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How to Fine-Tune Market Risk With Weekly Options

Monday, August 17th, 2015

This week I would like to share an article word-for-word which I sent to Insiders this week.  It is a mega-view commentary on the basic options strategy we conduct at Terry’s Tips.  The report includes two tactics that we have been using quite successfully to adjust our risk level each week using weekly options.

If you are already trading options, these tactic ideas might make a huge difference to your results.  If you are not currently trading options, the ideas will probably not make much sense, but you might enjoy seeing the results we are having with the actual portfolios we are carrying out for our subscribers.

Terry

How to Fine-Tune Market Risk With Weekly Options

“Bernie Madoff attracted hundreds of millions of dollars by promising investors 12% a year (consistently, year after year). Most of our portfolios achieve triple that number and hardly anyone knows about us.  Even more significant, our returns are actual – Madoff never delivered gains of any sort. There seems to be something wrong here.

Our Capstone Cascade portfolio is designed to spin off (in cash) 36% a year, and it has done so for 10 consecutive months and is looking more and more likely that we will be able to do that for the long run (as long as we care to carry it out).  Actually, at today’s buy-in value (about $8300), the $3600 we withdraw each year works out to be 43%.  Theta in this portfolio has consistently added up to double what we need to make the monthly withdrawal, and we gain even more from delta when SVXY moves higher.

Other portfolios are doing even better.  Rising Tide has gained 140% in just over two years while the underlying Costco has moved up 23.8% (about what Madoff promised).   Black Gold appears to be doing even better than that (having gained an average of 3% a week since it was started).

A key part of our current strategy, and a big change from how we operated in the past, is having short options in each of several weekly series, with some rolling over (usually about a month out) each week.  This enables us to tweak the risk profile every Friday without making big adjustments that involve selling some of the long positions.  If the stock falls during a week, we will find ourselves with previously-sold short options that  are at higher strikes than the stock price, and we will collect the  maximum time premium in a month-out series by selling an at-the-money (usually call) option.

If the stock rises during the week, we may find that we have more in-the-money calls than we would normally carry, so we will sell new month-out calls which are out of the money.  Usually, we can buy back in-the-money calls and replace them with out-of-the-money calls and do it at a credit, again avoiding adjustment trades which might cause losses when the underlying displays whip-saw price action.

For the past several weeks, we have not suffered through a huge drop in our underlyings, but earlier this year, we incurred one in SVXY.  We now have a way of contending with that kind of price action when it comes along.  If a big drop occurs, we can buy a vertical call spread in our long calls and sell a one-month-out at-the-money call for enough cash to cover the cost of rolling the long side down to a lower strike.  As long as we don’t have to come up with extra cash to make the adjustment, we can keep the same number of long calls in place and continue to sell at-the-money calls each week when we replace expiring short call positions.  This tactic avoids the inevitable losses involved in closing out an out-of-the-money call calendar spread and replacing it with an at-the-money calendar spread which always costs more than the spread we sold.

Another change we have added is to make some long-term credit put spreads as a small part of an overall 10K Strategy portfolio, betting that the underlying will at least be flat in a year or so from when we placed the spread.  These bets can return exceptional returns while in many respects being less risky than our basic calendar and diagonal spread strategies.  The longer time period allows for a big drop in stock price to take place as long as it is offset by a price gain in another part of the long-term time frame.  Our Better Odds Than Vegas II portfolio trades these types of spreads exclusively, and is on target to gain 91% this year, while the Retirement Trip Fund II portfolio is on target to gain 52% this year (and the stock can fall a full 50% and that gain will still come about).

The trick to having portfolios with these kinds of extraordinary gains is to select underlying stocks or ETPs which you feel strongly will move higher.  We have managed to do this with our selections of COST, NKE, SVXY, SBUX, and more recently, FB, while we have  failed to do it (and faced huge losses) in our single failing portfolio, BABA Black Sheep where Alibaba has plummeted to an all-time low since we started the portfolio when it was near its all-time high.  Our one Asian diversification effort has served to remind us that it is far more important to find an underlying that you can count on moving higher, or at least staying flat (when we usually do even better than when it moves higher).

