from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

Archive for the ‘SPY’ Category

Invest in Yourself in 2013 (at the Lowest Rate Ever)

Monday, December 31st, 2012

To celebrate the coming of the New Year I am making the best offer to come on board that I have ever offered.  It is time limited.  Don’t miss out.

Invest in Yourself in 2013 (at the Lowest Rate Ever)

The presents are unwrapped.  The New Year is upon us.  Start it out right by doing something really good for yourself, and your loved ones. 

The beginning of the year is a traditional time for resolutions and goal-setting.  It is a perfect time to do some serious thinking about your financial future.

I believe that the best investment you can ever make is to invest in yourself, no matter what your financial situation might be.  Learning a stock option investment strategy is a low-cost way to do just that.

As our New Year’s gift to you, we are offering our service at the lowest price in the history of our company.      If you ever considered becoming a Terry’s Tips Insider, this would be the absolutely best time to do it.  Read on…

Don’t you owe it to yourself to learn a system that carries a very low risk and could gain 36% a year as many of our portfolios have done?

So what’s the investment?  I’m suggesting that you spend a small amount to get a copy of my 70-page (electronic) White Paper, and devote some serious early-2013 hours studying the material. 

And now for the Special Offer – If you make this investment in yourself by midnight, January 9, 2013, this is what happens:

For a one-time fee of only $39.95, you receive the White Paper (which normally costs $79.95 by itself), which explains my two favorite option strategies in detail, 20 “Lazy Way” companies with a minimum 100% gain in 2 years, mathematically guaranteed, if the stock stays flat or goes up, plus the following services :

1) Two free months of the Terry’s Tips Stock Options Tutorial Program, (a $49.90 value).  This consists of 14 individual electronic tutorials delivered one each day for two weeks, and weekly Saturday Reports which provide timely Market Reports, discussion of option strategies, updates and commentaries on 8 different actual option portfolios, and much more. 

2) Emailed Trade Alerts.  I will email you with any trades I make at the end of each trading day, so you can mirror them if you wish (or with our Premium Service, you will receive real-time Trade Alerts as they are made for even faster order placement or Auto-Trading with a broker).  These Trade Alerts cover all 8 portfolios we conduct.

3) If you choose to continue after two free months of the Options Tutorial Program, do nothing, and you’ll be billed at our discounted rate of $19.95 per month (rather than the regular $24.95 rate).

4) Access to the Insider’s Section of Terry’s Tips, where you will find many valuable articles about option trading, and several months of recent Saturday Reports and Trade Alerts.

5) A FREE special report “How We Made 100% on Apple in 2010-11 While AAPL Rose Only 25%”. This report is a good example of how our Shoot Strategy works for individual companies that you believe are headed higher.

With this one-time offer, you will receive all of these benefits for only $39.95, less than the price of the White Paper alone. I have never made an offer better than this in the twelve years I have published Terry’s Tips.  But you must order by midnight on January 9, 2013.  Click here, choose “White Paper with Insider Membership”, and enter Special Code 2013 (or 2013P for Premium Service – $79.95).

Investing in yourself is the most responsible New Year’s Resolution you could make for 2013.  I feel confident that this offer could be the best investment you ever make in yourself.

Happy New Year!  I hope 2013 is your most prosperous ever.  I look forward to helping you get 2013 started right by sharing this valuable investment information with you. 
Terry

P.S.  If you would have any questions about this offer or Terry’s Tips, please call Seth Allen, our Senior Vice President at 800-803-4595.  Or make this investment in yourself at the lowest price ever offered in our 8 years of publication – only $39.95 for our entire package - using Special Code 2013 (or 2013P for Premium Service – $79.95).

All About Back Spreads

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Back spreads and ratio spreads are usually discussed together because they are simply the mirror image of each other. Back spreads and ratio spreads are comprised of either both calls or both puts at two different strike prices in the same expiration month. If the spread has more long contracts than short contracts, it is a Back Spread. If there are more short contracts, it is a Ratio Spread.
Since ratio spreads involve selling “naked” (i.e., uncovered by another long option) they can’t be used in an IRA.  For that reason, and because we like to sleep better at night knowing that we are not naked short and could possibly lose more than our original investment, we do not trade ratio spreads at Terry’s Tips.

