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Archive for August, 2016

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

This week I would like start an ongoing discussion about one of my favorite option plays. It is called a calendar spread. It is also known as a time spread or a horizontal spread. But most people call it a calendar because that’s where you focus much of your attention while you hold this kind of a spread. On a specific date on the calendar, you discover whether you made or lost money since you first bought the calendar spread. In the next few blogs, I will discuss all sorts of variations and permutations you can make with calendar spreads, but today, we will focus on a bare bones explanation of the basic spread investment.

Terry

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

A calendar spread consists of the simultaneous purchase of one option (either a put or a call) and the sale of another option (either a put or call), with both the purchase and the sale at the same strike price, and the life span of the option you bought is greater than the option you sold. You can trade either puts or calls in this kind of spread, but not both in the same spread. You have to choose to use either puts or calls, but as we will see at a later time, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which choice you make.

Some things that we all know about options: 1) they all have a limited life span, and 2) if the underlying stock does not change in price, all options fall in value every day. This is called decay. In option parlance, it is called theta. Theta is the amount that the option will decay in value in a single day if the underlying stock remains flat.

The basic appeal of a calendar spread is that the decay (or theta) of the option that has been sold is greater than the decay (or theta) of the stock that was bought. Every day that the stock remains flat, the value of the spread should become slightly greater. For this reason, most buyers of calendar spreads are hoping that the stock does not move in either direction very much (but we will see that is not always the case with all calendar spreads).

Here is a typical calendar spread purchase on Nike (NKE) on August 24, 2016 when NKE was trading just about $60:

Buy to Open 5 NKE 20Jan17 60 calls (NKE170120C60)
Sell to Open 5 NKE 23Sep16 60 calls (NKE160923C60) for a debit of $2.20 (buying a calendar)

The options that are being bought will expire on January 21, 2017 (about 5 months from now) and the options being sold will expire on September 23, 2016, one month from now. You don’t really care what the prices are for the calls you bought or the calls you sold, just as long as the difference between the two prices is $2.20 ($220 per spread, plus a commission of about $2.50 per spread). That’s how much money you will have to come up with to buy the spread. This spread order will cost $1100 plus $12.50 in commissions, or $1112.50.

The all-important date of this spread is September 23, 2016. That is the day on which the short options (the ones you sold) will expire. If the stock is trading on that day at any price below $60, the calls that you sold will expire worthless, and you will be the owner of 5 NKE 60 calls which have about 4 months of remaining life. If NKE is trading at exactly $60 on that day, those 20Jan17 60 calls will be worth about $3.05 and you could sell them for about $1525, netting yourself a profit of about $400 after commissions. That works out to a 35% gain for a single month, not a bad return at all, especially if you can manage to do it every month for the entire year (but now, we’re dreaming). That is, alas, the maximum you could make on the original spread, and that would come only if the stock were trading at exactly $60 on the day when the short calls expired.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain on the original spread at various prices where the stock might be trading on September 23rd:

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

In the lower right-hand corner under P/L Day, the profit or loss on the spread is listed for each possible stock price between $58 and $62. Those numbers should be compared to the investment of just over $1100. The graph shows the maximum gain takes place if the stock ends up right about $60, and about half that gain would result if the stock has moved a dollar higher or lower from $60. If it rises or falls by $2, a loss would result, but this loss would be much lower than the potential gains if the stock fluctuated by less than $2. If the stock moves by a much greater amount than $2, even greater losses would occur.

One good thing about calendar spreads is that the value of the options you bought will always be greater than the ones you sold, so you can never lose the entire amount of money you invested when you bought the spread. If you just buy a call option with the hopes that the stock will rise, or buy a put option with hopes that the stock will fall, you risk losing 100% of your investment if you are wrong. Even worse, in most cases, you would lose the entire investment if the stock stays flat rather than moving in the direction you were hoping.

With calendar spreads, you should never lose everything that you invested and you don’t have to be exactly right about the direction the stock needs to move. There is a range of possible prices where your spread will be profitable, and if you enter your proposed spread in a software program like the (free) Analyze Tab at thinkorswim, you can tell in advance what the break-even range will be for your investment.

There are ways that you can expand the break-even range so that a greater stock price fluctuation could be tolerated, and that will be the subject of our next blog.

The Difference Between Buying Stock and Trading Options

Monday, August 15th, 2016

This week I would like discuss a little about the differences between buying stock and trading options. I would also like to tell you a little about a specific recommendation I made to paying Terry’s Tips subscribers this weekend in my weekly Saturday Report.

