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Archive for September, 2016

IBM Pre-Announcement Play

Friday, September 30th, 2016

IBM announces earnings on October 17, less than three weeks from now. I would like to share with you a strategy I used today to take advantage of the extremely high option prices which exist for the option series that expires on October 21, four days after the announcement. I feel fairly confident I will eventually make over 100% on one or both of these trades before the long side expires in six months.

Terry

IBM Pre-Announcement Play

One of my favorite option strategies is to buy one or more calendar spreads on a company that will be announcing earnings in a few weeks. The option series which expires directly after the announcement experiences an elevated Implied Volatility (IV) relative to all the other option series. A high IV means that those options are relatively expensive compared to all the other options that are trading on that stock.

IV for the post-announcement series soars because of the well-known tendency for stock prices to fluctuate far more than usual once the announcement is made. It may go up if investors are pleased with the company’s earnings, sales, or outlook, or it may tumble because investors were expecting more. While there is some historical evidence that the stock usually moves in the opposite direction that it did in the week or two leading up to the announcement, it is not compelling enough to always bet that way.

IBM has risen about $5 over the last week, but it is trading about equal to where it was two weeks ago, so there is no indication right now as to what might happen after the announcement.

IBM has fluctuated by just under 4% on average over the last few announcement events. That would make an average of $6 either way. I really have no idea which way it might go after this announcement, but it has been hanging out around it/s current level (just under $160) for a while, so I am planning to place my bet around that number

In the week leading up to the announcement, IV for the post-announcement series almost always soars, and the stock often moves higher as well, pushed higher by investors who are expecting good news to be forthcoming. For that reason, I like to buy calendar spreads at a strike slightly above the current price of the stock in hopes that the stock will move toward that strike as we wait for the announcement day. Remember, calendar spreads make the greatest gain when the stock is exactly at the strike price on the day when the short side of the spread expires.

This is the trade I placed today when IBM was at $159 (of course, you may choose any quantity you are comfortable with, but this is what each spread cost me):

Buy To Open 1 IBM 21Apr17 160 call (IBM170421C160)
Sell To Open 1 IBM 21Oct16 160 call (IBM161021C160) for a debit of $4.71 (buying a calendar)
Each spread cost me $471 plus $2.50 (the commission rate charged to Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim), for a total of $473.50. I sold the 21Oct16 160 call for $354. In order to get all my $473.50 back once October 21st rolls around, I will have 25 opportunities to sell a one-week call (if I wish). Right now, a 160 call with one week of remaining life could be sold for about $.90. If I were to sell one of these weeklies on 6 occasions, I would get my entire investment back and still have 19 more opportunities to sell a weekly call.

Another way of moving forward would to sell new calls with a month of remaining life when the 21Oct16 calls expire. If IBM is around $160 at that time, a one-month call could be sold for about $2.00. It would take three such sales to get all of my initial investment back, and I would have three more opportunities to sell a one-month call with all the proceeds being pure profit.

Before the 21Apr17 calls expire, another earnings announcement will come around (about 3 ½ months from now). If IBM is trading anywhere near $160 at that time, I should be able to sell a 160 call with 3 weeks of remaining life for about $354, just like I sold one today. That alone would get about 75% of my initial investment back.

In any event, over the six-months that I might own the 21Apr17 calls, I will have many chances to sell new calls and hopefully collect much more time premium than I initially shelled out for the calendar spread. There may be times when I have to buy back expiring calls because they are in the money, but I should be able to sell further-out short-term calls at the same strike for a nice credit and whittle down my initial investment.
I also made this trade today:

Buy To Open 1 IBM 21Apr17 160 call (IBM170421C160)
Sell To Open 1 IBM 14Oct16 160 call (IBM161014C160) for a debit of $6.65 (buying a calendar)

This is the same calendar spread as the first one, but the sell side is the 14Oct16 series which expires a week before the announcement date week. If IV for the 21Oct16 series does escalate from its present 25 (as it should), I might be able to sell calls with a week of remaining life for a higher price than is available right now. I might end up with paying less than $473.50 for the original spread which sold the post-announcement 21Oct16 calls.