Back spreads involve selling one option and buying a greater quantity of an option with a more out-of-the-money strike. The options are either both calls or both puts.
A typical back spread using calls might consist of buying 10 at-the-money calls and selling 5 in-the-money calls at a strike low enough to buy the entire back spread at a credit. 
Ideally, you collect a credit when you set up a back spread.  Since the option you are buying is less expensive than the one you are buying, it is always possible to set up the back spread at a credit.  You would like as many extra long positions as possible to maximize your gains if the underlying makes a big move in the direction you are betting. 
If you are wrong and the underlying moves in the opposite direction that you originally hoped, if you had set up the back spread at a net credit at the beginning, all of your options will expire worthless and you will be able to keep the original credit as pure profit (after paying commissions on the original trades, of course).
Call back spreads work best when the stock price makes a large move up; put back spreads work best when the stock price makes a large move down.
One of the easiest ways to think about a back spread is as a vertical with some extra long options. A call back spread is a bear vertical (typically a short call vertical) plus extra long call options at the higher of the two strikes. A put back spread is a bull vertical (typically a short put vertical) plus extra long put options at the lower of the two strikes.
The purpose of a back spread is to profit on a quick extended move toward, through and beyond the long strike. The purchase of a quantity of more long options is financed by the sale of fewer short options. The danger is that because the short options are usually in the money, they might grow faster than the long out-of-the-money options if the stock price moves more slowly or with less magnitude than expected. This happens even faster as expiration approaches. The long out-of-the-money options may lose value despite a favorable move in the stock price, and that same move in the stock price may increase the value of the short options. This is when the back spread loses value most quickly. This is depicted in the “valley” of the risk profile graphs. The greatest loss in the graph occurs at exactly the strike price of the long options.

There are two reasons that I personally don’t like back spreads.  First, they are negative theta.  That means you lose money on your positions every day that nothing much happens to the underlying strike price. 

Second, and more importantly, the gains you make in the good time periods are inconsequential compared to the large losses you could incur in the other time periods.  If the stock moves in the opposite way you are hoping, you end up making a very small gain (the initial credit you collected when the positions were originally placed).  If the underlying doesn’t move much, your losses could be huge.  On the other hand, in order for you to make large gains when the market moves in the direction you hope it will, the move must be very large before significant gains come about.

Here is the risk profile graph for a back spread on SPY (buying 10 Dec-12 142 calls for $1.55 and selling 6 Dec-12 140 calls for $2.78 when SPY was trading at $142.20 and there were two weeks until expiration):

You have about $1100 at risk (the $1200 maintenance requirement less the $115 credit (after commissions) you collected at the outset.  If the stock falls by more than $2.20 so that all the calls expire worthless, you would gain the $115 credit.  If the stock moves higher by $2, you would lose just about that same amount.  It would have to move $2.20 higher before a gain could be expected on the upside, and every dollar the stock moved higher from there would result in a $400 gain (the number of extra calls you own).

The big problem is that if the stock doesn’t do much of anything, you stand to lose about $1000, a far greater loss than most of the scenarios when a gain could be expected.  In order for you to make $1000 with these positions, the stock would have to go up by $5 in the two-week period.  Of course, that happens once in a great while, but probably less than 10% of the time.  There there is a much greater likelihood of its moving less than $2 in either direction (and a loss would occur at any point within that range).

Bottom line, back spreads might be considered if you have a strong feeling that the underlying stock might move strongly in one direction or another, but I believe that there are other more promising directional strategies such as vertical spreads, calendar or diagonal spreads, or even straddles or strangles that make more sense to me.

Contango, Backwardation, and VXX

Monday, November 26th, 2012

This week we will discuss three investment concepts that you probably never heard of. If you understood them, they might just change your investment returns for the rest of your life.  Surely, it will be worth your time to read about them. 

Contango, Backwardation, and VXX

There seems to be a widespread need for a definition of contango.   I figure that about 99% of investors have no idea of what contango or backwardation are.  That’s a shame, because they are important concepts which can be precisely measured and they strongly influence whether certain investment instruments will move higher (or lower).  Understanding contango and backwardation can seriously improve your chances of making profitable investments.

Contango sounds like it might be some sort of exotic dance that you do against (con) someone, and maybe the definition of backwardation is what your partner does, just the opposite (indeed, it is, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves because we haven’t defined contango as yet). 

If you have an idea (in advance) which way a stock or other investment instrument is headed, you have a real edge in deciding what to do.  Contango can give you that edge.

