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5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

A subscriber wrote in and asked what he should do if he thought the market would be 6% lower by the end of September.  I thought about his question a little bit, and decided to share my thoughts with you, just in case you have similar feelings at some time along the way.Terry

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

We will use the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as a proxy for the market.  As I write this, SPY is trading just below $210.  If it were to fall by 6% by the end of September (3 months from now), it would be trading about $197 at that time.  The prices for the possible investments listed below are slightly more costly than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the options or the option spreads, and include the commission cost (calculated at $1.25 per contract, the price that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim).

#1.  Buy an at-the-money put.  One of the most common option purchases is the outright buy of a put option if you feel strongly that the market is crashing.  Today, with SPY trading at $210, a September 2015 put option at the 210 strike would cost you $550.  If SPY is trading at $197 (as the subscriber believed it would be at the end of September), your put would be worth $1300.  You would make a profit of $750, or 136% on your investment.

Buying a put involves an extremely high degree of risk, however. The stock must fall by $5 ½ (about 2.6%) before you make a nickel of profit.  If the market remains flat or goes higher by any amount, you would lose 100% of your investment.  Studies have shown that about 80% of all options eventually expire worthless, so by historical measures, there is a very high likelihood that you will lose everything.  That doesn’t sound like much of a good investment idea to me, even if you feel strongly about the market’s direction.  It is so easy to get it wrong (I know from frequent personal experience).

If you were to buy an out-of-the-money put (i.e., the strike price is below the stock price), the outlook is even worse.  A Sept-15 205 put would cost about $400 to buy.  While that is less than the $550 you would have to shell out for the at-the-money 210 put, the market still has to fall by a considerable amount, $9 (4.3%) before you make a nickel.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t even consider it.

#2.  Buy an in-the-money put.  You might consider buying a put which has a higher strike than the stock price.  While it will cost more (increasing your potential loss if the market goes up), the stock does not need to fall nearly as far before you get into a profit zone.  A Sept-15 215 put would cost you $800, and the stock would only have to fall by $3 (1.4%) before you could start counting some gains.  If the market remains flat, your loss would be $300 (38%).

If the stock does manage to fall to $197, your 215 put would be worth $1800 at expiration, and your gain would be $1000, or 125% on your investment.  In my opinion, buying an in-the-money put is not a good investment idea, either, although it is probably better than buying an at-the-money put, and should only be considered if you are strongly convinced that the stock is headed significantly lower.

#3.  Buy a vertical put spread.  The most popular directional option spread choice is probably a vertical spread.  If you believe the market is headed lower, you buy a put and at the same time, sell a lower-strike put as part of a spread.  You only have to come up with the difference between the cost of the put you buy and what you receive from selling a lower-strike put to someone else.  In our SPY example, you might buy a Sept-15 210 put and sell a Sept-15 200 put.  You would have to pay $300 for this spread.  The stock would only have to fall by $3 before you started collecting a profit.  If it closed at any price below $200, your spread would have an intrinsic value of $1000 and you would make a profit of $700 (230% on your investment), less commissions.

With this spread, however, if the stock remains flat or rises by any amount, you would lose your entire $300 investment.  That is a big cost for being wrong.  But if you believe that the market will fall by 6%, maybe a flat or higher price isn’t in your perceived realm of possible outcomes.

Another (more conservative) vertical put spread would be to buy an in-the-money put and sell an at-the-money put. If you bought a Sept-15 220 put and sold a Sept-15 210 put, your cost would be $600.  If the stock closed at any price below $210, your spread would be worth $1000 and your gain ($400) would work out to be about 64% after commissions. The neat thing about this spread is that if the stock remained flat at $210, you would still gain the 64%.  If there is an equal chance that a stock will go up, go down, or stay flat, you would have two out of the three possible outcomes covered.

You also might think about compromising between the above two vertical put spreads and buy a Sept-15 215 put and sell a Sept-15 205 put.  It would cost you about $420.  Your maximum gain, if the stock ended up at any price below $205, would be $580, or about 135% on your investment.  If the stock remains flat at $210, your spread would be worth $500 at expiration, and you would make a small gain over your cost of $420.  You would only lose money if the stock were to rise by more than $.80 over the time period.

#4.  Sell a call credit vertical spread.  People with a limited understanding of options (which includes a huge majority of American investors) don’t even think about calls when they believe that the market is headed lower.  However, you can gain all the advantages of the above put vertical spreads, and more, by trading calls instead of puts if you want to gain when the market falls.  When I want to make a directional bet on a lower market, I always use calls rather than puts.

