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Archive for the ‘10K Strategies’ Category

How to Make Extraordinary Returns with Semi-Long Option Plays

Friday, November 27th, 2015

One of my favorite stock option plays is to make a bet that sometime in the future, a particular stock will be no lower than it is today. If you are right, you can make 50% – 100% without doing anything other than making a single option trade and waiting out the time period. Ten weeks ago, I made two specific recommendations (see my September 8, 2015 blog) for making this kind of bet, one which would make 62% in 4 months and the other 100% in that same time period. Today I would like to update those suggestions and discuss a little about how you set up the option trade if you know of a company you feel good about.

If you missed them, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads, and How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.


How to Make Extraordinary Returns with Semi-Long Option Plays

What is a long-term bet in the options world? A month? A week? I spend most of my time selling options that have only a week of remaining life. Sometimes they only have a day of life before they expire (hopefully worthless). So I don’t deal with long-term options, at least most of the time.

Most options plays are short-term plays. People who trade options tend to have short-term time horizons. Maybe they have ADHD and can’t handle long waits to learn whether they made a gain or not. But there are all sorts of different ways you can structure options plays. While most of my activity involves extremely short-term bets, I also have quite a bit of money devoted to longer-term bets which take 4 months to a year before the pay-day comes along.

One of my favorite semi-long (if there is such a word) option plays involves picking a stock which I particularly like for the long run, or one which has been beaten down for some reason which doesn’t seem quite right. When I find such a stock, I place a bet that sometime in the future, it will be at least as high as it is now. If I am right, I can usually make 50% – 100% on the bet, and I know in advance exactly what the maximum possible gain or loss will be, right to the penny.

Ten weeks ago, I liked where the price of SVXY was. This ETP is inversely correlated with option volatility. When volatility moves higher, SVXY falls, and vice versa. At the time, fears of a world-wide slowdown were emerging. Markets fell and volatility soared. VIX, the so-called “fear index” rose from the 12 – 14 range it had maintained for a couple of years to over 20. SVXY tanked to $45, and had edged up to $47 when I recommended placing a bet that in 4 months (on January 15, 2016), SVXY would be $40 or higher.

This trade would make the maximum gain even if SVXY fell by $7 and remained above $40 on that date:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 35 put (SVXY160115P35)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 40 put (SVXY160115P40) for a credit of $1.95 (selling a vertical)

Quoting from my September 8th blog, “When this trade was executed, $192.50 (after a $2.50 commission) went into my account. If on January 15, 2016, SVXY is at any price higher than $40, both of these puts will expire worthless, and for every vertical spread I sold, I won’t have to make a closing trade, and I will make a profit of exactly $192.50.

So how much do I have to put up to place this trade? The broker looks at these positions and calculates that the maximum loss that could occur on them would be $500 ($100 for every dollar of stock price below $40). For that to happen, SVXY would have to close below $35 on January 15th. Since I am quite certain that it is headed higher, not lower, a drop of this magnitude seems highly unlikely to me.

The broker will place a $500 maintenance requirement on my account. This is not a loan where interest is charged, but merely cash I can’t use to buy shares of stock. However, since I have collected $192.50, I can’t lose the entire $500. My maximum loss is the difference between the maintenance requirement and what I collected, or $307.50.

If SVXY closes at any price above $40 on January 15, both puts will expire worthless and the maintenance requirement disappears. I don’t have to do anything except think of how I will spend my profit of $192.50. I will have made 62% on my investment. Where else can you make this kind of return for as little risk as this trade entails?

Of course, as with all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose. But I believe the likelihood of losing on this investment is extremely low. The stock is destined to move higher, not lower, as soon as the current turbulent market settles down.

If you wanted to take a little more risk, you might buy the 45 put and sell a 50 put in the Jan-15 series. You would be betting that the stock manages to move a little higher over the next 4 months. You could collect about $260 per spread and your risk would be $240. If SVXY closed any higher than $50 (which history says that it should), your profit would be greater than 100%. I have also placed this spread trade in my personal account (and my charitable trust account as well).”