So here’s the definition of contango – it is simply that the prices of futures are upward sloping over time, (second month more expensive than front month, third month more expensive than second, etc.), Usually, the further out in the future you look, the less certain you are about what will happen, and the more uncertainty there is, the higher the futures prices are.  For this reason, contango is the case about 75 – 90% of the time.

Sometimes, when a market crash has occurred or Greece seems to be on the brink of imploding, the short-term outlook is more uncertain than the longer-term outlook (people expect that things will settle down eventually).  When this happens, backwardation is the case – a downward-sloping curve over time. 

So what’s the big deal about the shape of the price curve?  In itself, it doesn’t mean much, but when it gets involved in the construction of some investment instruments, it does become a big deal.

All about VXX

One of the most frequent times that contango appears in the financial press is when VXX is discussed. VXX is an ETN (Exchange Traded Note) which trades very much like any stock.  You can buy (or sell) shares in it, just like you can IBM.  You can also buy or sell options using VXX as the underlying (that’s why it important at Terry’s Tips). 
VXX was created by Barclay’s on January 29, 2009 and it will be closed out with a cash settlement on January 30, 2019 (so we have a few years remaining to play with it).

VXX is an equity that people purchase as protection against a market crash.  It is based on the short-term futures of VIX, the so-called “fear index” which is a measure of the implied volatility of options on SPY, the tracking stock for the S&P 500.  When the market crashes, VIX usually soars, the futures for VIX move higher as well, pushing up the price of VXX.

In August of 2011 when the market (SPY) fell by 10%, VXX rose from $21 to $42, a 100% gain.  Backwardation set in and VXX remained above $40 for several months.  VXX had performed exactly as it was intended to.  Pundits have argued that a $10,000 investment in VXX protects a $100,000 portfolio of stocks against loss in case of a market crash.  No wonder it is so popular.  Investors buy about $3 billion worth of VXX every month as crash protection against their other investments in stocks or mutual funds.

There is only one small bad thing about VXX.  Over the long term, it is just about the worst stock you could ever buy.  Check out its graph since it was first created in January of 2009.

 

Have you ever seen such a dog?  (Maybe you bought stock in one or two of these, but I suspect no matter how bad they were, they couldn’t match VXX’s performance). On two occasions (November 9, 2010 and October 5, 2012) they had to make 1 – 4 reverse splits to make the stock have a reasonable value.  It never really traded at $2000 as the graph suggests, but two reverse splits will make it seem that way.
VXX is designed to mimic a 30 day futures contract on the VIX spot index (note: the VIX “spot” index is not directly tradable, so short term futures are the nearest proxy). Every day, Barclays VXX “sells” 1/30th of its assets in front month VIX futures contracts and buys second month contracts which are almost always more costly. This is where contango becomes important.
 It’s the old story of “buy high” and “sell low” that so many of us have  done with their stock investments, but Barclays does it every day (don’t feel sorry for them – they are selling VXX, not buying it, and they are making a fortune every month).
There are two other reasons besides contango that VXX is destined to move lower over time. First, when the value of an instrument is based on changes in the value of another measure, a mathematical glitch always occurs.  When VIX is at 20 and increases by 10%, it goes up by 2, and the tracking instrument (VXX) is likely to move by about that percentage in the same direction. If the next day, VIX falls by 10%, it goes down by 2.20 (10% of 22).  At the end of the two-day period, VXX will end up $.20 lower than where it started.

This is the same thing that happens if you lose 50% of the value of a stock investment.  The stock has to go up by 100% for you to get your money back.  In the day-by-day adjusting of the value of VXX based on changes in VIX, the value of VXX gets pushed lower by a tiny amount every day because of the mathematical adjustment mechanism.

A third reason that VXX gets lower in the long run is that Barclay’s charges a 0.89% fee each year to maintain the ETN. 

In summary, because of the predominant condition of contango as well as the way VXX is constructed, it is destined to go down consistently every month.  Coming soon, we will discuss option strategies that can prosper from this phenomenon.

Three New (Weekly) Options Series Introduced

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The world of stock options is every changing.  Last week, three new series of options were introduced. Options trades should be aware of these new options, and understand how they might fit into their options strategies, no matter what those  strategies might be.

Three New (Weekly) Options Series Introduced

Last week, the CBOE announced the arrival of several new options series for our favorite ETFs as well as four individual popular stocks which have extremely high options activity.

