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Archive for May, 2016

List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Some time ago, I noticed that the value of some of our portfolios was changing after the market for the underlying stock had closed. Clearly, the value of the options was changing after the 4:00 EST close of trading. I did a Google search to find a list of options that traded after hours, and came up pretty empty. But now I have found the list, and will share it with you just in case you want to play for an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading each day.


List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Since option values are derived from the price of the underlying stock or ETP (Exchange Traded Product), once the underlying stops trading, there should be no reason for options to continue trading. However, more and more underlyings are now being traded in after-hours, and for a very few, the options continue trading as well, at least until 4:15 EST.

Options for the following symbols trade an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading – DBA, DBB, DBC, DBO, DIA, EFA, EEM, GAZ, IWM, IWN, IWO, IWV, JJC, KBE, KRE, MDY, MLPN, MOO, NDX, OEF, OIL, QQQ, SLX, SPY, SVXY, UNG, UUP, UVXY, VIIX, VIXY, VXX, VXZ, XHB, XLB, XLE, XLF, XLI, XLK, XLP, XLU, XLV, XLY, XME, XRT.

Most of these symbols are (often erroneously) called ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds). While many are ETFs, many are not – the popular volatility-related market-crash-protection vehicle – VXX is actually an ETN (Exchange Traded Note). A better way of referring to this list is to call them Exchange Traded Products (ETPs).

Caution should be used when trading in these options after 4:00. From my experience, many market makers exit the floor exactly at 4:00 (volume is generally low after that time and not always worth hanging around). Consequently, the bid-ask ranges of options tend to expand considerably. This means that you are less likely to be able to get decent prices when you trade after 4:00. Sometimes it might be necessary, however, if you feel you are more exposed to a gap opening the next day than you would like to be.

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Today’s idea is a little complicated, but it involves an important part of any prudent investment strategy. Market crashes do come along every once in a while, and we are eight years away from the last one in 2008. What will happen to your nest egg if it happens again this year?

Options can be a good form of market crash insurance, and it is possible to set up a strategy that might even make a small gain if the crash doesn’t come along. That possibility sets it apart from most forms of insurance which cost you out-of-pocket money if the calamity you insure against doesn’t occur.


How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

There are some strong indications that the old adage “Sell in May and Go Away” might be the appropriate move right now. Goldman Sachs has downgraded its outlook on equities to “neutral” over the next 12 months, saying there’s no particular reason to own them. “Until we see sustained signals of growth recovery, we do not feel comfortable taking equity risk, particularly as valuations are near peak levels,” the firm said in a research note.

For several months, Robert Shiller has been warning that the market is seriously overvalued by his unique method of measuring prices against long-term average p/e’s. George Soros is keeping the bears happy as well, doubling his wager against the S&P 500. The billionaire investor, who has been warning that the 2008 financial crisis could be repeated due to China’s economic slowdown, bought 2.1M-share “put” options in SPY during Q1. The magnitude of his bet against SPY is phenomenal, essentially 200 million shares short. Of course, he almost always deals in stratospheric numbers, but the size of this bet indicates that he feels pretty strongly about this one. He didn’t become a billionaire by being on the wrong side of market bets.

So what can you do to protect yourself against a big tumble in the market? We are setting up a bearish portfolio for Terry’s Tips subscribers, and this is what it will look like. It is based on the well-known fact that when the market crashes, volatility soars, and when volatility soars, the Exchange Traded Product (ETP) called VXX soars along with it.

Some people buy VXX as market crash insurance (or its steroid-like cousin, UVXY). Over the long run, VXX has been a horrible investment, however, possibly the worst thing you could have done with your money over the past six years. It has fallen from a split-adjusted $4000 to its present price of about $15. It has engineered 1-for-4 reverse splits three times to make the price worth bothering to trade. The split usually occurs when it gets down to about $12, so you can expect another reverse split soon.
An option strategy can be set up that allows you to own the equivalent of VXX while not subjecting you to the long-run inevitable downward trend. When volatility does pick up, VXX soars. In fact, it doubled once and went up 50% another time, both temporarily, in the last year alone. While it is a bad long-term investment, if your timing is right, you might pick up a windfall. Our options strategy is designed to achieve the potential upside windfall while avoiding the long-term prospects you face by merely buying the ETP.

Our new portfolio will buy VXX 20Jan17 15 calls and sell fewer contracts in short-term calls. Sufficient short-term premium will be collected from selling the short term calls to cover the decay on the long calls (and a little bit more).

This portfolio will start with $3000. The entire amount will not be used at the outset, but rather be held in cash in case it might be needed to cover a maintenance call in case the market moves higher.