Bottom line, I think we are on to something big in the way we are managing our investments these days.  Once you have discovered something that is working, it is important to stick with it rather than trying to improve your strategy even more.  Of course, if the market lets us know that the strategy is no longer working, changes would be in order.  So far, that has not been the case.  The recent past has included a great many weeks when we enjoyed 10 of our 11 portfolios gaining in value, while only BABA lost money as the stock continued to tumble. We will soon find another underlying to replace BABA (or conduct a different strategy in that single losing portfolio).”

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Before I delve into this week’s option idea I would like to tell you a little bit about the actual option portfolios that are carried out for Insiders at Terry’s Tips.  We have 11 different portfolios which use a variety of underlying stocks or ETPs (Exchange Traded Products).  Eight of the 11 portfolios can be traded through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim (so you can follow a portfolio and never have to make a trade on your own).  The 3 portfolios that cannot be Auto-Traded are simple to do on your own (usually only one trade needs to be made for an entire year).

Ten of our 11 portfolios are ahead of their starting investment, some dramatically ahead.  The only losing portfolio is based on Alibaba (BABA) – it was a bet on the Chinese market and the stock is down over 30% since we started the portfolio at the beginning of this year (our loss is much greater).  The best portfolio for 2015 is up 55% so far and will make exactly 91% if the three underlyings (AAPL, SPY, and GOOG) remain where they presently are (or move higher).  GOOG could fall by $150 and that spread would still make 100% for the year.

Another portfolio is up 44% for 2015 and is guaranteed to make 52% for the year even if the underlying (SVXY) falls by 50% between now and the end of the year.  A portfolio based on Costco (COST) was started 25 months ago and is ahead more than 100% while the stock rose 23% – our portfolio outperformed the stock by better than 4 times.  This is a typical ratio –  portfolios based on Nike (NKE) and Starbucks (SBUX) have performed similarly.

We are proud of our portfolio performance and hope you will consider taking a look at how they are set up and perform in the future.

Terry

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

If you think the market will be flat for the next month, there are several options strategies you might employ.  In each of the following three strategies, I will show how you could invest $1000 and what the risk/reward ratio would be with each strategy.  As a proxy for “the market,” we will use SPY as the underlying (this is the tracking stock for the S&P 500 index).  Today, SPY is trading at $210 and we will be trading options that expire in just about a month (30 days from when I wrote this).

Strategy #1 – Calendar Spread.  With SPY trading at $210, we will buy calls which expire on the third Friday in October and we will sell calls which expire in 30 days (on September 4, 2015).  Both options will be at the 210 strike.  We will have to spend $156 per spread (plus $2.50 commissions at the thinkorswim rate for Terry’s Tips subscribers).  We will be able to buy 6 spreads for our $1000 budget. The total investment will be $951.   Here is what the risk profile graph looks like when the short options expire on September 4th:

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

On these graphs, the column under P/L Day shows the gain (or loss) when the short options expire at the stock price in the left-hand column.  You can see that if you are absolutely right and the market is absolutely flat ($210), you will double your money in 30 days.  The 210 calls you sold will expire worthless (or nearly so) and you will own October 210 calls which will be worth about $325 each since they have 5 weeks of remaining life.

The stock can fluctuate by $4 in either direction and you will make a profit of some sort.  However, if it fluctuates by much more than $4 you will incur a loss.  One interesting thing about calendar spreads (in contrast to the other 2 strategies we discuss below) is that no matter how much the stock deviates in either direction, you will never lose absolutely all of your investment.  Since your long positions have an additional 35 days of life, you will always have some value over and above the options you have.  That is one of the important reasons that I prefer calendar spreads to the other strategies.

Strategy #2 – Butterfly Spread:  A typical butterfly spread in involves selling 2 options at the strike where you expect the stock to end up when the options expire (either puts or calls will do – the strike price is the important thing) and buying one option an equidistant number of strikes above and below the strike price of the 2 options you sold.  You make these trades all at the same time as part of a butterfly spread.

You can toy around with different strike prices to create a risk profile graph which will provide you with a break-even range which you will be comfortable with.  In order to keep the 3 spread strategies similar, I set up strikes which would yield a break-even range which extended about $4 above and below the $210 current strike.  This ended up involving selling 2 Sept-1 2015 calls at the 210 strike, and buying a call in the same series at the 202.5 strike and the 217.5 strike.  The cost per spread would be $319 plus $5 commission per spread, or $324 per spread.  We could buy 3 butterfly spreads with our $1000 budget, shelling out $972.