Calendar Spreads Tweak #4

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Today I would like to discuss how you can use calendar spreads for a short-term strategy based around the date when a stock goes ex-dividend. I will tell you exactly how I used this strategy a week ago when SPY paid its quarterly dividend.

Terry

Calendar Spreads Tweak #4

Four times a year, SPY pays a dividend to owners of record on the third Friday of March, June, September, and December. The current dividend is about $1.09. Each of these events presents a unique opportunity to make some money by buying calendar spreads using puts to take advantage of the huge time premium in the puts in the days leading up to the dividend day.

Since the stock goes down by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day, the option market prices the amount of the dividend into the option prices. Check out the situation for SPY on Wednesday, September 14, 2016, two days before an expected $1.09 dividend would be payable. At the time of these prices, SPY was trading just about $213.70.

Facebook Bid Ask Puts Calls Sept 2016

Facebook Bid Ask Puts Calls Sept 2016

Note that the close-to-the-money options at the 213.5 strike show a bid of $1.11 for calls and $1.84 for puts. The slightly out-of-the-money put options are trading for nearly double the prices for those same distance-out calls. The market has priced in the fact that the stock will fall by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day. In this case, that day is Friday.

SPY closed at $215.28 on Thursday. Friday’s closing price was $213.37, which is $1.91 lower. However, the change for the day was indicated as -$.82. The difference ($1.09) was the size of the dividend.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I decided to sell some of those puts that had such large premiums in them to see if there might be some opportunity there. While SPY was trading in the $213 to $216 range, I bought put calendar spreads at the 214.5, 214, 213.5, and 213 strikes, buying 21Oct16 puts at the even-strike numbers and 19Oct16 puts for the strikes ending in .5 (only even-number strikes are offered in the regular Friday 21Oct16 options). Obviously, I sold the 16Sep16 puts in each calendar spread.

Note: On August 30th, the CBOE offered a new series of SPY options that expire on Wednesday rather than Friday. The obvious reason for this offering involves the dividend situation. Investors who write calls against their SPY stock are in a real bind when they sell calls that expire on an ex-dividend Friday. First, there is very little time premium in those calls. Second, there is a serious risk that the call will be exercised by the holder to take the stock and capture the dividend. If the owner of SPY sold the series that expired on Wednesday rather than Friday, the potential problem would be avoided.

I paid an average of $2.49 including commissions for the four calendar spreads and sold them on Friday for an average of $2.88 after commissions. I sold every spread for more money that it cost (including commissions). My net gain for the two days of trading was just over 15% after commissions.

The stock fell $.82 (after accounting for the $1.09 dividend). If it had gone up by that amount, I expect that my 15% gain would also have been there. It is unclear if the gains would have been there if SPY had made a big move, say $2 or more in either direction on Friday. My rough calculations showed that there would still be a profit, but it would be less than 15%. Single-day moves of more than $2 are a little unusual, however, so it might not be much to be concerned about.

Bottom line, I am delighted with the 15% gain, and will probably try it again in three months (at the December expiration). In this world of near-zero interest rates, many investors would be happy with 15% for an entire year. I collected mine in just two days.

Trading SPY options is particularly easy because of the extreme liquidity of those options. In most cases, I was able to get an execution at the mid-point price of the calendar spread bid-ask range. I never paid $.01 more or received more than $.01 less than the mid-point price when trading these calendar spreads.

While liquidity is not as great in most options markets, it might be interesting to try this same strategy with other dividend-payers such as JNJ where the dividend is also over $1.00. I regularly share these kinds of trading opportunities with Terry’s Tips Insiders so that they can follow along in their own accounts if they wish.

Happy trading.