If you would like to replicate the risk-reward numbers of the above compromise vertical put spread, you would buy a Sept-15 215 call and sell a Sept-15 205 call. The higher-strike call that you are buying is much cheaper than the lower-strike call you are selling.  You could collect $600 for the spread.  The broker would place a $1000 maintenance agreement (no interest charge) on your account (this represents the maximum possible loss on the spread if you had not received any credit when placing it, but in our case, you collected $600 so the maximum possible loss is $400 – that is how much you will have to have in your account to sell this spread).  Usually, buying a vertical put spread or selling the same strikes with a credit call vertical spread cost about the same – in this case, the call spread happened to be a better price (an investment of $400 rather than $420).

There are two advantages to selling the call credit spread rather than buying the vertical put spread.  First, if you are successful and the stock ends up below $205 as you expect, both the long and short calls will expire worthless.  There will be no commission to pay on closing out the positions. You don’t have to do anything other than wait a day for the maintenance requirement to disappear and you get to keep the cash you collected when you sold the spread at the outset.

Second, when you try to sell the vertical put spread for $10 (the intrinsic value if the stock is $205 or lower), you will not be able to get the entire $10 because of the bid-ask price situation.  The best you could expect to get is about $9.95 ($995) as a limit order.  You could do nothing and let the broker close it out for you – in that case you would get exactly $1000, but most brokers charge a $35 or higher fee for an automatic closing spread transaction.  It is usually better to accept the $995 and pay the commission (although it is better to use calls and avoid the commissions altogether).

#5.  Buy a calendar spread.  My favorite spreads are calendar spreads so I feel compelled to include them as one of the possibilities. If you think the market is headed lower, all you need to do is buy a calendar spread at a strike price where you think the stock will end up when the short options expire. In our example, the subscriber believed that the stock would fall to $197 when the September options expired.  He could buy an Oct-15 – Sept-15 197 calendar spread (the risk-reward is identical whether you use puts or calls, but I prefer to use calls if you think the market is headed lower because you are closing out an out-of-the-money option which usually has a lower bid-ask range).  The cost of this spread would be about $60.  Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain from the spread at the various possible stock prices:

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

You can see that if you are exactly right and the stock ends up at $197, your gain would be about $320, or over 500% on your investment (by the way, I don’t expect the stock will fall this low, but I just went into the market to see if I could get the spread for $60 or better, and my order executed at $57).

What I like about the calendar spread is that the break-even range is a whopping $20.  You can be wrong about your price estimate by almost $10 in either direction and you would make a profit with the spread.  The closer you can guess to where the stock will end up, the greater your potential gain.  Now that I have actually bought a calendar spread at the 197 strike, I will buy another calendar spread at a higher strike so that I have more upside protection (and be more in line with my thinking as to the likely stock price come September).

There are indeed an infinite number of option investments you could make if you have a feeling for which way the market is headed.  We have listed 5 of the more popular strategies if someone believes the market is headed lower.  In future newsletters we will discuss more complicated alternatives such as butterfly spreads and iron condors.

Why Option Prices are Often Different

Monday, June 1st, 2015

This week I would like to discuss why stock option prices are low in some weeks and high in others, and how option spread prices also differ over time.  If you ever decide to become an active option investor, you should understand those kinds of important details.Terry

Why Option Prices are Often Different

The wild card in option prices is implied volatility (IV).  When IV is high, option prices are higher than they are when IV is lower.  IV is determined by the market’s assessment of how volatile the market will be at certain times.  A few generalizations can be made:

1. Volatility (and option prices) are usually lower in short trading weeks.  When there is a holiday and only four trading days, IV tends to be lower.  This means that holiday weeks are not good ones to write calls against your stock.  It is also a poor time to buy calendar spreads.  Better to write the calls or buy the calendar spread in the week before a holiday week.

2. Volatility is higher in the week when employment numbers are published on Friday.  This is almost always the first week of the calendar month.  The market often moves more than usual on the days when those numbers are published, and option prices in general tend to be higher in those weeks.  These would be good weeks to sell calls against your stock or buy calendar spreads.

3. IV rises substantially leading up to a company’s earnings announcement.  This is the best of all times to write calls against stock you own.  Actual volatility might be great as well, so there is some danger in buying the stock during that time.

