, when SPY was trading about $184, we sold a vertical credit put spread for December, buying 177 puts and selling 182 puts.  We collected $2.00 at that time.  If the stock manages to close at any price higher than $182 on the third Friday in December, we will get to keep our entire $200 (per spread – we sold 8 spreads, collecting $1600).  The maintenance requirement would be $500 per spread less the $200 we collected, or $300 per spread ($2400, our maximum loss which would come if SPY closed below $177 in December).  Our potential profit would be about 66% on the investment, and this would come if the market was absolutely flat (or even fell a little bit) over the course of the year.  The stock closed Friday at $198.20, so it could fall by $16.20 between now and December and we would still make 66%.

The third company we bet on in this portfolio in January was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), now called Keurig Coffee Roasters.  This was a company with high option premiums that we have followed closely over the years (being in my home state of Vermont).  We have made some extraordinary gains with options on several occasions with GMCR.  Two directors (who were not billionaires) had bought a million dollars each of company stock, and we believed that something big might be coming their way.

With the stock trading about $75, we made an aggressive bet, both in our selection of strike prices and expiration month. Rather than giving the stock a whole year to move higher, we picked June, and gave it only 6 months to do something good.  We sold Jun-14 80 puts and bought Jun-14 70 puts, and collected $5.40.  If the stock stayed at $75, we would make only a small profit on the third Friday in June, but if it rose above $80 by that time, we would make $5.40 on an investment of $4.60, or 117%.

The good news that we anticipated came true – Coke came along and bought 10% of the company for $1 billion and signed a 10-year licensing agreement with GMCR.  The stock shot up to $120 overnight (giving Coke a $500 million windfall gain, by the way).  At that point, we picked up a little extra from the original spread.  We sold a vertical call credit spread for the June expiration month, buying the 160 calls and selling 150 calls, collecting an extra $1.45 per spread.  This did not increase our maintenance requirement because we had, in effect, legged into a short iron condor spread. It would be impossible for us to lose money on both our spreads, so the broker only charged the maintenance requirement on one of them.

Selling the call spread meant that our total gain for the six months would amount to almost 150% if GMCR ended up at any price between $80 and $150.  It ended up at about $122 and we enjoyed this entire gain.

We have since sold another GMCR vertical credit put spread for Jan-15, buying 90 puts and selling 100 puts for a credit of $3.45.  Our maximum loss is $6.55, and this would come if the stock closed below $90 on the third Friday in January.  The potential maximum gain would amount to 52% for the six months.  This amount was far less than the first spread because we selected strikes which were well below the then-current price of the stock (GMCR is now $125, well above our $100 target).  This makes our potential gain for this stock for the year a very nice 200%.

We advocate making these kinds of long-term options bet when you feel confident that a company will somehow be the same or higher than it is at the beginning. If you are right, extraordinary gains are possible. In our case, our portfolio has gained 41% for the year so far, and the three stocks can all fall by a fair amount and we will still make 100% on our starting investment when these options expire (hopefully worthless so we can keep all the cash we collected at the outset) on January 17, 2015.

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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