Here they are:

For the above entities, there are now four Weekly options series available at any given time.  In the past, Weekly options for the following week became available on a Thursday (with eight days of remaining life).

This is a big change for those of us who trade the Weeklys (I know that seems to be a funny way to spell the plural of Weekly, but that is what the CBOE does).  No longer will we have to wait until Thursday to roll over short options to the next week to gain maximum decay (theta) for our short positions.

The stocks and ETFs for which the new Weeklys are available are among the most active options markets out there.  Already, these markets have very small bid-ask spreads (meaning that you can usually get very good executions, often at the mid-point of the bid-ask spread rather than being forced to buy at the ask price and sell at the bid price).  This advantage should extend to the new Weekly series, although I have noticed that the bid-ask spreads are slightly higher for the third and fourth weeks out, at least at this time.

The new Weeklys will particularly be important for Apple.  Option prices have traditionally sky-rocketed for the option series which comes a few days after their quarterly earnings announcements.  In the past, a popular strategy was to place a calendar or diagonal spread in advance of an announcement (further-out options tend to be far less expensive (lower implied volatility) than those expiring shortly after the announcement, and potentially profitable spreads are often available.  The long side had to be the newt monthly series, often a full three weeks later.

With the new Weekly series now being available, extremely inexpensive spreads might be possible, with the long side having only seven days of more time than the Weeklys that you are selling.  It will be very interesting come next January. 

     Bottom line, the new Weekly series will give you far more flexibility in taking a short-term view on stock price movement and/or volatility changes, plus more ways to profit from time decay.  It is good news for all options traders.

 

 

Another Interesting Time to Buy Options

Monday, August 6th, 2012

For the past several weeks we have been discussing how to make money buying options.  For those of you who have been following us for any extended time, you understand that this is a total departure from our long-standing belief that the best way to make maximum returns is to sell short-term options to someone else.

A combination of low option prices and high actual volatility has recently caused us to reverse our strategy.  Now seems to be a good time to be buying either or both puts or calls.  Rather than blindly buying an option and hoping for the best, we are continually on the look-out for something that will give us an edge in making this buying decision.

Last week we couldn’t find an edge we were comfortable with.  We considered buying a straddle on Thursday in advance of the jobs report but the market had been quiet all week and we sat on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, as it worked out.  SPY rose almost 2% on Friday and we would have easily doubled our money if we had pulled the trigger.

Today we will talk about one of those possible edges.

Another Interesting Time to Buy Options

It seems to happen every summer.  While the overall market doesn’t seem to do much of anything (that’s why they call it the summer doldrums I suppose), on many days, the market just seems to jump all over the place.  It could be that so many traders are on vacation that the few who are working are able to move the market with very few trades.

A more likely explanation is the computer-generated program trading that has taken over the market lately.  The average holding period for a stock in our country is now less than two seconds according to one study.  When the computers sense unusual buying or selling coming into the market, they place trades in advance of the orders getting to the exchanges.  This adds to the momentum and pushes the market sharply in one direction or the other.

At some point, the momentum shifts, and the market moves sharply in the other direction.

Check out the price action of SPY on Fridays for the past ten weeks:

June 1        -3.30
June 8        +1.05
June 15    +1.30  Monthly X dividend
June 22    +1.05
June 29     +3.31
July 6        -1.30
July 13        +2.20
July 20        -1.30    Monthly X dividend
July 27        +2.51
Aug 3        +2.70

If you had bought a slightly out-of-the-money put and call (or an at-the-money straddle) on essentially any one of the Thursdays preceding these Fridays, you would have surely made money when the stock moved well over a dollar the next day.  These puts and calls with only one day of remaining life are quite cheap, and could easily double or triple in value if the market moves by over $2 which it has on half of the Fridays this summer.

This edge probably does not extend to other months of the year, however.  In April and May, the stock did not move over $.75 on any Friday.  So it seems to be a summer phenomenon.

Buying options is risky business because you can lose 100% of your investment.  But doing it with small amounts when you see an edge like this Friday action (or before jobs reports, or on the Monday following the monthly option expiration), the odds may shift in your favor.

Be careful, and good luck.  Never invest money that you can’t afford to lose.