It is now 10 weeks later. SVXY is trading at $58 ½. I could buy back the first spread for $.45 ($47.50 after commissions). That would give me a $145 profit on my maximum risk of $307.50. That works out to a 47% gain for 10 weeks. That was easy money for me.

The other spread I suggested, raising the strikes of both the long and short sides by $10, could have been sold for $260. You could buy back the spread for $102.50 including commissions, giving you a profit of $157.50 on a maximum risk of $240, or 65%. Or you could just wait it out and enjoy the full 108% gain if SVXY closes no lower than $50 on the third Friday in January. I am hanging on to both my original bets and not selling now unless something better comes along.

In some Terry’s Tips, we make similar investments like this each January, betting that one year later, stocks we like will be at least where they were at the time. The portfolio we set up this year made those kinds of bets on GOOG, AAPL, and SPY. It will make 92% on the maximum amount at risk in 6 weeks if these three stocks are where they are today or any higher when the January 2016 puts expire. In fact, GOOG could fall by $155 and we would still make over 100% on that spread we had sold in January 2015. We could close out all three spreads today and make a gain of 68% on our maximum risk.

These are just some examples of how you can make longer-term bets on your favorite stocks with options, and making extraordinary gains even if the stock doesn’t do much of anything.


First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

This week I would like to share with you (for the first time ever) every option position we hold in every stock-based actual portfolio we carry out at Terry’s Tips.  You can access this report here.If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads, and  How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

There is a lot of material to cover in the report and videos, but I hope you will be willing to make the effort to learn a little about a non-traditional way to make greater investment returns than just about anything out there.


First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Here is a summary of how well our 5 stock-based portfolios using our 10K Strategy performed last month as well as for their entire lifetime:

First Saturday Report October Results 2015

First Saturday Report October Results 2015


While it was a good month for the market, the best in 4 years, our 5 portfolios outperformed the market by 166% in October.

Enjoy the full report here.

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short video which explains why I like calendar spreads.  This week I have followed it up with a second video entitled How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

I hope you will enjoy both videos.  I also hope you will sign up for a Terry’s Tips insider subscription and start enjoying exceptional investment returns along with us (through the Auto-Trade program at thinkorswim).


Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

When we set up a portfolio using calendar spreads, we create a risk profile graph using the Analyze Tab on the free thinkorswim trading platform.  The most important part of this graph is the break-even range for the stock price for the day when the shortest option series expires.  If the actual stock price fluctuates dangerously close to either end of the break-even range, action is usually required.

The simple explanation of what adjustments need to be made is that if the stock has risen and is threatening to move beyond the upside limit of the break-even range, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a higher strike price.  If the stock falls so that the lower end of the break-even range is threatened to be breached, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a lower strike.

There are several ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably higher:

1. Sell the lowest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a higher strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Buy a vertical call spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than buying a vertical spread.
4. If you have a fixed amount of money to work with, as we do in the Terry’s Tips portfolios, you may have to reduce the number of calendar spreads you own in order to come up with the necessary cash to make the required investment to maintain a satisfactory risk profile graph.

There are similar ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably lower.  However, the adjustment choices are more complicated because if you try to sell calls at a lower strike price than the long positions you hold, a maintenance requirement comes into play.  Here are the options you might consider when the stock has fallen:

1. Sell the highest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a lower strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Sell a vertical call spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.  Since the long call is at a higher strike price than the new lower-strike call you sell, there will be a $100 maintenance requirement per contract per dollar of difference between the strike price of the long and short calls.  This requirement is reduced by the amount of cash you collect from selling the vertical spread.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than selling a vertical spread.

Why I Like Calendar Spreads

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

I have created a short video which explains why I like calendar spreads.  It also shows the exact positions we hold in 3 Terry’s Tips actual portfolios so you can get a better idea of how we use calendar spreads.