Terry

The Difference Between Buying Stock and Trading Options

If the truth be known, investing in stocks is pretty much like playing checkers. Any 12-year-old can do it. You really don’t need much experience or understanding. If you can read, you can buy stock. And you probably will do just about as well as anyone else because it’s basically a roulette wheel choice. Most people reject that idea, of course. Like the residents of Lake Wobegone, stock buyers believe that they are all above average – they can reliably pick the right ones just about every time.

Trading options is harder, and many people recognize that they probably aren’t above average in that arena. Buying and selling options is more like playing chess. It can be (and is, for anyone who is serious about it) a life-time learning experience.

You don’t see columns in the newspaper about interesting checker strategies, but you see a ton of pundits telling you why you should buy particular stocks. People with little understanding or experience buy stocks every day, and most of their transactions involve buying from professionals with far more resources and brains. Most stock buyers never figure out that when they make their purchase, about 90% of the time, they are buying from those professionals. Those smart guys with all the resources are the ones who are selling the stock while you are buying it at that price.

Option investing takes study and understanding and discipline that the purchase of stock does not require. Every investor must decide for himself or herself if they are willing to make the time and study commitment necessary to be successful at option trading. Most people are too lazy.

It is a whole lot easier to play a decent game of checkers than it is to play a decent game of chess. But for some of us, options investing is a whole lot more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding.

Last week I told you about three stock-based Terry’s Tips option portfolios which had doubled in value and a fourth portfolio that was almost there (and it is only 10 months old). I didn’t tell you about two other portfolios that we also carry out which are not available for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim but which are quite easy to trade on your own because they only involve one trade for an entire year (and with luck, options on both side of the spread will expire worthless so no closing trade is necessary).

We have two of these portfolios, and they are set up each January. So far in 2016, while the market (SPY) has gained 4.6%, these two option portfolios have gained 43.9%, and 56.2% without a single adjusting trade having been made. We could close either portfolio right now and take those gains off the table after paying a small commission on one or two spreads. If you buy stock rather than trading options, you will probably never see gains like this, even if you are lucky enough to pick one of the best stocks in the entire market.

This weekend, I recommended another similar spread trade that we are setting up in a new portfolio so we can watch it evolve over time. Like the above two portfolios, it cannot be Auto-Traded but is easy to set up yourself (you can call it in to your broker if you are not familiar with placing option spread trades). This spread will expire on January 20, 2017, about six months from now.

The underlying is a sort of weird derivative of a derivative of a derivative that doesn’t make much sense to anyone (even the Nobel Prize winning managers of Long Term Capital didn’t fully understand the implications of this kind of instrument). The long-term price action of this equity can be measured, however, and it showed that if this spread had been placed every month for the last 50 months, the spread would have made a profit 44 times and it would have lost money 6 times. The average gain for all the trades worked out to 38% for six months (including all the losses in those 6 losing instances). The annualized gain would rise to 90% if you re-invested your money and the average profit at the end of the first six months. Of course, historical price action doesn’t always repeat itself in future months, but if you see how this instrument is engineered, you can see that the pattern should be expected to continue.

This spread idea is so good that I feel I must restrict sharing it with only paying subscribers to the Terry’s Tips newsletter. If you come on board, you can see the full report where I show the profit from this trade for each of the last 50 months and the exact spread that should be placed. I bought more of the exact same spread in my personal account today at the same price I indicated it could be bought in the last Saturday Report.

Historical Performance of 10K Strategy Stock-Based Portfolios

Monday, August 8th, 2016

This week I would like to outline the basic stock option strategy we use at Terry’s Tips where we have created eight portfolios each of which is traded in an actual separate account and is available for Auto-Trade at TDAmeritrade/thinkorswim. Terry’s Tips subscribers can have every trade in these portfolios placed automatically for them in their own thinkorswim accounts through their free Auto-Trade service.

Enjoy the full report.

Terry

Historical Performance of 10K Strategy Stock-Based Portfolios: At Terry’s Tips, we call our options strategy the 10K Strategy. We like to think of it as shorter than a marathon but longer than a sprint. Most people who trade options seem to prefer sprints, i.e., short-term speedy wins (or losses). The basic underlying idea of our 10K Strategy is to do the opposite of what most options traders do. Instead of buying short-term calls in hopes of a quick windfall gain, we primarily sell those calls to option speculators. Since something like 80% of all options expire worthless, we like our odds of selling those options rather than buying them. We like to think that we are sort of in the business of selling lottery tickets.

We buy longer-term options to use as collateral for selling short-term options. All options go down in value every day that the underlying stock remains unchanged. This daily decay in value is called theta in options parlance. Theta for short-term options is much greater than theta for longer-term options at the same strike price, and this difference in decay rates is what makes our strategy a successful one (most of the time).