Calendar Spreads Tweak #2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

This week we will continue our discussion of a popular option spread – the calendar spread which is also called a time spread or horizontal spread. We will compare the expected costs and potential returns if you select different time periods for the long and short sides of the calendar spread.

Terry

Calendar Spreads Tweak #2

First, let’s look at a typical calendar spread on Facebook (FB). Today, the stock is trading just over $130, and you might buy an at-the-money calendar spread by placing this order:

Buy To Open 1 FB 16Dec16 130 call (FB161216C130)
Sell To Open 1 FB 14Oct16 130 call (FB161014C130) for a debit of $3.75 (buying a calendar)

This spread would cost about $3.75 ($375) to buy, plus $2.50 in commissions at the rate Terry’s Tips’ subscribers pay at thinkorswim, for a total of $377.50.

When the 14Oct16 call expires on October 14, 37 days from now, this is what the risk profile graph indicates the profit or loss would be at the various possible stock prices that might exist at that time:

 

Face Book Risk Profile #1 September 2016

Face Book Risk Profile #1 September 2016

Note that the break-even range extends from about $3.50 in both directions. The loss or gain when the short call expires on October 14th is indicated in the column on the lower right titled “P/L Day.” The maximum gain is precisely at the $130 price, and it is about $150 which would result in almost a 40% gain for the month.

When this calendar spread expires on October 14th, there will be 3 months of remaining life to the 16Dec16 call that you would hold. This call will always have some value that is greater than the 16Dec16 call that is expiring on that day, no matter where FB is trading at that time. This means you can’t lose the entire $377.50 that you have invested. The closer to $130 FB is at that time, the more valuable your 16Dec16 call will be in terms of remaining time premium.

Let’s check out what the situation might be if we went further out in time and bought a calendar spread that had both sides two months later. The difference between the long and short sides of the spread will remain at three months but you will have to wait three months rather than just one month to have the spread expire and you take your losses or gains. This would be the spread that you would buy:

Buy To Open 1 FB 17Mar17 130 call (FB170317C130)
Sell To Open 1 FB 16Dec16 130 call (FB161014C130) for a debit of $3.25 (buying a calendar)

This spread would cost about $3.25 ($325) to buy, plus $2.50 in commissions at the rate Terry’s Tips’ subscribers pay at thinkorswim, for a total of $327.50. (Buy the way, the regular commission on this spread at thinkorswim would be $7.80, and for this reason, many people choose to become Terry’s Tips subscribers because this low rate will extend to all the trades they make in their account, regardless of whether or not they are following one of our portfolios. The commission savings could be greater than the low monthly cost of being a subscriber).

When this spread expires on December 16th, this is what the risk profile graph would look like:

Face Book Risk Profile #2 September 2016

Face Book Risk Profile #2 September 2016

Note that the break-even range has more than doubled so that the stock can fluctuate about $8 in either direction before the spread starts losing money. Of course, you have to wait three months for December 16th to come around, and this gives the stock lots of time to make a big move in either direction. Again, the further it moves away from $130, the less money it makes. If the stock remains unchanged, and ends up at about $130 on that day in December, the expected gain is over $350, or more than 100% of the original cost of the calendar spread.

Presumably, you are trading calendars on a stock you believe is headed higher. If you believe that FB is likely to be trading about $5 higher three months from now, you might buy the same calendar at the 135 strike instead of the 130 strike. It would cost a little less, about $315, and this is what the risk profile graph looks like for December 16th:

Face Book Risk Profile #3 September 2016

Face Book Risk Profile #3 September 2016

If the stock stays flat, the spread will make about $150, or about 45% on your investment, but if it goes up $5 and ends up near $135, you could gain over $370, or well over 100% on your investment. The break-even range extends less than $5 to the downside and about $16 on the upside, so you will be rooting for FB to move higher over the three months.

