Every once in a while, market volatility soars. The most popular measure of volatility is VIX, the so-called “fear index’ which is the average volatility of options on SPY (the S&P 500 tracking stock). By the way, SPY weekly options are not included in the calculation of VIX, something which tends to understate the value when something specific like today’s election is an important reason affecting the current level of volatility.
Today I would like to share with you a trade I recommended to paying subscribers to Terry’s Tips last week. We could close it out today for a 27% profit after commissions in one week, but most of us are hanging onto our positions for another couple of weeks because we still believe the spread will result in 75% gain for three weeks when the market settles down after today’s election.
I hope you can learn something from this latest way to benefit from an elevated volatility level in the market.
How to Make 40% With a Single Options Trade on a Blue Chip Stock
As much as you might like, you can’t actually buy (or sell short) VIX, so there is no direct way to bet whether volatility will go up or down with this popular measure. However, you can buy and sell puts and calls on VIX, and execute spreads just as long as both long and short sides of the spread are in the same expiration series.
You are not allowed to buy calendar or diagonal spreads with VIX options since each expiration series is a distinct series not connected to other series. If you could buy calendars, the prices would look exceptional. There are times when you could actually buy a calendar spread at a credit, but unfortunately, they don’t allow such trades.
Vertical spreads are fair game, however, and make interesting plays if you have a feel for which way you think volatility is headed. Last week, we had a time when VIX was higher than it has been for some time, pushed up by election uncertainties, the Fed’s next interest rate increase, and the recent 9-day consecutive drop in market prices. When VIX was over 22, we sent out a special trade idea based on the likelihood that once the election is over, VIX might retreat. For the last few years, the most popular range for VIX to hang out has been in the 12-14 area. Obviously, this is a lot lower than last’s week’s 22-23 range.
If you look at a chart of VIX, you will see that it has moved above 20 on only 7 occasions over the past three years, and the great majority of time, it quickly retreated to a much lower level. Only once did it remain over 20 for more than a couple of weeks or so. Back in 2008, VIX moved up to astronomical levels and stayed there for several months, but if you recall those days, with the implosion of Lehman Bros., Long Term Capital, and bank bailouts all around, there was serious fears that our entire financial system might soon collapse. This time around, it seemed like the most fearful consideration was the American election, and specifically that Donald Trump might win and market uncertainty would surely soar even further. This does not feel like the cataclysmic possibilities that we were facing in 2008.
This is the trade we suggested, based on our assumption that Donald Trump would probably not prevail and not much different would happen out of Washington going forward:
BTO 1 VIX 23Nov16 21 call (VIX161123C21)
STO 1 VIX 23Nov16 15 call (VIX161123C15) for a credit of $2.60 (selling a vertical)
This spread involves an investment (and maximum risk) of $342.50. There is a $600 maintenance requirement (the difference between the strike prices) from which the $260 received less $2.50 commission or $257.50 must be deducted. If VIX closes at any number below 15 on November 23, both calls would expire worthless and this spread would make $257.50 on the maximum risk of $342.50, or 75%.
Maybe 3 weeks was not a long enough time to expect VIX to plummet back to 15. An argument could be made that it would be better to wait until after the Fed’s December rate decision has been made, and place this same spread in the 20Jan17 series. The price (and potential gain) would be about the same (I have sold this same spread in that series in my personal account as well). Of course, you have to wait 2 ½ months for it to come about, but 75% is a sweet number to dream about collecting in such a short time.
Since we placed the above spreads a week ago, VIX has fallen from 23 to a little over 18 today (apparently when the FBI exonerated Hillary, it looked less likely that Trump would win). It only needs to fall a little over 3 more points after the election today to deliver 75% to us on November 23rd. We like our chances here. Some subscribers are taking their gains today, just in case Mr. Trump gets elected. They can buy the spread back today for $1.65, well below the $2.60 they collected from selling it. I am personally holding out for the bigger potential gain.