4. Calendar spreads (our favorite) are less expensive if you buy spreads in further-out months rather than shorter terms.  For example, if you were to buy an at-the-money SPY calendar spread, buying an August-July spread would cost $1.44, but a September–August spread would cost only $.90.  If you were to buy the longer-out month spread and waited a month, you might be able close out the spread for a 50% gain if the price is about the same after 30 days.

Today we created a new portfolio employing further-out calendar spreads at Terry’s Tips.  We used the underlying SVXY which (because of contango) can usually be counted on to move higher (it has averaged about a 45% gain every year historically, just as its inverse, VXX, has fallen by that much).  We added a bullish diagonal call spread to several calendars (buying December and selling September) to create the following risk profile graph:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

We will have to wait 109 days for the September short options to expire, and hopefully, we will not have to make any more trades before then. This portfolio was set up with $4000, and we have set aside almost $400 to make an adjusting trade in case the stock makes a huge move in either direction.

The neat thing about this portfolio is that there is a very large break-even range.  The stock can fall about $15 before we lose on the downside, or it can go almost $30 higher before we lose on the upside.  With the extra cash we have, these break-even numbers can be expanded quite easily by another $10 or so in either direction, if necessary.

It would be impossible to set up a risk profile graph with such a large break-even range if we selected shorter-term calendar spreads instead of going way out to the December-September months.  Now we will just have to wait a while before we collect what looks like a 25% gain over quite a large range of possible stock prices.

How to Make 80% a Year With Long-Term Option Bets

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

One of my favorite options plays is a long-term bet that a particular stock will be equal to or higher than it is today at some future date.  Right now might be a perfect time to make that kind of a bet with one of my favorite stocks, Apple (AAPL).Each January, I pick several stocks I feel really positive about and buy a spread that will make an extraordinary gain if the stock is flat or any higher when the options expire one year out.  Today I would like to tell you about one of these spreads we placed in one of the Terry’s Tips portfolios we carry out, and how you can place a similar spread right now.  If AAPL is only slightly higher than it is today a year from now, you would make 100% on your investment.

Terry

How to Make 80% a Year With Long-Term Option Bets

I totally understand that it may seem preposterous to think that over the long run, 80% a year is a possible expectation to have for a stock market investment.  But if the AAPL fluctuates in the future as it has in the past, it will absolutely come about. It can be done with a simple option spread that can be placed right now, and you don’t have to do anything else but wait out a year. If the stock is any higher at the end of the year, the options expire worthless and you don’t even have to close out the spread.  You just get to keep the money you got at the beginning.

Let’s check out the 10-year chart for Apple:

10 Year Apple Chart May 2015

10 Year Apple Chart May 2015

In 9 of the last 10 years, AAPL has been higher at the end of the calendar year than it was at the beginning.  Only in the market-meltdown of 2008-2009 was the stock at a lower price at the end of the year than it was at the beginning.

In January of this year, in one of our Terry’s Tips portfolios, we placed the following trade when AAPL was trading at $112.  We felt confident that the stock would be at least a little higher a year from then.  The precise date would be January 15, 2016, the third Friday of the month when monthly options expire.  This is the trade we made:

Buy To Open 7 AAPL Jan-16 105 puts (AAPL160115P105)
Sell To Open 7 AAPL Jan-16 115 puts (AAPL160115P115) for a credit of $5.25 (selling a vertical)

For each spread, we collected $525 less $2.50 in commissions, or $522.50.  For 7 spreads, we collected $3657.50 after commissions.  The amount at risk per spread was $1000 – $522.50, or $477.50.  For all 7, that worked out to $3342.50.

The proceeds from selling the spread, $3657.50, was placed in our account when the sale was made.  The broker placed a maintenance requirement on us for $7000 (the maximum we could lose if the stock ended up below $105 at expiration.  Our actual risk if this happened would be $7000 less the $3657.50 we received, or $3342.50.  If AAPL ends up at any price above $115 on January 15, 2016, both options will expire worthless and we will make a gain of 109% on our investment.

Since we placed that spread, AAPL has moved up nicely, and it is now at $132.  If you did not want to wait another six months to collect the 109%, you could buy back the spread today for $2.67 ($269.50 per spread after commissions).  Buying back all 7 spreads would cost $1886.50, resulting in a profit of $1771.  This works out to be a 53% gain for the 4 months.  We are waiting it out rather than taking a gain right now, knowing that 109% will come our way even if the stock falls about $17 from here.