The key point to selecting the strike price of calendar spreads is to make your best guess as to where the stock might be at the future date when the calls you have sold expire. If you are right, you could enjoy some extraordinary gains.

As usual, there are no easy ways to make sure gains in this world. You inevitably must make some sort of guess as to what the underlying stock will do. The neat thing about calendar spreads is that you don’t have to be precisely right. There is a fairly large range of possible stock prices withing which gains could come your way. The further out in time you go to select dates for a calendar spread, the greater the break-even range will be, and the maximum gain will always come if the stock ends up precisely at the strike price you select when you buy the spread.

As with all investments, you should only plunk down money that you can truly afford to lose. Option spreads can make excellent gains, but large movements in the stock price in either direction could cause losses with calendar spreads (unless you anticipated that direction and selected the right strike price at the outset).

Happy trading.

Calendar Spreads Tweak #1

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

This week we will continue our discussion of a popular option spread – the calendar spread which is also called a time spread or horizontal spread. We will check out the feasibility of buying spreads at different strike prices in an effort to reduce risk.

Terry

Calendar Spreads Tweak #1

First, let’s look at a typical calendar spread on Facebook (FB). Last Friday, when FB was trading about $124.20, we bought 5-month-out 20Jan17 calls and sold one-month-out 30Sep16 calls. The spread would cost $5.43 ($543), and this is what the risk profile graph looked like:

Face book Risk Profile May 2016

Face book Risk Profile May 2016

Note that the break-even range extends from about $3 on the downside to $5 on the upside, a range of $8. (The loss or gain when the short calls expire on September 30 is indicated in the column on the right titled “P/L Day.”) The maximum gain is precisely at the $125 price, and it is about $150 which would result in a nice 27% gain for the month.

Next, I tested whether I could expand the break-even range by adding the same calendar spread at the 120 and 130 strike prices (the 20Jan17 series only offers strikes at $5 increments, unlike the weekly series). The 120 spread would cost $464 and the 130 spread would be $483, so buying all three spreads would involve an investment of about $1500. Here is what the risk profile graph looks like for the three spreads:

Face Book Risk Profile 2 September 2016

Face Book Risk Profile 2 September 2016

Note that the break-even range is almost exactly the same with the three spreads. The maximum gain is also about $150, but with three spreads, it would mean a 10% gain rather than a 27% one because you would have about $1500 invested rather than $543. Clearly, adding calendar spreads at strikes $5 above and below the current stock price is not the way to go – about triple the investment, the same expected maximum gain, and about the same break-even range.

Presumably, you are trading calendars on a stock you believe is headed higher. You might choose to buy an at-the-money calendar and a second one at a higher strike. If you do this, your investment is about $1000 and this is the risk profile graph:

Face Book Risk Profile 3 September 2016

Face Book Risk Profile 3 September 2016

The break-even range is once again about $8 from the lowest point to the highest, but it extends just over a dollar on the downside and $7 on the upside. If you are bullish on the stock, this seems to be a better way to go. The maximum gain is about $150 once again, and this results in a 15% gain for the month. The best thing about this choice of two spreads is that the maximum gain can be achieved across a 5-point range rather than being available at only one precise price point.

Another strategy might be to buy the 125 calendar spread, and then wait to see which way the stock moves, and then buy another calendar in that direction. As we have seen, the cost of an at-the-money calendar is not much greater than the same calendar which is $5 away from the money. The big risk with this strategy is that the stock might whipsaw. For example, it might fall $3 which might prompt you to buy a 120 calendar, and then shoot higher, going up to $128 which might cause you to add a new spread at the 130 strike.

As usual, there are no easy ways to make sure gains in this world. The best bet seems to be to take a position that the stock is headed in one particular direction (usually up unless you are trading on some ETP that is destined to go down, like VXX), and combine an at-the-money spread with one at a higher strike price. Most months you should be making a significant gain if your stock behaves as you expect, and that gain can materialize over a nice range of possible prices.

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