An Interesting Post-Expiration Play

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Last week we made a little trade that doubled our investment in one day.  Every month, a similar opportunity presents itself.  Of course, it doesn’t always work out this nicely, but it seems to do well most of the time.  Today, I would like to share our thinking with this trade.

An Interesting Post-Expiration Play

Many investors are aware of a couple of phenomena which seem to prevail in the market.  The first is that the Monday after the regular monthly options expiration is generally a weak day for the market.  The second is that the first trading day of each month is usually a strong day.

When other indicators also suggest that these generalizations might hold true, it might be a good time to make the outright purchase of a put or call.

On Friday, July 20, the regular monthly options expired.  At that time, the market was also in an overbought condition (one of the indicators that we follow, RSI, was over 70).  Overbought conditions are not nearly as important indicators as are oversold conditions, but they are something to consider nonetheless.

Our favorite ETF to use when buying options is the Russell 2000 Small-Cap (IWM).  It seems to fluctuate in the same direction as SPY, but by larger percentages.  On expiration Friday, with IWM trading right around $79, we bought a Jul4-12 Weekly 79 put for $.85.  Actually, we bought 5 of them, shelling out $425 plus $6.25 for commissions (our broker, thinkorswim, charges Terry’s Tips subscribers a flat $1.25 per option contract).

On Monday, we placed a limit order to sell those puts if the price got up to $1.73.  The stock tumbled almost $2 on that day, and our order executed.  We were delighted to double our money after paying the commissions.  After commissions, we made a profit of $427.50 on our initial investment of $425.

We could have made more if we had waited a little longer, but we’ll take double our money any day.  Selling when we did ultimately proved to be a good idea because by the end of the week, our puts expired worthless when the stock rose to above $79.

Last week was a great one for anyone who bought either puts or calls.  Option prices were low (lower than they are this week) and volatility was high.  If you were willing to accept a moderate profit on your option buy, you could have done well either with puts or calls last week.

For most of the past couple of months (and all of last summer as well), option prices have been lower than the actual volatility of the market (SPY, and IWM).  This means that a good strategy has been to buy options rather than sell them (which is our usual preference).

This week, the first trading day of August falls on Wednesday.  We might be inclined to buy a call on IWM because the market is often strong on that day.  However, option prices (VIX) rose 5% Monday morning so options are not quite so cheap this week.  With the big run-up in the market last Friday (SPY gained almost 2%), we are probably due for some weakness soon, so we are probably not going to buy a call this time around.  We like to see other indicators which support our buying decision, and we don’t see any at this point in time.  (RSI is neutral, for example.)

Buying options is still probably a good short-term idea, but sometimes it is safer just to sit on the sidelines for a week or so and wait for a more opportune time.

How to Cash in on the Crash of VIX:

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Last week, VIX fell to as low as we have seen in four years.  I believe this has created a short-term buying opportunity.  Option prices (volatility) should be headed higher (in my opinion). 

How to Cash in on the Crash of VIX:  

As most of you know, VIX is the volatility measure based on option prices of the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY. Last week, it had fallen all the way to 15.45, about the lowest level we have seen in several years. 

VIX is the so-called “fear index,” and historically has moved higher when there was uncertainty (or lower stock prices) in the market.  Back in 2007, a VIX this low was probably appropriate.  The stock market had been on a slightly-upward flattish direction for many months, and there was little unrest in our domestic economy or around the world.  In 2008 when markets imploded, VIX rose as high as 80.

Today, there seems to be uncertainty all over the place.  Some people are talking about the possibility of a double dip recession, while others focus on escalating oil prices, high unemployment, and most of all, a melt-down in several European countries that might have a domino effect on our economy.

So where has all the market fear gone?  There are a huge number of uncertainties in the current economic world, both at home and abroad, and the market seems to be ignoring them. 

Over the years, VIX has shown a strong inclination to revert to the mean, and the mean is 20.54.  I think it is inevitable that VIX will climb back up toward, or above, 20 in the near future.  If this is the case, how can you benefit from it?

A Time to Buy VXX? This stock (actually an exchange-traded note, ETN) is highly correlated to VIX.  It is based on the futures of VIX which are generally closely related to VIX.  It closed yesterday at $13.20, the lowest price in quite a long time.  About six months ago (when VIX was in the 30’s), VXX traded in the low $40’s).

On one hand, I believe that it is highly unlikely to go much lower, and on the other, I expect that some unforeseen event will surely come along at some point to spook the market and send VIX and VXX sharply higher.