AAPL might not be headed to $240 as Carl Ichan (net worth, $23 billion) believes it is, but it seems likely that it might be higher a year from now than it is today.  Options for June, 2016 have just become available for trading.  As I write this today, AAPL is trading at $132.  If you were willing to bet that over the next 12 months, the stock might edge up by $3 or more, you could sell the following spread (in my personal account, I made this exact trade today):

Buy To Open (pick a number) AAPL Jun-16 125 puts (AAPL160617P125)
Sell To Open ((pick a number) AAPL Jun-16 135 puts (AAPL160617P135) for a credit of $5.10  (selling a vertical)

Each contract will cost you about $500 to place, after commissions. This spread will make a 100% profit after commissions if AAPL ends up at any price above $135 on June 17, 2016.

You might wonder why the title of this blog mentioned 80% as a long-term annual gain possibility.  If AAPL behaves in the next 10 years as it has in the last 10 years, and makes a gain in 9 of those years, over the course of a decade, you would gain 100% in 9 years and lose 100% (although the actual loss might be less) in one year, for an average gain of 80% a year.

For sure, you would not want to place all, or even a large part, of your investment portfolio in long-term spreads like this.  But it seems to me that a small amount, something that you can afford to lose, is something that you might consider, if only for the fun of doubling your money in a single year.

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

This week I came to the conclusion that the market may be in for some trouble over the next few months (or longer).  I am not expecting a crash of any sort, but I think it is highly unlikely that we will see a large upward move anytime soon.

Today, I would like to share my thinking on the market’s direction, and talk a little about how you can use calendar spreads to benefit when the market (for most stocks) doesn’t do much of anything (or goes down moderately).

Terry

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

For several reasons, the bull market we have enjoyed for the last few years seems to be petering out.  First, as Janet Yellen and Robert Shiller, and others, have recently pointed out, the S&P 500 average has a higher P/E, 20.7 now, compared to 19.5 a year ago, or compared to the 16.3 very-long-term average.  An elevated P/E can be expected in a world of zero interest rates, but we all know that world will soon change.  The question is not “if” rates will rise, but “when.”

Second, market tops and bottoms are usually marked by triple-digit moves in the averages, one day up and the next day down, exactly the pattern we have seen for the past few weeks.

Third, it is May.  “Sell in May” is almost a hackneyed mantra by now (and not always the right thing to do), but the advice is soundly supported by the historical patterns.

The market might not tank in the near future, but it seems to me that a big increase is unlikely during this period when we are waiting for the Fed to act.

At Terry’s Tips, we most always create positions that do best if the market is flat or rises moderately.  Based on the above thoughts, we plan to take a different tack for a while.  We will continue to do well if it remains flat, but we will do better with a moderate drop than we would a moderate rise.

As much as you would like to try, it is impossible to create option positions that make gains no matter what the underlying stock does.  The options market is too efficient for such a dream to be possible.  But you can stack the odds dramatically in your favor.

If you want to protect against a down market using calendar spreads, all you have to do is buy spreads which have a lower strike price than the underlying stock.  When the short-term options you have sold expire, the maximum gain comes when the stock is very close to the strike price.  If that strike price is lower than the current price of the stock, that big gain comes after the stock has fallen to that strike price.

If you bought a calendar spread at the market (strike price same as the stock price), you would do best if the underlying stock or ETF remained absolutely flat.  You can reduce your risk a bit by buying another spread or two at different strikes.  That gives you more than one spot where the big gain comes.

At Terry’s Tips, now that we believe the market is more likely to head lower than it is to rise in the near future, we will own at-the-money calendar spreads, and others which are at lower strike prices.  It is possible to create a selection of spreads which will make a gain if the market is flat, rises just a little bit, or falls by more than a little bit, but not a huge amount.  Fortunately, there is software that lets you see in advance the gains or losses that will come at various stock prices with the calendar spreads you select (it’s free at thinkorswim and available at other brokers as well, although I have never seen anything as good as thinkorswim offers).

Owning a well-constructed array of stock option positions, especially calendar spreads, allows you to take profits even when the underlying stock doesn’t move higher.  Just select some spreads which are at strikes below the current stock price.  (It doesn’t matter if you use puts or calls, as counter-intuitive as that seems – with calendar spreads, it is the strike price, not whether you use puts or calls, that determines your gains or losses.)