I hope you will enjoy the video, and I welcome your comments.




Why I Like Calendar Spreads


The basic reason I like calendar spreads (aka time spreads) is that they allow you to make extraordinary gains compared to owning the stock if you are lucky enough to trade in a stock that stays flat or moves moderately higher.


I get a real kick out of making serious gains when the stock just sits there and doesn’t do anything.  Calendar spreads almost always do extremely well when nothing much happens in the market.


While I call them calendar spreads, if you look at the actual positions that we hold in our portfolios, you will see that the long calls we own are not always at the same strike prices as the short calls we have sold to someone else.  That makes them diagonal spreads rather than calendar spreads, but they operate exactly the same as calendar spreads.


With both calendar and diagonal spreads, the long calls you own decay at a slower rate than the short calls that you have sold to someone else, and you benefit from the differences in decay rates.  Both spreads do best when the stock ends up precisely at the strike price of an expiring option.  At that point, the short options expire worthless and new options can be sold at a further-out time series at the maximum time premium of any option in that series.


If you have sold short options at a variety of strike prices you can make gains over a wider range of possible stock prices.  We use the analyze tab on the free thinkorswim software to select calendar and diagonal spreads which create a risk profile graph which provides a break-even range that lets us sleep at night and will yield a profit if the stock ends up within that range.  I encourage you to try that software and create your own risk profile for your favorite stock, and create a break-even range which you are comfortable with.

Two 2015 Case Studies of Options Portfolios

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Got an extra five minutes of time to change your thinking about investing forever?  I invite you to read the following report and see why.  You could get a clear understanding of how an options strategy can be used to dramatically improve your investment results for any stock you feel good about (good enough to buy shares in that company).   For two companies we picked at the beginning of 2015, we have made over 100% on our money in the first nine months, and you could have done it as well, even if you knew absolutely nothing about options (read on and see how).


These case studies were actual portfolios carried out during the first nine months of 2015 in separate brokerage accounts at thinkorswim for Terry’s Tips subscribers (many of whom mirrored these trades in their own accounts or had trades executed automatically in their accounts by the (free) Auto-Trade service at that brokerage firm.  The results include commissions on all the trades.


The first nine months of 2015 were not good ones for the market.  The S&P 500 fell 6.7%, from 2059 to 1920. 


The two individual stocks covered in this report, Costco (COST) and Starbucks (SBUX) outperformed the overall market during this time period.  COST rose from $141.87 to $144.57, a gain of $2.70, or 1.9%.  SBUX soared from $82.05 to $113.68 (pre 2-for-1 split), or 38.5%.


As you will soon see, while the gains in COST and SBUX were most impressive compared to the overall market, they did not do nearly as well as our two actual portfolios which traded options on these underlyings.


The strategy used in these portfolios is a lot like buying stock and writing calls against the stock.  However, there is a big difference in the options portfolios.  Instead of buying stock, longer-term call options (and sometimes, LEAPS) are used as collateral against which to sell short-term call options.  The return on investment from writing calls against longer-term options that might cost one-tenth the value of the stock is why the options portfolio comes out well ahead of buying stock and writing calls against those shares. 


Extreme leverage can be your friend if the stock holds steady or moves higher.  On the other hand, if the underlying stock falls more than moderately, the options portfolio might lose more than you would lose you had bought stock instead.  So it’s important to select a stock you feel comfortable about.  The stock doesn’t have to move higher for this options strategy to prosper, but it can’t fall a lot and still expect to produce extraordinary gains.


Case Study #1 – Costco Options Portfolio


Costco (COST) started out 2015 trading at $141.87 while the Terry’s Tips portfolio which uses COST as the underlying was worth $6223.  With this amount invested, you could have purchased 43.8 shares of the stock (we’ll round it off and say you could have bought 44 shares).