These might be the starting positions:

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 17Jun16 15 calls (VXX160617C15) for a debit of $2.40 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 24Jun16 16 calls (VXX160624C16) for a debit of $2.45 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 4 VXX 20Jan17 16 calls (VXX170120C16) for $3.30

Here is what the risk profile graph looks like with those positions as of June 18th after the short calls expire:
VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016

VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016
You can see that the portfolio will make gains no matter how high VXX might go. It will make a small gain (about 8% for the month) if the stock stays flat, and starts losing if VXX moves below $14.50. If it falls that far, we might sell call or two at the 14 strike and incur a maintenance requirement which would be partially offset by the amount we collected from selling the call(s). A trade like this would reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETP continues to fall, and it might have to be repeated if VXX continues even lower. At some point, some long calls might need to be rolled down to a lower strike to eliminate maintenance requirements that come along when you sell a call at a lower strike than the long call that covers it.

The above positions could be put on for about $2800. There would be about $200 in cash remaining for the possible maintenance requirement in case one might be necessary.

You probably should not attempt to set up and carry out this strategy unless you are familiar with options trading as it is admittedly a little complicated. A better idea might be to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and open an account at thinkorswim so that these trades could automatically be made for you through their Auto-Trade program.

Every investment portfolio should have a little downside insurance protection. We believe that options offer the best form for that kind of insurance because it might be possible to make a profit at the same time as providing market crash insurance.

As with all forms of investing, you should not be committing money that you truly cannot afford to lose.

How Option Prices are Determined

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Today I would like to pass along some basic information about how stock options prices are determined. I have discussed this in the past, but we now have many new subscribers who may not have seen our earlier blogs. I apologize if this is old information for you.


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.

In future newsletters, we’ll continue this discussion of volatility and why it is the most important variable in option pricing.


An Options Play on Facebook Which Should Make 50% in 60 Days

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Today I would like to suggest an options trade on Facebook (FB). It will involve waiting 6 weeks to close out. Many option players have short attention spans and don’t like to wait that long. On the other hand, I think this trade has a very high likelihood of making a profit of at least 50%, even if the stock fluctuates more than we might like. To my way of thinking, it should be worth the wait, especially since I think that there is a very small likelihood that this play would end up losing money.


An Options Play on Facebook Which Should Make 50% in 60 Days

Over the past month I have suggested legging into calendar spreads in advance of an earnings announcement for 7 different companies (FB, COST, TWX, TGT, SBUX, and JNJ, and ABBV). In every case, I was personally successful at creating a calendar spread at a credit and guaranteeing myself a profit no matter where the stock price ended up after the announcement. You should have been able to duplicate every one of these successes as well. I got a kick out of having 7 consecutive winning trades, some of which made me more than 100% on my amount at risk.

The ultimate gain on these spreads will depend on how close the stock ends up to the strike price of my calendar spread after the announcement. The nearer to the strike, the greater the gain. It is fun owning a spread that you are certain will make a profit, no matter what the stock does.

Today’s idea is a little different. We will not be guaranteed a profit, but it looks quite likely to happen if our assumptions hold up. In each of the last two quarters when FB announced earnings, they were better than the market expected, and the stock rallied nicely. Who knows what will happen next time around when they announce once again on July 27?

If history is any indication, the stock price for FB doesn’t fluctuate very much between announcement dates. It tends to be fairly flat, or edges up a bit in the lulls between announcements, and often moves a little higher in the week or two before the announcement day.

Today, I bought these calendar spreads on FB when the stock was trading just about $120:

Buy To Open 2 FB 16Sep16 120 calls (FB160916C120)
Sell To Open 2 FB 15Jul16 120 calls (FB160715C120) for a debit of $3.26 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 2 FB 16Sep16 125 calls (FB160916C125)
Sell To Open 2 FB 15Jul16 125 calls (FB160715C125) for a debit of $3.11 (buying a calendar)

My total investment for these two spreads was $1274 plus $10 commission (at the rate charged to Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim), for a total of $1284.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows the profit or loss from those trades when the short options expire on July 15th:


Face book Risk Profile May 2016

Face book Risk Profile May 2016

You can see that if the stock ends up somewhere between $120 and $125 in two months, these spreads will make a gain somewhere near $550, or about 42% on the original investment. I think the stock is quite likely to end up inside this range. If I am wrong, and it falls by $5 or goes up by over $10, I will lose some money at that time, but in each case, the loss would be less than half my expected gain if it ends up where I expect it will.

As encouraging as this graph looks, I think it considerably understates how profitable the trades will be, and that has to do with what option prices do around earnings announcement dates. Since stock prices tend to have large fluctuations (both up and down) after the results are made public, option prices skyrocket in anticipation of those fluctuations.

When the 15Jul16 options expire on July 15, there will be a weekly options series available for trading that expires just after the July 27th announcement. It will not become available for trading until 5 weeks before that time, but it will be the 29Jul16 series.

Implied Volatility (IV) of the 15Jul16 series is currently 26 and the 16Sep16 series has an IV of 30. When the 29Jul16 series becomes available, IV will be much higher than either of these numbers, and should soar to near 60 when the announcement date nears (it grew even higher than that a few weeks ago before the last announcement). An IV that high means that an at-the-money call with two weeks of remaining life (which the 29Jul16 series would have when the 15Jul16 series expires), would be worth about $5, or almost double what the above calendar spreads cost us. If this were true, and if the stock is trading between $120 and $125, you could buy back the expiring 15Jul16 calls and sell the 29Jul16 calls at both strike prices for a credit which is greater than what you paid for the original calendar spread, and when those short calls expired, your long calls would still have 6 weeks of remaining life.