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Yesterday I sent you a note describing an interesting way to make some serious money with options, betting that the price of oil will either stabilize or move higher from today’s low levels.  Thanks to subscriber Thomas, there is a better underlying out there.  Just in case you were planning to place the trades, I thought you should check this one out first.

Terry

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

This is a re-write of yesterday’s letter, except the underlying is USO (another ETF) rather than OIH.  The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

USO Historical Chart 2015

USO Historical Chart 2015

There is a distinct advantage to USO, however.  The options are far more liquid and bid-ask spreads are much smaller for USO.  In other words, you can get much better prices when you place orders or roll over your short positions to the next month.

USO closed at $19.60 Friday.  Here are the trades I plan to make today:

Buy 3 USO Jan-16 19 calls (USO160115C19)
Sell 3 USO Mar-15 19.5 calls (USO150320C19.5) for $1.45 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 USO Jan-16 19 call (USO160115C19) for $3.35
The spread order is priced at $.02 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask price for the spread, and the single call order is placed at $.05 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask.  You should be able to get those prices.

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $435 plus $335 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $775.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

USO Risk Profioe Graph 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of USO ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain at least $200, or about 25% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 25% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny (in fact, if it actually is flat, your gain should be $327, or over 40%).  If you just bought USO instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if USO falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 19 call gives you upside protection in case USO moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if USO drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $19.50) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire. It is conceivable that you could collect $300 every month and get all your mney back in 3 months, and further  sales would be clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.

 

How to Play Oil Prices With Options

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

If you are anything like me, I have enjoyed filling up my car lately.  It almost seems too good to be true. How long do you think gas prices will stay this low?    I figure that the price is more likely to move higher from here than it is to move lower, but I could be wrong.  It seems like a prudent bet would be that it won’t move much lower from here, and that the price of oil is more likely to stay the same or move higher over the next year.  If either scenario (flat or up) is true, you can easily double your money using options.  Today I will show you one way that might be accomplished.

Terry

How to Play Oil Prices With Options

If you want to bet on higher oil prices, you might consider buying the ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) OIL.  This is simply a measure of the price of crude oil.  I don’t like to trade OIL, however, because the price is too low (under $12) to have meaningful option prices (and the options market is not very efficient which means it is hard to get decent prices because bid-ask ranges are too high).

An alternative ETF is OIH.  This covers the oil service companies, like drillers and transporters.  There is an extremely high correlation between the prices of OIL and OIH, and OIH has the advantage of having a higher absolute price ($35.50 at Friday’s close) and a more efficient options market (including weekly options and LEAPS).

Check out the chart for OIH for the last year:

OIH Historical Chart Feb 2015

OIH Historical Chart Feb 2015

If you had been smart (or lucky) enough to buy OIH when it rose above its 30-day moving average a year ago, you might have owned it while it rose from about $46 to about $55 when it fell below its 30-day moving average and then if you sold it short, you might make gains all the way down to $36 (you would have had to resist buying it back when it briefly moved above the moving average a few months ago).

Now OIH is well above this moving average and this might be a good time to make a bet that it will move higher going forward.  If you wanted to bet that the price of oil (and OIH) will remain flat or move higher, you might consider these trades (with OIH trading at $35.50):

Buy 3 OIH Jan-16 35 calls (OIH160115C35)
Sell 3 OIH Mar-15 36 calls (OIH150320C36) for $3.05 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 OIH Jan-16 35 call (OIH160115C35) for $4.45

These prices are at $.05 more than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the option or the spread.  You should be able to get those prices – be sure to enter it as a limit order because bid-ask ranges are a little high (although narrower than they are for OIL).

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $915 plus $445 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $1365.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

OIH Risk Profile Graph 2015

OIH Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of OIH ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain about $300, or about 20% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 20% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny.  If you just bought OIH instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if OIH falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 35 call gives you upside protection in case OIH moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if OIH drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $37) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire.  Once you have collected $100 for each of 3 monthly calls you sell, you will have all your original investment back, and further  sales are clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.

How to Make 20% in one Month on Your Favorite Stock (Using Options)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

 

This week I would like to show you the exact positions of one of the 9 portfolios we are currently carrying out for Insiders at Terry’s Tips.  It involves one of my favorite places to shop, Costco, and its stock, COST.  We expect to make just under 20% on this portfolio in the next four weeks, even if the stock does not go up a single penny.  Welcome to the wonderful world of stock options.Terry

How to Make 20% in one Month on Your Favorite Stock (Using Options)

The basic strategy that we carry out at Terry’s Tips is to buy longer-term options on stocks we like and sell shorter-term options against them.  Since the decay rates of the shorter-term options is much higher than the decay rates of the long-term options we own, we hope to make money every day that the stock remains flat or moves in the direction that we expect it will.  In options terms, we have positions that have a positive theta value.