Here is how the price of COST fluctuated during the first nine months of 2015:

 2015 Stock Price Of COST

2015 Stock Price Of COST







The stock rose steadily early in the year, but fell from a high of about $153  to as low as $135 in the first week of September. At the end of September, it was trading about $3 higher than where it started out the year. Let’s compare the prices for 44 shares of COST with the value of the actual Terry’s Tips portfolio trading COST options during this same time period:

COST Stock vs Portfolio 2015 

COST Stock vs Portfolio 2015




In late January when the stock fell a bit, the portfolio value fell by a greater amount, but when the stock recovered, the portfolio outperformed on the upside as well.  Two other times during the year, the stock took a sudden drop and the portfolio value fell below the equivalent investment in the stock, but when the stock moved higher in July, the portfolio shot by a considerably higher percentage.


Over the nine months, an investment in the stock would have gained $1.20 per share from dividends you would have received on 44 shares, or $52.80.  The stock gained $2.70 over these months, so the 44 shares were worth $118.80 more than they were at the beginning, for a net gain of $171.60 including the dividends. This total works out to a 1.2% gain on the stock purchase for the nine months.


Over this same period, the actual COST options portfolio (we call it the Rising Tide portfolio) rose from $6223 to $12,900, for a gain of $6667, or 107%.


Let’s check the actual positions in this portfolio at the beginning of the year (from our January 3, 2015 Terry’s Tips Saturday Report):



Rising Tide






























































    Total Account Value




Annualized ROI at today’s net Theta:



We owned 7 calls which expired in April and 2 which would extend until July, and we had sold a total of 8 Jan-15 calls, 3 of which were at a strike just below the stock price and 5 which were slightly out of the money.  We had one long uncovered call which we could have sold a short-term call against, but we wanted to maintain a higher net delta.  The option positions were the equivalent of owning 218 shares of stock (the net delta figure).  That explains why the portfolio value gains or loses at almost 5 times the rate of owning 44 shares of stock.


Now let’s fast forward to what the portfolio looked like at the close of business on September 25, 2015.  Here are the positions that we held:

 Rising Tide Positions Oct 2015

 Rising Tide Positions Oct 2015


You can see many differences between these positions and what we held back in January.  First, the long calls are all the way out to 2016 (Jan-16 and Apr-16).  Second, there are some put positions.  In May, when COST was trading about $144, we sold a bullish credit put spread (buying Oct-15 135 puts and selling Oct-15 140 puts).  If COST is at any price above $140 when those puts expire on October 16th, both puts will expire worthless, and we will have made 51% on the amount we risked when we sold the spread in May. Third, the short calls are in several weekly series rather than in a single (monthly) options series. 


About half-way through 2015, we changed the way we trade this portfolio. We are now short weekly options in several different series.  Each week, some calls expire, and we buy them back (usually on Friday) and sell new ones which expire about 4 weeks later.  We select strikes which will balance out the risk profile for the portfolio.  This allows us to tweak the profile each week rather than making wholesale adjustments at the end of the expiration month.  We believe that the superior performance we have enjoyed over the past few months in all of our stock-based portfolios has been due to this new way of trading which was not possible before the advent of weekly options.


Every Friday, we create a risk profile graph to help us decide which strike prices to use when we buy back the expiring weekly options and replace them with further-out new short calls.  Here is the graph we created on October 2, 2015 which shows the expected gain or loss in portfolio value when the short options expire on the next Friday, October 9th:

Rising Tide Risk Profile Graph Oct 2015 

Rising Tide Risk Profile Graph Oct 2015


This graph shows that if the stock is absolutely flat ($143.21) a week from now, the portfolio will gain $735, about 5% of the portfolio value.  If It moves about $3 higher, the portfolio would gain about double that amount.  A gain should result even if the stock falls by about a dollar during the next week.  It can move higher by about $6 before a loss would occur on the upside.  You can see how most weeks, this collection of long and short calls will result in a gain as long as the stock moves only moderately.  (Actually, in most weeks, we end up with positions that allow for the stock to fall by $2 before a loss would be incurred – this week was unusually bullish for us.)