There is one serious shortcoming of owning VXX, however.  Due to the way it is constructed, something called contango reduces its value every month that the futures for VIX remain unchanged.  For this reason, the only time that it is a good idea to buy VXX is when VIX is unusually low (and there are reasons to believe that it is headed higher).

An ETN that benefits every month from contango is the inverse of VXX.  It is called XIV (the inverse of VIX).  Last October, when XIV was trading about $6.70 (and VIX was in the 30’s), I made a major investment in VIX (and made an impassioned plea to my subscribers to do the same).  Now that VIX is less than half what it was then, last week I sold most of my holdings for more than $13, almost doubling my money over that period.  With VIX so low, I believe that there is a better chance that XIV will suffer from a rising VIX than there is that it will benefit from the contango tailwinds that it usually enjoys.  (When VIX moves over 20, I will probably buy XIV once again).

On last Friday when the market fell by almost 1%, VIX rose from 15.45 to 16.27 (5.3%) and VXX rose from $12.55 to $13.20 (5.2%) to give an idea of the potential gain for VXX if option volatility moves back to its mean average of 20.54.

Another way to play VXX is to buy the stock and write a call against it, or at least against some of it.  With VXX trading at $13.20, an August 14 call could be sold for $.74 which would give you a 5.6% gain for one month if the stock doesn’t change, or an 11.6% gain if it closes above $14, the call you sold is exercised, and you lose the stock.  Either scenario does not seem so bad for a single month. 

The key assumption here is that VXX is quite unlikely to trade any lower than it is right now.  I believe that this is a reasonable assumption to make.  While it might trade lower temporarily, history says that it won’t stay down there for long.

VXX has been recognized as one of the best hedges against a falling market.  Some analysts have stated that a $10,000 investment in VXX will protect a $100,000 market portfolio of stock (although my estimate is that it would take about a $25,000 investment to accomplish that).  Once again, however, because of the contango issue, when VIX is at or above the mean of 20.54, it is generally not a good idea to buy VXX unless you strongly believe that uncertainty, and option prices, are headed higher.

In any event, I think VXX is a good short-term buy right now as a bet that option volatility will rise as things in Europe start spooking the market once again (in spite of the contango issue that will depress its value somewhat).

Another Buying Straddles Story

Monday, July 16th, 2012

For most of the last year, the market (SPY) and many individual stocks have fluctuated more than the implied volatility of the options would predict.  This situation has made it quite difficult to make gains with the calendar spread strategy that we have long advocated.

Now we are experimenting with buying straddles as an alternative to our basic strategy.  This represents a total reversal from hoping for a flat market to betting on a fluctuating one.

Today I would like to report on a straddle purchase I made last week.

Another Buying Straddles Story

I selected the Russell 2000 (Small-Cap) Index (IWM) as the underlying. For many years, this equity seems to fluctuate in the same direction and by about the same amount as the market in general (SPY) although it is trading for far less ($80 vs. $134) so the percentage fluctuations are greater.

On Monday morning, IWM was trading right about $80. I bought an 80 straddle using IWM (Jul2-12 puts and calls), paying $1.53 for the pair.  If IWM moved by $1.53 in either direction, the intrinsic value of either the puts or calls would be $1.53, and there would be some time premium remaining so that either the puts or calls could be sold for a profit.

How likely was IWM to move by more than $1.53 in either direction in only one week?  Looking back at weekly price behavior for IWM, I found that in 62 of the past 66 weeks, IWM had fluctuated at least $1.60 during the week in one direction or another.  That is the key number I needed to make the purchase.  That meant that if the historical pattern repeated itself, I could count on making a profit in 94% of the weeks.  I would be quite happy with anything near that result.

Buying a straddle fits my temperament because I was not choosing which way the market might be headed (something I know from experience that I can’t do very well, at least in the short term), and I knew that I could not lose 100% of my investment (even on Friday and the stock had not moved, there would still be some time premium remaining in the options that could be sold for something).

One on the biggest problems with trading straddles is the decision on when to sell one or both sides of the trade.  We’ll discuss some of the choices next week.  What I did was place a limit order to take a reasonable profit if it came along.  When IWM had fallen about $1.75, I sold my puts for $1.85 on Thursday.  On Friday the stock reversed itself, and I was able to collect $.17 by selling the calls, making a total 20% after commissions for the week. Not a bad result, I figured.  