Here is the risk profile graph for that butterfly spread when all the options expire on September 4, 2015:

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see that the total gain if the stock ends up precisely at the $210 price is even greater ($1287) than it is with the butterfly spread above ($1038).  However, if the stock moves either higher or lower by $8, you will lose 100% of your investment.  That’s a pretty scary alternative, but this is a strategy that does best when the market is flat, and you would only buy a butterfly spread if you had a strong feeling of where you think the price of the underlying stock will be on the day when all the options expire.

Strategy #3 – Short Iron Condor Spread.  This spread is a little more complicated (and is explained more fully in my White Paper).  It involves buying (and selling) both puts and calls all in the same expiration series (as above, that series will be the Sept1-15 options expiring on September 4, 2015).  In order to create a risk profile graph which showed a break-even range which extended $4 in both directions from $210, we bought calls at the 214 strike, sold calls at the 217 strike and bought puts at the 203 strike while selling puts at the 206 strike.  A short iron condor spread is sold at a credit (you collect money by selling it).  In this case, each spread would collect $121 less $5 commission, or $116.  Since there is a $3 difference between each of the strikes, it is possible to lose $300 per spread if the stock ends up higher than $217 or lower than $203.  We can’t lose the entire $300, however, because we collected $116 per spread at the outset.  The broker will put a hold on $300 per spread (it’s called a maintenance requirement and does not accrue interest like a margin loan does), less the $116 we collected.  That works out to a total net investment of $184 per spread (which is the maximum loss we could possibly incur).  With our $1000 budget, you could sell 5 spreads, risking $920.

Here is the risk profile graph for this short iron condor spread:

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see the total potential gain for the short iron condor spread is about half what it was for either of the earlier spreads, but it has the wonderful feature of coming your way at any possible ending stock price between $206 and $214.  Both the calendar spread and the butterfly spread required the stock to be extremely near $210 to make the maximum gain, and the potential gains dropped quickly as the stock moved in any direction from that single important stock price.  The short iron condor spread has a lower maximum gain but it comes your way over a much larger range of possible ending stock prices.

Another advantage of the short iron condor is that if the stock ends up at any price in the profit range, all the options expire worthless, and you don’t have to execute a trade to close out the positions.  Both the other strategies require closing trades.

This is clearly not a complete discussion of these option strategies.  Instead, it is just a graphic display of the risk/reward possibilities when you expect a flat market.  Maybe this short report will pique your interest so that you will consider subscribing to our service where I think you will get a thorough understanding of these, and other, options strategies that might generate far greater returns than conventional investments can offer.

Long-Term Options Strategies For Companies You Like

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Today I would like to share an article I sent to paying subscribers two months ago.  It describes an 8-month options play on Facebook (FB), a company that seems to be doing quite well these days.  The spread is a vertical credit put spread which I like because once you place it, you don’t have to make any closing trades (both options hopefully expire worthless, all automatically) as long as the stock is any higher than a pre-determined price.  It is actually quite simple to do, so please don’t tune out because its name sounds so confusing.Terry

Here is the exact article sent out on April 24, 2015:

“A Long-Term Play on Facebook (FB):  Last week in my charitable trust account I made a long-term bet that FB would not fall dramatically from here during the balance of 2015.  It seems to be a good company that is figuring out how to monetize its traffic.  I checked out the 5-year chart:

Face Book Chart July 2015

Face Book Chart July 2015

While there were times when the stock made serious drops, if you check full-year time periods, there do not seem to be any that show a cumulative loss.  Selling long-term
vertical put credit spreads allows you to tolerate short-term losses if your time period is long enough for a recovery to take place.

In my charitable trust account, I give away most of donations in December, so I like to have some positions expire in that month.  Last week, with FB trading about $82, I was willing to bet that it would end up no lower than $75 on the third Friday in December.  I sold Dec-15 75 puts and bought Dec-15 70 puts and collected $130 per spread.  My risk (and the total possible loss) would be $370 per contract if the stock fell over $12 (15%) over those 9 months.  If the 5-year chart is indicative of how things are going for FB, there should be no concern about a possible loss.  If the company manages to end up over $75 at the December expiration, the spread would gain 35% on the investment.  Where else can you make those kind of returns and still sleep comfortably?” (End of article.)