To sum it up, over the 9 months of trading, our portfolio gained $6376.  This works out to be 107% of the starting value of $6223.  Someone who had spent the same amount of money buying shares of COST would have picked up about $172, or 1.2%..  Our portfolio outperformed by more than 30 times what the owners of the stock gained.


We believe that this experience establishes beyond all doubt that a properly-executed options strategy can out-perform the outright purchase of the shares many times over.  Of course, it is a lot easier just to buy the stock.  Trading options takes time and attention, but surely, isn’t it worth it when you might do about 30 times better?


If you don’t want to bother with all the trading, you could open an account at thinkorswim and sign up for their free Auto-Trade service, and not only enjoy their $1.25 (normally $3.90) commission rate for a single option purchase or sale, but all the trades will be automatically made for you in your account.  By the way, this lower commission rate made available to Terry’s Tips subscribers will apply to all your trades, not just those you make through Auto-Trade.  Many subscribers cover their entire subscription cost by their commission cost savings.


We recommend setting up a self-directed IRA account for trading options (especially a Roth IRA if you are eligible for one).  Gains from option trading are short-term capital gains taxed pretty much like ordinary income, and you don’t have to itemize individual trades when you file your tax return for an IRA account.


By the way, you may wonder about my options-trading experience.  Way back in 1980, I had a seat on the C.B.O.E. and traded as a market maker on the floor.  Ever since then, for 35 years, I have traded options essentially every day the market has been open.  I graduated from the Harvard Business School and earned a Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Virginia, but my most valuable credentials came from trading options nearly every day for all those years.  My options trading has enabled me to give away over $2 million to charities in my home state of Vermont.  I was especially proud to build a large swimming pool for the Burlington Boys and Girls Club, and give dozens of college  scholarships to single-parent and first-in-family-to-attend-college Vermonters.


Case Study #2 – Starbucks (SBUX) Options Portfolio


The first nine months of 2015 were pretty good months for owners of Starbucks (SBUX).  The stock started out the year trading at $81.44 and steadily rose to a high of about $98, and then in early April, they had a 2-for-1 stock split.  By the end of September, the stock traded at $57.99 which works out to a pre-split price of $115.98.  There were 3 dividends of $.16 paid, adding another $.48 to the total, making it a total gain of $35.02, or 43% for the 9 months.


Our Java Jive  portfolio started out the year with $6032 invested in SBUX.  At $81.44 per share, you could have purchased 74 shares of stock.  Over the nine months, the portfolio gained $11,768 in value, making 195%.


Here is a graphic comparison of how a $6032 investment in the options portfolio compared to the purchase of 74 shares of stock:

 SBUX Stock vs Portfolio 2015

SBUX Stock vs Portfolio 2015




Unfortunately, the actual portfolio did not gain that much because we also had about half the money invested in Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR), a different kind of coffee company.  The GMCR portion of the portfolio lost $8905 over the period as the stock fell from over $130 to the low $50’s.  In August, GMCR was dropped and FB added to the portfolio, and FB about broke even for the next six weeks (we are now trading both SBUX and FB in separate portfolios).  The portfolio started out the year being worth $10,604 and at the end of September, was worth $12.786, up $2182, or 20.5%.  Not a bad gain over a period when the market fell 6.7%, but not quite the 195% it would have made if only SBUX had been traded.


We believe that the above two case studies establish beyond all doubt that a properly-executed options strategy can out-perform the outright purchase of the shares many times over.  Of course, it is a lot easier just to buy the stock.  Trading options takes time and attention, but surely, isn’t it worth it when you can make 107% with options rather than 1.2% owning the same stock, (as we did with COST), or 195% with options instead of 43% owning the same stock (as we did with SBUX)?