Most of the time, we buy these option spreads on stocks we like, so by selecting strike prices that are higher than the current stock price, we create a portfolio that gains more than the theta value when the stock moves higher.  In options terms, we have a portfolio which is positive net delta.  It gains in value when the stock moves higher, just as owners of the stock enjoy.

Here is the risk profile graph for our actual Costco portfolio.  We have just under $5000 invested in these positions.  The curve shows how much we will make or lose at each of the possible stock prices when the February options expire on February 20, 2015, four weeks from tomorrow.
COST Risk Profile Graph 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph 2015

This graph is created by the free Analyse Tab software that is available at thinkorswim. You can see that if the stock remains flat at today’s price ($139.63 when I created this graph), the portfolio is slated to gain $960.38 when the February options expire.  That is almost 20% on our portfolio value.  If the stock moves higher (as we expect it will most of the time), the gain is just about the same, even if it moves as much as $10 higher in a single month.  (While we love this stock, it is probably unlikely to go that much higher).

On the downside, the stock can fall almost $2 and we will still make a small gain.  How can anybody disagree that these options positions are vastly better than just buying COST stock?  Most months, the stock will remain about flat or edge higher.  In each case, we should pick up almost 20% while stock-buyers gain little or nothing.

In this actual portfolio, we own the following call options:

1 COST Apr-15 145 call (COST150417C145)
4 COST Jul-15 135 calls (COST150717C135)
3 COST Jul-15 140 calls (COST150717C140)
3 COST Jul-15 150 calls (COST150717C150)

These are the calls that we have sold (are short):

6 COST Feb-15 140 calls (COST150220C140)
1 COST Feb-15 145 call (COST150220C145)
3 COST Feb-15 150 calls (COST150220C150)

When we have bought and sold a call at the same strike price, we own what is called a calendar spread (also called a time spread).  When the long and short call are at different strike prices, we own what is called a diagonal spread.  Most of the time, the short call is at a higher strike price than the long call (so we don’t incur a maintenance requirement).

We have one more long call than we have short calls.  We could make a greater gain at a flat stock price if we sold a February call against our extra long call, but we might end up not gaining nearly as much if the stock should move significantly higher in the next four weeks.

We are satisfied with making 20% in the next month in this portfolio.  Most people would be happy gaining that much for an entire year. If you like, COST, NKE, SBUX, GMCR, or SPY (to name a few we are currently trading), you could join us, and have all the trades made for you through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim by becoming a Terry’s Tips Insider.  Why not do it today?  It might be a great way to start out the New Year.

Maybe it’s Time to Buy Options Rather Than Sell Them

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Last week I recommended buying a calendar spread on SVXY to take advantage of the extremely high option prices for the weekly options (at-the-money option prices had more than doubled over the past two weeks).  The stock managed to skyrocket over 7% for the week and caused the calendar spread to incur a loss.  When you sell a calendar spread, you want the stock to be trading very close to the strike price when the short options expire.  When the underlying stock makes a big move in either direction, you generally lose money on these spreads, just as we did last week.

Ironically, this spread was the only losing portfolio out of the 10 portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips (ok, one other portfolio lost a couple of dollars, but 8 others gained an average of almost 5% for the week).  The only losing spread was the one I told the free newsletter subscribers about.  Sorry.  I’ll try to do better next time.

Terry

Maybe it’s Time to Buy Options Rather Than Sell Them:

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).  Last week VIX fell almost 11% to end up below 11.  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.  On Friday, in the portfolio that that lost money on the SVXY calendar spread, we bought at-the-money calls on SPY  for $1.36.  It seems highly likely that  the stock will move higher by $1.50 or more at some point in the next 3 weeks and make this a winning trade (SPY rose $1.81 last week, for example).

With option prices generally low across the board and the stock market chugging consistently higher in spite of the turmoil in Iraq, maybe this would be a good time to buy a call option on your favorite stock.  Just a thought.

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Today I would like share with you the results of an actual trade recommendations I made for my paying subscribers on January 4th of this year and how subsequent price changes have opened up option possibilities that can further improve possibilities for a first investment.