Fast forward two months until today and we see that FB has gained about $14 and is trading about $94.  Now I am in a position where the stock can fall $19, a full 20%, and I will still gain 35% for the 8-month period. That works out to over 50% a year on my investment with an extremely high likelihood of making it.

I could buy back the spread today for $58 per contract (including commissions) and make 19% for the two months I have owned it, but I intend to wait it out until December and take the full 35%.

In one of our actual portfolios at Terry’s Tips, in January we made full-year similar trades to this FB trade using GOOG, AAPL, and SPY as underlyings, and the portfolio is on target to gain 91% for the year.  It could be closed out today for a 63% gain for the first seven months (thanks to GOOG’s big up move after announcing earnings last week).

Vertical credit put spreads are just one way you can use options to maximize gains for a company you feel positive about, and the potential gains can be several times as great as the percentage gains in the underlying stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.)

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

Friday, February 27th, 2015

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

Terry

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to tell you about one of our portfolios that might interest you.  At the beginning of the year, we picked three underlyings that we felt would be at least the same at the end of 2015 as they were at the beginning.  They were SPY (S&P 500 tracking stock), AAPL, and GOOG.  If we are right, and they are the same or any higher in price when the Jan-16 options expire (on January 15, 2016), we will make exactly 52% on our investment.  We made a single credit spread trade for each of these stocks, and if all goes well, the options will expire worthless and we won’t have to do another thing (except collect our 52% profit on that date).  At this point in time, all three underlyings are trading quite a bit higher than where they were when we started, so they could actually fall quite a ways from here and we will still collect those same gains. This is just one of 10 portfolios that we carry out for Terry’s Tips subscribers.  Each carries out a different strategy, and we update how each is doing every week in our Saturday Report.  We welcome you to come on board and check them all out.

Try a Vertical Put Credit Spread on a Stock That You Like

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

This week I would like to share my thoughts about the market for 2015, and also one of my favorite option strategies when I find a stock I really like. Whenever I find a stock I particularly like for one reason or another, rather than buy the stock outright, I use options to dramatically increase the returns I enjoy if I am right (and the stock goes up, or at least stays flat).

Today I would like to share a trade that I made today in my personal account.  Maybe you would like to do something similar with a company you particularly like.

And Happy New Year – I hope that 2015 will by your best year ever for investments (even if the market falls a bit).

Terry

Try a Vertical Put Credit Spread on a Stock That You Like

First, a few thoughts about the market for 2015.  The Barron’s Roundtable (made up of 10 mostly large investment bank analysts) predicted an average 10% market gain for 2015.  None of the analysts predicted a market loss for the year.  Others have suggested that the year should be approached with more caution, however. The whopping gain in VIX in the last week of 2014 is a clear indication that investors have become more fearful of what’s ahead. The market has gained about 40% over the past two years.  The bull market has continued for 90 months, a near-record–breaking string.

The forward P/E for the market has expanded to 19, several points higher than the historical average, and 2 points above where it was a year ago.  The trailing market P/E is 22.7x compared to 14x for the 125-year average.  Maybe such high valuations are appropriate for a zero-interest environment, but that is about to change. For the first time since 2007, the Fed will not be propping up the market with their Quantitative Easing purchases. The Fed has essentially promised that they will raise interest rates in 2015.  The only question is when it will happen.

There is an old adage that says “don’t fight the Fed.”  Not only have they stopped pumping billions into the economy every month, they plan to raise interest rates this year.  Like it or not, stock market investments made in 2015 are tantamount to picking a fight with the Fed.

While the U.S. economy is strong (and apparently growing), a great number of U.S. companies depend on foreign sales for a significant share of their business, and the foreign prospects aren’t so great for a number of countries. This situation could cause domestic company earnings to disappoint, and stock prices could fall.  At the very best, 2015 seems like a good time to take a cautious approach to investing.