At some point during the week, there were opportunities to sell both the puts and calls for more than I sold them for, but I was delighted with taking a reasonable profit.  You can’t look back when trading straddles.  If I had not sold the calls but waited until the end of the week, I would have lost about 70% of my original purchase.  So selling when you have a small profit is clearly the way to go.

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Last Friday was the government’s monthly jobs report.  Historically, the market has been unusually volatile on those Fridays when the actual numbers either exceed expectations or are disappointing.  Last week we gave the results of a strangle trade we made a year ago which resulted in a gain of 67% for the day.

Last Thursday we made a similar bet, this time using a straddle.  Here is how it worked out for us.

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Near the close on Friday, the stock (SPY) was trading right around $137 and it was possible to buy both a Jul2-12 137 put and a 137 call which would expire one day later for $1.18 ($118 per spread plus $2.50 commissions).  We bought 7 spreads, paying $843.50 including commissions.  

This is called buying a straddle.  If at any point on Friday, SPY changed in value by more than $1.00 in either direction, we could sell those options at a profit.  (At any price above $138, the calls could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle, and at any price below $136, the puts could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle.)

The market expected that 100,000 new jobs would be created, but the actual results were lower – about 80,000.  When the market opened up just over a dollar lower, it seemed not to be going anywhere so we took a profit, selling the puts for $155 each, collecting $1076.25 after commissions (the calls expired worthless and no commission was involved).  Our net gain on the trade was $235, or 27.8% on the initial investment.

We were hoping that the stock would reverse itself after the early drop so that we could sell the calls later in the day and add to our gain, but that never happened.

If we had waited until later in the day the profit could have been more than double this amount but if we had waited until the end of the day it would have been less.  There is no easy answer as to when to sell a straddle, but we will probably continue our strategy of taking a moderate profit when it comes along.  Another way to play it would have been to sell enough of the spreads to break even and let the others ride in hopes of a windfall gain.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.  What they like best is a whip-saw market where the market moves sharply higher (and they sell their calls) and then down (when they unload their puts).   There are many ways to profit with options. Buying straddles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains.

The downside to buying straddles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment.  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  

However, straddle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.  Right now, VIX (the so-called “fear index” that measures how high option prices are for SPY options) is at 17.10 compared to its mean average of 20.54.  This means that option prices are relatively low right now.  Last December, for example, when VIX was about 25, the same straddle we bought last week for $118 would have cost over $200.

On Friday, a SPY 137 at-the-money straddle with one week of remaining life (expiring July 13, 2012) could have been bought for $1.99 ($199 each).  If at any time during the next week, if SPY fluctuated more than $2, the straddle should be trading for more than $2.  Over the past 13 weeks, SPY has moved in one direction or another by at least $2 in 11 of those weeks, and in one week it fell by $1.94 at one point.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.   There are many ways to profit with options. It is best to remain flexible, and use the option strategy that best matches current market conditions. Buying straddles or strangles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains, as we happily did last week.

The downside to buying straddles or strangles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment (although if you don’t wait too much longer than mid-day on the day options expire, even out-of-the-money options retain some value and should be able to be sold for something).  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  However, straddle- or strangle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.

Back-Testing the 10K Classic Options Strategy

Monday, June 25th, 2012

This week I would like to share a report I sent to paying subscribers this week.  It is a back test of a portfolio we set up just a month ago to carry out the precise strategy outlined in my book, Making 36%: Duffer’s Guide to Breaking Par in the Market Every Year in Good Years and Bad (the revised 2012 edition is the 5th printing).  I believe it gives a definitive answer to the question “Do calendar spreads really work?”

Back-Testing the 10K Classic Options Strategy

The originally-stated goal of the 10K Classic portfolio was to deliver consistent 3% monthly gains and never have a losing month.  This portfolio uses S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY) as the underlying, and uses true deep in-the-money LEAPS as the long side (a full 19 months out to start) and Weekly short calls at several strikes both above the stock price (usually 2 out of 5 to start the week) and below the stock price (usually 3 out of 5 to start the week).  We generally do not make any adjustment trades until Thursday when some calls might be rolled to the next Weekly series at a different strike to make the portfolio more neutral net delta.