Please don’t get turned off by what this new spread is called.

Terry

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

In my weekly Saturday Report that I send to paying subscribers, on January 4, 2014 I set up an actual demonstration portfolio in a separate trading account at thinkorswim in which I made long-term bets that three underlying stocks (GOOG, SPY, and GMCR) would be higher than they currently were at some distant point in the future.  The entire portfolio would make exactly 93% with the three spreads I chose if I were right about the stock prices.

Almost two months later, things are looking pretty good for all three spreads, but that is not as important as what we can learn about option possibilities.

If you recall, early this year I was quite bullish on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) which has recently changed their name to Keurig Green Mountain.  The major reason was that three insiders who had never bought shares before had recently made huge purchases (two of a million dollars each).  I Googled these men and learned that they were mid-level executives who were clearly not high rollers.  I figured that if they were committing this kind of money, they must have had some very good reason(s),  Also, for four solid months, not a single director had sold a single share, something that was an unusual pattern for the company.

My feelings about the company were also boosted when a company writing for Seeking Alpha published an article in which they had selected GMCR as the absolute best company from a fundamental standpoint in a database of some 6000 companies.

This is what I wrote in that Saturday Report – “The third spread, on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), is a stronger bullish bet than either of the first two, for two reasons.  The stock is trading about in the middle of the long and short put prices (70 and 80), and the time period is only six months (expiring in June 2014) rather than 11 or 12 months.  I paid $540 for the Jun-14 80 – Jun-14 70 vertical put credit spread.  My maximum loss is $460 per spread if the stock closes below $70, and I will make 115% after commissions in six months if it closes above $80.”

This vertical put credit spread involved selling the Jun-14 80 puts for $13.06 and buying the Jun-70 puts for $7.66, collecting $540 for each spread.  I sold 5 of these spreads, collecting a total of $2700.  There would be a maintenance requirement of $5000 for the spreads (not a margin loan which would have interest charged on it, but an amount that I couldn’t use to buy other stocks or options).  Subtracting what I received in cash from the maintenance requirement, my real cost (and maximum loss) would be $2300.  If GMCR closed at any price above $80 on June 21, 2014, both puts would expire worthless and I could keep my $2700 and make 115% after commissions (there would be no commissions to pay if both puts expired worthless).

An interesting side note to the $2700 cash I received in this transaction.  In the same account, I also owned shares of my favorite underlying stock.  I am so bullish on this other company (which is really not a company at all, but an Exchange Traded Product (ETP)) that I owned some on margin, paying 9% on a margin loan.  The cash I received from the credit spread was applied to my margin loan and reduced the total on which I was paying interest.  In other words, I was enjoying a 9% gain on the spread proceeds while I waited out the six months for the options to expire.

In case you hadn’t heard, GMCR announced on February 5th that they had executed a 10-year contract with Coke to sell individual cups on an exclusive basis.  The stock soared some 50%, from $80 to over $120.  In addition, Coke bought 10% of GMCR for $1.25 billion, and gained over $600 million on their purchase in a single day.  Obviously, those insiders knew what they were doing when they made their big investments last November.

Now I am in an interesting position with this spread.  It looks quite certain that I will make the 115% if I just sit and wait another 4 months.  The stock is highly unlikely to fall back below $80 at this point.  I could but back the spread today for $.64, ($320 for the 5 spreads) and be content with a $2380 gain now rather than $2700 in June.

But instead, I decided to wait it out, and add a twist to my investment.  Since the deal with Coke will not reach the market until at least 2015, it seems to me that we are in for a period of waiting until the chances of success for single servings of Coke are better known.  The stock is probably not going to move by a large amount in either direction between now and June.

With that in mind, I sold another vertical credit spread with June options, this time using calls.  I bought Jun-14 160 calls and sold Jun-14 150 calls and collected $1.45 ($725 less $12.50 commissions).  These options will expire worthless if GMCR is at any price below $150 on June 21, 2014, something that I believe is highly likely.  I think it has already taken the big upward move that it will take this year.

If the stock ends up at any price between $80 and $150, I will make money on both spreads that I sold.  Now the total I can gain is $3400 (after commissions) and my net investment has now been reduced to $1600 and my maximum gain is 212% on my money at risk.

This new spread will not have any maintenance requirement because the broker understands that I can’t lose money on both vertical spreads I have sold.  He will look at the two spreads and notice that the difference between the long and short strike prices is 10 for both spreads.  As long as he is setting aside $5000 in a maintenance requirement on the account, he knows that I can lose that maximum amount on only one of the two spreads.