Even if the market is not great for 2015, surely some shares will move higher. Barron’s chose General Motors (GM) as one of its best 10 picks for 2015 and made a compelling argument for the company’s prospects.  The 3.27% dividend should insulate the company from a big down-draft if the market as a whole has a correction in 2015.

I was convinced by their analysis that GM was highly likely to move higher in 2015.  Today, with GM trading at $35.70, I placed the following trade:

Buy To Open 10 GM Jun-15 32 puts (GM150619P32)

Sell To Open 10 GM Jun-15 37 puts (GM150619P37) for a credit of $2.20  (selling a vertical)

I like to go out about six months with spreads like this to give the stock a little time to move higher.  The above trade put $2200 in my account.  There will be a $5000 maintenance requirement which is reduced to $2800 when you subtract out the amount of cash I received.  This means that my maximum loss would be $2800, and this would come about if the stock closes below $32 on June 19, 2015.

If the stock closes at any price above $37, both the long and short puts will expire worthless and I will not have to make any more trades.  If this happens, I will make a profit of $2200 (less $25 commission, or $2175) on an investment of $2800.  This works out to a gain of 77%.

In order for me to make 77% on this investment, GM only needs to go up by $1.50 (4.2%).  If it stays exactly the same on June 19th ($35.70), I will have to buy back the 37 put for a cost of $1.30 ($1300 for 10 contracts).  That would leave me with a gain of $862.50, or 30.8%.

If I had purchased shares of GM with the $2800 I had at risk, I could have bought 78 shares.  I I might have collected a dividend of $91 over the 6 months.  With my options investment, I would have gained nearly 10 times that much if the stock did not move up at all.

Bottom line, even though I am taking a greater risk with options, the upside potential is so much greater than merely buying the stock that it seems to be a better move when you find a company that looks like it will be a winner.

Ongoing SVXY Spread Strategy – Week 6

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Today we will continue our discussion of both SVXY and the actual portfolio we are carrying out with only two positions.  Every Friday, we will make a trade in this portfolio and tell you about it here.

Our goal is to earn an average gain of 3% a week in this portfolio after commissions.  So far, we are well ahead of this goal.

I hope you find this ongoing demonstration to be a simple way to learn a whole lot about trading options.  We will also discuss another Greek measure today – gamma.

Terry

Ongoing SVXY Spread Strategy – Week 6

Near the open today, SVXY was trading about $89.00.  We want to sell a put that is about $1 in the money (i.e., at a strike one dollar higher than the current stock price).  Our maximum gain each week will come if we are right, and the stock ends the week very close to the strike of our short put.

Here is the trade we placed today:

Buy to Close 1 SVXY Sep-14 86.5 put (SVXY140920P86.5)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY) Sep4-14 90 put (SVXY140926P90 for a credit limit of $2.70  (selling a diagonal)

Each week, we try to sell a weekly put which is at a strike about $1 in the money (i.e., the strike price is about a dollar higher than the stock price) as long as selling a diagonal (or calendar) spread can be done for a credit.

When we entered this order, the natural price (buying at the ask price and selling at the bid price) was $2.50 and the mid-point price was $2.75.  We placed a limit order at $2.70, a number which was $.05 below the mid-point price.  (It executed at $2.70).

If it hadn’t executed after half an hour, we would have reduced the credit amount by $.10 (and continue doing this each half hour until we got an execution).

Each week, we will make a trade that puts cash in our account (in other words, each trade will be for a credit).  Our goal is to accumulate enough cash in the portfolio between now and January 17, 2015 when our long put expires so that we have much more than the $1500 we started with.  Our Jan-15 may still have some remaining value as well.

This is the 6th week of carrying out our little options portfolio using SVXY as the underlying.  SVXY is constructed to move up or down in the opposite directions as changes in volatility of stock option prices (using VIX, the measure of option volatility for the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY). SVXY is a derivative of a derivative of a derivative, so it is really, really complex.  Right now, option prices are trading at historic lows, and lots of people believe that they will move higher.  If they are right, SVXY will fall in value, but if option prices (i.e., volatility) don’t rise, SVXY will increase in value.  In our demonstration portfolio, we are assuming that option prices will not rise dramatically and that SVXY will move higher, on average, about a dollar a week.