If you don’t want to bother with all the trading, you could open an account at thinkorswim and sign up for their free Auto-Trade service, and not only enjoy their $1.25 commission rate for a single option purchase or sale, but all the trades will be automatically made for you in your account (this same lower Terry’s Tips commission will apply to all your trades, not just those in Auto-Trade).

The Worst “Stock” You Could Have Owned for the Last 6 Years

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Today I would like to tell you all about the worst “stock” you could have owned for the past 6 years.  It has fallen from $6400 to $26 today.  I will also tell you how you can take advantage of an unusual current market condition and make an options trade which should make a profit of 66% in the next 6 months.  That works out to an annualized gain of 132%.  Not bad by any standards.For the next few days, I am also offering you the lowest price ever to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and get a 14-day options tutorial which could forever change your future investment results.  It is a half-price back-to-school offer – our complete package for only $39.95. Click here, enter Special Code BTS (or BTSP for Premium Service – $79.95).

This could be the best investment decision you ever make – an investment in yourself.

Happy trading.


The Worst “Stock” You Could Have Owned for the Last 6 Years

I have put the word “stock” in quotations because it really isn’t a stock in the normal sense of the word.  Rather, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) created by Barclay’s which involves buying and selling futures on VIX (the so-called “Fear Index” which measures option volatility on the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY).  It is a derivative of a derivative of a derivative which almost no one fully understands, apparently even the Nobel Prize winners who carried out Long-Term Capital a few years back.

Even though it is pure gobbledygook for most of us, this ETP trades just like a stock.  You can buy it and hope it goes up or sell it short and hope it goes down.  Best of all, for options nuts like me, you can trade options on it.

Let’s check out the 6-year record for this ETP (that time period is its entire life):

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

It is a little difficult to see what this ETP was trading at when it opened for business on January 30, 2009, but its split-adjusted price seems to be over $6000. (Actually, it’s $6400, exactly what you get by starting at $100 and engineering 3 1-for-4 reverse splits).  Friday, it closed at $26.04.  That has to be the dog of all dog instruments that you could possible buy over that time period (if you know of a worse one, please let me know).

This ETP started trading on 1/30/09 at $100.  Less than 2 years later, on 11/19/10, it had fallen to about $12.50, so Barclays engineered a reverse 1-for-4 split which pushed the price back up to about $50.  It then steadily fell in value for another 2 years until it got to about $9 on 10/15/12 and Barclays did the same thing again, temporarily pushing the stock back up to $36.  That lasted only 13 months when they had to do it again on 11/18/13 – this time, the stock had fallen to $12.50 once again, and after the reverse split, was trading about $50.  Since then, it has done relatively better, only falling in about half over almost a two-year span.

Obviously, this “stock” would have been a great thing to sell short just about any time over the 6-year period (if you were willing to hang on for the long run).  There are some problems with selling it short, however.  Many brokers can’t find stock to borrow to cover it, so they can’t take the order.  And if they do, they charge you some healthy interest for borrowing the stock (I don’t quite understand how they can charge you interest because you have the cash in your account, but they do anyway – I guess it’s a rental fee for borrowing the stock, not truly an interest charge).

Buying puts on it might have been a good idea in many of the months, but put prices are quite expensive because the market expects the “stock” to go down, and it will have to fall quite a way just to cover the cost of the put.  I typically don’t like to buy puts or calls all by themselves (about 80% of options people buy are said to expire worthless).  If you straight-out buy puts or calls, every day the underlying stock or ETP stays flat, you lose money. That doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.  I do like to buy and sell both puts and calls as part of a spread, however.  That is another story altogether.

So what else should you know about this ETP? First, it is called VXX.  You can find a host of articles written about it (check out Seeking Alpha) which say it is the best thing to buy (for the short term) if you want protection against a market crash.  While that might be true, are you really smart enough to find a spot on the 6-year chart when you could have bought it and then figured out the perfect time to sell as well?  The great majority of times you would have made your purchase, you would have surely regretted it (unless you were extremely lucky in picking the right day both to buy and sell).