What I have done is to leg into what is called a short iron condor spread (legging in means you buy one side of a spread to start, and then add the other side at a later time – the normal way to execute a spread is to execute both sides at the same time).  You don’t have to know any more about it than know its name at this time, but I invite you to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and learn all about short iron condors as well as many other interesting options strategies.

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Just over two months ago, shortly before Christmas, I suggested that you might consider making a bet that Google (GOOG) would be higher in one year than it was then.   I figured the chances were pretty good that it might move higher because it had done just that in 9 of its 10 years in existence.

I made this bet in my personal account and also in a real account for Insiders at Terry’s Tips to follow, or mirror in their own accounts.  The stock has moved up by about $90 since then and the bet is looking like it might pay off.

Today I would like to discuss either taking a profit early or doing something else with Google if you feel good about the company as I do.

Terry

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

In my January 4, 2014 Saturday Report sent to Terry’s Tips Insiders, I set up a new demonstration actual portfolio that made long-term bets on three underlying stocks that I believe would be higher well out in the future than they were then.  This is what I said about one of them – “The most interesting one, on Google, will make just over 100% on the money at risk if Google is trading at $1120 or higher on January 17, 2015, a full year and two weeks from now.  It was trading at $1118 when we placed the spread, buying Jan-15 1100 puts and selling Jan-15 1120 puts for a credit of $10.06.  The stock fell to $1105 after we bought the spreads, so you may be able to get a better price if you do this on your own next week.

GOOG has gained in 9 of the 10 years of its existence, only falling in the market-meltdown of 2007.  If you were to make 100% in 9 years and loss 100% in the tenth year, your average gain for the ten-year period would be 80%.  That’s what you would have made over the past 10 years.  If the next 10 years shows the same pattern, you would beat Las Vegas odds by quite a bit, surely better odds than plunking your money down on red or black at the roulette table.

I have told many friends about this bet on Google, and most of them said they would not do it, even if they had faith in the company.  The fear of losing 100% of their investment seemed to be greater than the joy of possibly making an average of 80% a year.  I told them that the trick would be to make the bet every year with the same amount, and not to double down if you won in the first year.  But that did not seem to sway their thinking.  I find their attitude most interesting.  I am looking forward to 10 years of fun with the spread.  It is a shame that it will take so long for the wheel to stop spinning, however.

It is now almost two months later and Google’s latest earnings announcement has suggested that the company has continued to be able to monetize its Internet traffic better than anyone else, especially the social media companies who are drawing most of the market’s attention.  GOOG (at $1204) is trading almost $100 higher than it was when I wrote that report and sold that vertical put credit spread.

In the demonstration portfolio account, I had sold 5 of those vertical put spreads, collecting $10.06 ($5030 for 5 spreads) and there was a $10,000 maintenance requirement charged (no interest like a margin loan, just a claim on cash that can’t be used to buy other stocks or options).  My net investment (and maximum loss would be the maintenance requirement less the amount I received in cash, or $4970).

With the stock trading so much higher, I could now buy the spread back for $7.20 and pick up a gain of $1430.  It is tempting to take a 28% profit after only two months, but I like the idea of hanging on for another 10 months and making the full 100% that is possible.  Now I am in the comfortable position of knowing I can make that 100% even if the stock falls by $84 over that time.

Rather than taking the gain at this time, I am more tempted to buy more of these spreads.  If I could sell them for $7.20 my net investment would be $12.80 and I could make 39% on my money as long as GOOG doesn’t fall by more than $84 in 10 months.  This kind of return is astronomical compared to most investments out there, especially when your stock can fall by so much and you still make that high percentage gain.

Even better, since I continue to like the company, I am planning to sell another vertical put credit spread for the Jan-15 option series.  Today, I will buy Jan-15 1110 puts and sell Jan-15 1140 puts, expecting to receive about $11 ($1100) per spread.  My maximum loss and net investment will be $1900 and if GOOG manages to close above $1140 ($64 below its current level) on January 21, 2015, I will make 57% on my investment after commissions.

I like my odds here, just as I did when I made the earlier investment on Google.  I believe that many investors should put a small amount of their portfolio in an option investment like this, just so they can enjoy an extraordinary percentage gain on some of their money.  And it is sort of fun to own such an investment, especially when it seems to be going your way, or if not exactly going your way, at least not too much in the other direction.

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