At Terry’s Tips, we currently have 4 stock-based portfolios. Other portfolios are based on Exchange Traded Products (ETPs). ETPs include Exchange Trade Funds (ETFs) such as the S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY or the Dow Jones Industrial Average tracking stock (DIA), and Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) such as volatility-based XIV, SVXY, VXX, and UVXY. We also have a portfolio based on options of USO where we are betting that the long term price of oil will be higher than it is today.

Three out of 4 of our stock-based portfolios have doubled in value at some point in their lifetime, and the 4th, Foxy Facebook is up 71% since we started it 10 months ago. The prospects look excellent for it to double before its first year has been completed. The record:

2016 HIstorical 10K Portfolios

2016 HIstorical 10K Portfolios

In a world of record low interest rates and anemic investment returns for most equities (even hedge funds lost money in 2015), these results offer a strong vindication of the 10K Strategy. Admittedly, NKE has tumbled steadily over the past 8 months and much of the gains have been eroded away, but a basic assumption of the strategy is that you select underlying stocks which you think will remain flat or rise over time. If you are wrong and the stock doesn’t do one of those things, you should expect to lose money on that investment. So far, we have been fortunate enough to pick winners.

I invite you to become a subscriber to Terry’s Tips so that you can learn the important details of carrying out the 10K Strategy on your favorite stock (assuming that options are available for it). If you are lucky enough to pick a winner, you would have an excellent chance to make many times as much as you would make just buying the stock. It doesn’t have to go up to be a winner – just remaining flat is almost always profitable with this strategy.

Many years ago, someone wrote a book that I bought – it was entitled “Happiness is a Stock That Doubles in a Year.” If you can find a stock that will stay flat or move higher, you might very well enjoy this kind of happiness once you learn how to execute the 10K Strategy.

As with all investments, you should only use money that you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments, and unless you totally understand the risks, you can easily and quickly lose more money than you could with the equivalent investment in the purchase of stock. I think it is worth a little work to educate yourself about the risks (and potential rewards) of trading options.

Update on Facebook Earnings Announcement Play

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Last week, Facebook (FB) announced earnings which were triple the year-earlier results and were 88% higher than analyst expectations, but the stock barely budged from where it was the day before the announcement. Option players could celebrate, however. The actual portfolio at Terry’s Tips where we trade FB options gained 45.8% for the week. We have a lot of happy subscribers who follow this portfolio either on their own or through the Auto-Trade service at thinkorswim.

As good as 45% for a single week might be, you could have done even better if you had followed a trade I told you about 2 ½ months ago. That is the story I would like to share with you today.

Happy trading.

Terry

Update on Facebook Earnings Announcement Play

On May 11, 2016, I told you about two trades I was making in my personal account. You can see the entire blog which explains my thinking on our blog page. Here they are:

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.

When these short calls expired on July 15th, FB was trading at about $122.50, just about the perfect place for me since it was right in the middle of the two strike prices of my spreads. On that day, I bought back the expiring 120 calls and sold 29Jul16 120 calls and collected $2.50 (selling a calendar spread). I sold this series because it would expire just after the July 27 earnings announcement.

I also sold the same calendar spread at the 125 strike price and collected $2.35. The net effect of these two trades (I collected $960 after commissions) reduced my net investment from $1284 to $324.

After Wednesday’s announcement, FB soared to $130 in after-hours trading, but opened at $127.52, and by late Friday when my short options were about to expire, it had fallen to about $124. I then closed out my positions by buying back the 29Jul16 calls and selling the 16Sep16 calls I still owned, collecting $2.10 per contract for the 120 strike calls and $3.10 for the 125 strike calls. After commissions, this worked out to a total of $1030, so I netted a profit of $706 on an original investment of $1284. Bottom line, I made 55% on my original investment for the 10 weeks I traded FB options.

Over this same time period, investors who owned FB stock made $4 per share on their money. If they invested $1284 like I did, they could have bought only 10 shares for $120 per share. Their gains for the 10 weeks would have been $40. My option trading made 17 times more money than the stock buyers would have made. Once again, I don’t understand why people would waste their money buying stock when they could spend a little time studying how to trade options, and make a multiple of what they could make by the simple buying of stock.

As with all investments, you should only use money that you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments, and unless you totally understand the risks, you can easily and quickly lose more money than you could with the equivalent investment in the purchase of stock. I think it is worth a little work to educate yourself about the risks (and potential rewards) of trading options.

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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.

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