In this simple portfolio, we own an SVXY Jan-15 90 put.   We will use this as collateral for selling a put each week in the weekly series that expires a week later than the current short put that we sold a week ago.  Today’s value of our long put is about $14 ($1200) and decay of this put (theta) is $4 (this means that if SVXY remains unchanged, the put will fall in value by $4 each day).  The decay of our short put is $13 (and will increase every day until next Friday).  This means that all other things being equal, we should gain $9 in portfolio value every day at the beginning of the week and about double that amount later in the week.

Last week we spoke a little about delta.  As you may recall, delta is the equivalent number of shares your option represents.  If an option has a delta of 70, it should gain $70 in value if the stock goes up by one dollar.  Today we will briefly introduce another options “Greek” called gamma.  Gamma is simply the amount that delta will change if the underlying stock goes up by one dollar.

If your option has a delta of 70 and a gamma of 5, if the underlying stock goes up by a dollar, your option would then have a delta of 75.  Gamma becomes more important for out-of-the-money options because delta tends to increase or decrease at faster rates when the stock moves in the direction of an out-of-the-money option.

To repeat what we covered last week, since we are dealing in puts rather than calls, the delta calculation is a little complicated.  I hope you won’t give up.  Delta for our Jan-15 90 put is minus 50.  This means that if the stock goes up a dollar, our long put option will lose about $.50 ($50) in value.  The weekly option that we have sold to someone else has a delta value of about 75 (since we sold it, it is a positive number).  If the stock goes up by a dollar, this option will go down by about $.75 ($75) which will be a gain for us because we sold that to someone else.

Our net delta value in the portfolio is +25.  If the stock goes up by a dollar, the portfolio should go up about $25 in value because of delta.  (Unfortunately, this gets more confusing when you understand that delta values will be quite different once the stock has moved in either direction, but we will discuss that issue later).

If the stock behaves as we hope, and it goes up by about a dollar in a week, we will gain about $25 from the positive delta value, and about $100 from net theta (the difference between the slower-decaying option we own and the faster-decaying weekly option that we have sold to someone else.

Our goal is to generate some cash in our portfolio each week.  This should be possible as long as the stock remains below $90. We will discuss what we need to do later if the stock moves higher than $90.

To update our progress to date, the balance in our account is now $1870 which shows a $370 gain over the 5 weeks we have held the positions.  This is well more than the $45 average weekly gain we are shooting for to make our goal of 3% a week.  We now have $1009 in cash in the portfolio.

Ongoing Spread SVXY Strategy For You to Follow if You Wish

Monday, August 18th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I put $1500 into a separate brokerage account to trade put options on an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) called SVXY.  I placed positions that were betting that SVXY would not fall by more than $6 in a week (it had not fallen by that amount in all of 2014 until that date).  My timing was perfectly awful.  In the next 10 days, the stock fell from $87 to $72, an unprecedented drop of $15.

Bottom line, my account balance fell from $1500 to $1233, I lost $267 in two short weeks when just about the worst possible thing happened to my stock.  Now I want to put $267 back in and start over again with $1500, and make it possible for you to follow if you wish.

This will be an actual portfolio designed to demonstrate one way how you can trade options and hopefully outperform anything you could expect to do in the stock market.  Our goal in this portfolio is to make an average gain of 3% every week between now and when the Jan-15 options expire on January 15, 2015 (22 weeks from now).

That works out to 150% a year annualized.  I think we can do it.  We will start with one trade which we will make today.

I hope you find this ongoing demonstration to be a simple way to learn a whole lot about trading options.

Terry

Ongoing Spread SVXY Strategy For You to Follow if You Wish

Our underlying “stock” is an ETP called SVXY.  It is a complex volatility-related instrument that has some interesting characteristics:

1. It is highly likely to move steadily higher over time.  This is true because it is adjusted each day by buying futures on VIX and selling the spot (current) price of VIX.  Since over 90% of the time, the futures are higher than the spot price (a condition called contango), this adjustment almost always results in a gain.  SVXY gained about 100% in both 2012 and 2013 and is up about 30% this year.

2. SVXY is extremely volatile.  Last Friday, for example, it rose $2 in the morning, fell $6 mid-day, and then reversed direction once again and ended up absolutely flat (+$.02) for the day.  This volatility causes an extremely high implied volatility (IV) number for the options (and very high option prices). IV for SVXY is about 65 compared to the market (SPY) which is about 13.