In other words, the strategy I have set up today by buying the above two calendar spreads is an admittedly complicated way to leg into two calendar spreads at a large credit, and guaranteeing an additional profit as well. The risk profile graph doesn’t reflect the fact that IV will soar for the 29Jul16 series that doesn’t exist yet, and the indicated gains are drastically understated.

I will update these trades as we move forward, and let you know if I make any adjustments. If the stock moves up to $125 in the next few weeks, I would probably add a third calendar spread at the 130 strke. That is about the only likely adjustment I can think of at this point, unless the stock falls to $115 when I would probably buy the same calendar spread at the 115 strike.

If you make this investment, as is true with all options investments, you should do it only with money that you can truly afford to lose. If you do choose to make it, I wish both of us luck over the next two months.


More Legging Into Pre-Announcement Calendar Option Spreads

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Over the past month I have suggested legging into calendar spreads in advance of an earnings announcement for 4 different companies. In every case, you should have been able to duplicate my success in creating a calendar spread at a credit. These spreads are absolutely guaranteed to make a profit since the long side of the spreads has more time remaining and will always be worth more than the short side, regardless of what the stock does after the earnings announcement.

Today I would like to suggest two more companies where I am trying to set up calendar spreads at a credit.


More Legging Into Pre-Announcement Calendar Option Spreads

First, an update on the Facebook (FB) pre-earnings play I suggested last week. Earlier, I showed how you could leg into a calendar spread in FB at the 110 strike, and this proved to be successful. In addition, last week I suggested something different – the outright buying of 17JUN16 – 29APR16 calendar spreads at the 105 strike (using puts and paying $1.58), the 110 strike (using puts and paying $1.52) and the 115 strike (using calls and paying $1.52). I was able to execute all three of these spreads in my account at these prices, and you should have been able to do the same.

As you probably know, FB reported blow-out numbers, and the stock soared, initially to over $121, but then it fell back to $117 near the close on Friday the 29th. We were hoping that the stock could end up inside our range of strikes (105 – 115) but we were not so lucky. At 3:00 on Friday, I sold these three spreads for $.95, $1.82, and $3.40 for a total of $6.17 for all 3. This compared to a cost of $4.62 for the 3 spreads. Deducting out $15 in commissions, I netted $1.40 ($140) for every set of three calendar spreads I had put on. While this was a disappointing result, it worked out to 22% on the investment in only 4 days. I enjoyed the thrill of holding a possible 100% gain (if the stock had ended up at $110 instead of $117) and still managed to make a greater return than most people do in an entire year.

This week, on Monday morning, I looked at Costco (COST), (one of my favorite stocks) which reports earnings on May 25. The options series that expires just after this announcement is the 27MAY16 series. With the stock at about $148.50, I bought 10JUN16 150 calls (which expire two weeks later than the 27MAY16 options), paying $2.90. Implied Volatility (IV) for those options was 21 and the 27MAY16 series was only 22. I expect the difference between these IVs to get much higher over the next couple of weeks (mostly, the 27MAY16 series should move higher).

I immediately placed an order to sell the 27MAY16 150 calls (good-til-cancelled order) for $3.05 which would give me a credit of $.15 ($15 less $2.50 commissions). The stock shot $2 higher and this order executed less than 2 hours after I placed it. I apologize that I didn’t send this out to you in time for you to duplicate what I did.

I still like the company and its prospects, so I placed another order to buy 10JUN16 152.5 calls, paying $2.56 when COST was trading at $150.80. I then placed a good-til-cancelled order to sell 27MAY16 152.5 calls for $2.65. That has not executed yet.

Another company that looked interesting was Target (TGT) which announces earnings before the bell on May 18. IV for the 20MAY16 series was 27, only barely higher than the 3JUN16 series of 24 (this difference should get bigger). When the stock was trading about $79.40, I bought 3JUN16 79.5 calls for $1.88 and immediately placed an order to sell 20MAY16 calls for $1.95. This order executed about 2 hours later when the stock rose about $.60. Once again, I apologize that I did not get his trade possibility out to you in time for you to copy it.

Tomorrow I intend to buy TGT 3JUN16 81 calls and as soon as I get them, I will place an order to sell 20MAY16 81 calls for $.10 more than I paid for them. If the stock rises or IV of the 20MAY16 options gets larger (as it should), another credit calendar guaranteed profit spread should be in place.

In the last few weeks, I have both told you about and used this strategy for SBUX, JNJ, FB, and TWX. Now I have added COST and TGT to the list. In each case, I bought a slightly out-of-the-money call a few weeks out and immediately placed an order to sell the post-announcement same-strike call so that I would create a calendar spread at a credit.

The ultimate gain on these spreads will depend on how close the stock ends up to the strike price of my calendar spread after the announcement. The nearer to the strike, the greater the gain. It is fun owning a spread that you are certain will make a profit, no matter what the stock does.

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