I wanted to see what would happen if we made absolutely no adjustments to the 10K Classic during the week based on the risk profile graph of the $9800 portfolio on June 15, 2012 and the weekly price changes for SPY that had taken place over the past 100 weeks.  Here are the results:

This table groups the weekly price changes in dollars into 19 groups and multiplies the number of occurrences in each group by the loss or gain that would have occurred with that price change according to the risk profile graph displayed with the thinkorswim software.  I reduced the indicated gain or loss by $50 each week to account for commission costs and transaction costs (we typically buy back out-of-the-money expiring calls for $3 or so, or pay a small premium when rolling over in-the-money calls).  Of course, VIX was relatively high on this date (about 22), so the gains might be less if VIX were appreciably lower.

In 76% of the weeks, a gain would have been made and in 24% of the weeks, a loss would have resulted. In the gaining weeks, the average gain was $284 and the in the losing weeks, the average loss was $445.   On an average of once a year (1 week out of each 50), a greater-than-15% loss would have occurred if no adjustments were made.

The bottom line is most encouraging.  It says that the portfolio would earn 100% over two years if those positions were in place and no adjustments were made during the week.  In order to carry out a strategy of making no adjustments, however, we would have to be willing to tolerate a weekly loss of about $1400 once every year.  

Since about two weeks a year, very large weekly losses might occur (averaging about $1000), it seems best to slightly alter our goal of never having a losing month.  When we encounter one of these weeks, the other 3 weeks of the month might not always do well enough to cover that large a loss.  Our new goal will to never have a losing month as long as the stock does not fluctuate more than $7 in one week during the month.  The more important 3%-a-month goal will continue to be in place. 

The first month for the portfolio (up 5.1%) is certainly an encouraging start, especially with the volatility that we experienced during that time period. 

The originally-stated goal of the 10K Classic portfolio was to deliver consistent 3% monthly gains and never have a losing month.  This portfolio uses S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY) as the underlying, and uses true deep in-the-money LEAPS as the long side (a full 19 months out to start) and Weekly short calls at several strikes both above the stock price (usually 2 out of 5 to start the week) and below the stock price (usually 3 out of 5 to start the week).  We generally do not make any adjustment trades until Thursday when some calls might be rolled to the next Weekly series at a different strike to make the portfolio more neutral net delta.

I wanted to see what would happen if we made absolutely no adjustments to the 10K Classic during the week based on the risk profile graph of the $9800 portfolio on June 15, 2012 and the weekly price changes for SPY that had taken place over the past 100 weeks.  Here are the results:

This table groups the weekly price changes in dollars into 19 groups and multiplies the number of occurrences in each group by the loss or gain that would have occurred with that price change according to the risk profile graph displayed with the thinkorswim software.  I reduced the indicated gain or loss by $50 each week to account for commission costs and transaction costs (we typically buy back out-of-the-money expiring calls for $3 or so, or pay a small premium when rolling over in-the-money calls).  Of course, VIX was relatively high on this date (about 22), so the gains might be less if VIX were appreciably lower.

In 76% of the weeks, a gain would have been made and in 24% of the weeks, a loss would have resulted. In the gaining weeks, the average gain was $284 and the in the losing weeks, the average loss was $445.   On an average of once a year (1 week out of each 50), a greater-than-15% loss would have occurred if no adjustments were made.

The bottom line is most encouraging.  It says that the portfolio would earn 100% over two years if those positions were in place and no adjustments were made during the week.  In order to carry out a strategy of making no adjustments, however, we would have to be willing to tolerate a weekly loss of about $1400 once every year.  

Since about two weeks a year, very large weekly losses might occur (averaging about $1000), it seems best to slightly alter our goal of never having a losing month.  When we encounter one of these weeks, the other 3 weeks of the month might not always do well enough to cover that large a loss.  Our new goal will to never have a losing month as long as the stock does not fluctuate more than $7 in one week during the month.  The more important 3%-a-month goal will continue to be in place. 

The first month for the portfolio (up 5.1%) is certainly an encouraging start, especially with the volatility that we experienced during that time period.

Making 36%

Making 36% — A Duffer's Guide to Breaking Par in the Market Every Year in Good Years and Bad

This book may not improve your golf game, but it might change your financial situation so that you will have more time for the greens and fairways (and sometimes the woods).

Learn why Dr. Allen believes that the 10K Strategy is less risky than owning stocks or mutual funds, and why it is especially appropriate for your IRA.

Order Now

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