3. While it is destined to move higher over the long run, SVXY will fall sharply when there is a market correction or crash which results in VIX (market volatility) to increase.  Two weeks ago, we started this demonstration portfolio when SVXY was trading at $87, and it fell to $72 before recovering to its current $83.

4. Put option prices are generally higher than call option prices.  For this reason, we deal entirely in puts.

5. There is a large spread between the bid and ask option prices.  This means that every order we place must be at a limit.  We will never place a market order.  We will choose a price which is $.05 worse for us than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices, and adjust this number (if necessary) if it doesn’t execute in a few minutes.

This is the strategy we will employ:

1. We will own a Jan-15 90 put.  It cost us $15.02 ($1502) to buy (plus $2.50 commission for the spread).  Theta is $4 for this option.  That means that if the stock is flat, the option will fall in value by $4 each day ($28 per week).

This is the trade we made today to get this demonstration portfolio established:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Jan-15 90 put (SVXY150117P90)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Aug4-14 87 put (SVXY140822P87) for a debit limit of $12.20  (buying a diagonal)

This executed at this price (90 put bought for $15.02, 87 put sold for $2.82 at a time when SVXY was trading at $85.70.
2. Each week, we will sell a short-term weekly put (using the Jan-15 90 put for collateral).  We will collect as much time premium as we can while selling a slightly in-the-money put.  That means selling a weekly put at the strike which is slightly higher than the stock price.  We hope to collect about $2 ($200) in time premium by selling this put. Theta will start out at about $20 for the first day and increase each day throughout the week.  If the stock stays flat, we would get to keep the entire $200 and make a net gain of $172 for the week because our long put would fall in value by $28.  This is the best-case scenario.  It only has to happen 6 times out of 22 weeks to recover our initial $1200 investment.

3. Each Friday we will need to make a decision, and often a trade. If the put we have sold is in the money (i.e., the stock is trading at a lower price than the strike price), we will have to buy it back to avoid it being exercised.  At the same time, we will sell a new put for the next weekly series.  We will choose the strike price which is closest to $1 in the money.  Our goal is to take some money off the table each and every week. If it is not possible to buy back an expiring weekly put and replace it with the next-week put at the $1 in-the-money strike at a credit we will select the highest-strike option we can sell as long as the spread is made at a credit.  We eventually have to cover the $1220 original spread cost, and collecting about $200 as we will some weeks would recover that amount quite quickly  – we have 22 weeks to collect a credit, so we only need an average of about $45 each week (after commissions).

4. On Friday, if the stock is higher than the strike price, we will not do anything, and let the short put expire worthless.  On the following Monday, we will sell the next-week put at the at-the-money strike price, hopefully collecting another $200.

5. We are starting off by selling a weekly put which has a lower strike price than the long Jan-15 put we own.  In the event that down the line (when the stock price rises as we expect it will), we may want to sell a weekly put at a higher strike price than the 90 put we own.  In that event, we will incur a maintenance requirement of $100 for each dollar of difference between the two numbers.  There is no interest charged on this amount, but we just can’t use it for buying other stocks. For now, we don’t have to worry about a maintenance requirement because our short put is at a lower strike than our long put.  If that changes down the line, we will discuss that in more detail.

This strategy should make a gain every week that the stock moves less than $3 on the downside or $4 on the upside.  Since we are selling a put at a strike which is slightly higher than the stock price, our upside break-even price range is greater. This is appropriate because based solely on contango, the stock should gain about $1.00 each week that VIX remains flat.

I think you will learn a lot by following this portfolio as it unfolds over time.  You might find it to be terribly confusing at first.  Over time, it will end up seeming simple.  Doing it yourself in an actual account will make it more interesting for you, and will insure that you pay close attention.  The learning experience should be valuable, and we just might make some money along the way as well.

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Success Stories

I have been trading the equity markets with many different strategies for over 40 years. Terry Allen's strategies have been the most consistent money makers for me. I used them during the 2008 melt-down, to earn over 50% annualized return, while all my neighbors were crying about their losses.

~ John Collins