One of the rare times when it would have been a good idea to buy VXX was on August 10, 2015, just over a month ago.  It closed at its all-time low on that day, $15.54.  If you were smart enough to sell it on September 1st when it closed at $30.76, you could have almost doubled your money.  But you have already missed out if you didn’t pull the trigger on that exact day. It has now fallen over 15% in the last two weeks, continuing its long-term trend.

While we can’t get into the precise specifics of how VXX is valued in the market, we can explain roughly how it is constructed.  Each day, Barclays buys one-month-out futures on VIX in hopes that the market fears will grow and VIX will move higher.  Every day, Barclays sells VIX futures it bought a month ago at the current spot price of VIX.  If VIX had moved higher than the month-ago futures price, a profit is made.

The reason why VXX is destined to move lower over time is that over 90% of the time, the price of VIX futures is higher than the spot price of VIX.  It is a condition called contango.  The average level of contango for VIX is about 5%.  That percentage is how much higher the one-month futures are than the current value of VIX, and is a rough approximation of how much VXX should fall each month.

However, every once in a while, the market gets very worried, and contango disappears.  The last month has been one of those times.  People seem to be concerned that China and the rest of the world is coming on hard times, and our stock markets will be rocked because the Fed is about to raise interest rates.  The stock market has taken a big tumble and market volatility has soared.  This has caused the current value of VIX to become about 23.8 while the one-month futures of VIX are 22.9.  When the futures are less than the spot price of VIX, it is a condition called back-wardation.  It only occurs about 10% of the time.  Right now, backwardation is in effect, (-3.59%), and it has been for about 3 weeks.  This is an exceptionally long time for backwardation to continue to exist.

At some point, investors will come to the realization that the financial world is not about to implode, and that things will pretty much chug along as they have in the past.  When that happens, market volatility will fall back to historical levels.  For most of the past two or three years, VIX has traded in the 12 – 14 range, about half of where it is right now.  When fears subside, as they inevitably will, VIX will fall, the futures will be greater than the current price of VIX, and contango will return.  Even more significant, when VIX falls to 12 or 14 and Barclays is selling (for VXX) at that price, VXX will lose out big-time because a month ago, it bought futures at 22.9.  So VXX will inevitably continue its downward trend.

So how can you make money on VXX with options?  To my way of thinking, today’s situation is a great buying opportunity.  I think it is highly likely that volatility (VIX) will not remain at today’s high level much longer.  When it falls, VXX will tumble, contango will return, and VXX will face new headwinds going forward once again.

Here is a trade I recommended to Terry’s Tips Insiders last Friday:

“If you believe (as I do) that the overwhelming odds are that VXX will be much lower in 6 months than it is now, you might consider buying a Mar-16 26 call (at the money – VXX closed at $26.04 yesteday) and sell a Mar-16 21 call.  You could collect about $2 for this credit spread.  In 6 months, if VXX is at any price below $21, both calls would expire worthless and you would enjoy a gain of 66% on your $3 at risk.  It seems like a pretty good bet to me.”

This spread is called selling a bearish call credit vertical spread.  For each spread you sell, $200 gets put in your account.  Your broker will charge you a maintenance requirement of $500 to protect against your maximum loss if VXX closes above $26 on March 18, 2016.  Since you collect $200 at the beginning, your actual maximum loss is $300 (this is also your net investment in this spread).  There is no interest charged on a maintenance requirement; rather, it is just money in your account that you can’t use to buy other stocks or options.

This may all seem a little confusing if you aren’t up to speed on options trading.  Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger – the great majority of investors know little or nothing about options.  You can fix that by going back to school and taking the 14-day options tutorial that comes with buying the full Terry’s Tips’ package at the lowest price ever – only $39.95 if you buy before Friday, September 23, 2015.

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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.


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).


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.)

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