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Archive for the ‘Stock Option Trading Idea Of The Week’ Category

How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

Monday, November 9th, 2015

One of the best times to set up an options strategy is just before a company announces earnings.  Today I would like to share our experience doing this last month with Facebook (FB) last month.  I hope you will read all the way through – there is some important information there.If you missed them, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads , and  How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.


How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

When a company reports results each quarter, the stock price often fluctuates far more than usual, depending on how well the company performs compared both to past performance and to the market’s collective level of expectations.  Anticipating a big move one way or another, just prior to the announcement, option prices skyrocket, both puts and calls.

At Terry’s Tips, our basic strategy involves selling short-term options to others (using longer-term options as collateral for making those sales).  One of the absolute best times for us is the period just before an upcoming earnings announcement. That is when we can collect the most premium.

An at-the-money call (stock price and strike price are the same) for a call with a month of remaining life onFacebook (FB) trades for about $3 ($300 per call).  If that call expires shortly after an earnings announcement, it will trade for about $4.80.  That is a significant difference. In options parlance, option prices are “high” or “low” depending on their implied volatility (IV).  IV is much higher for all options series in the weeks before the announcement.  IV is at its absolute highest in the series that expires just after the announcement.  Usually that is a weekly option series.

Here are IV numbers for FB at-the-money calls before and after the November 4th earnings announcement:

One week option life before, IV = 57  One week option life after, IV = 25
Two week option life before, IV = 47  Two week option life after, IV = 26
One month option life before, IV =38  One month option life after, IV = 26
Four month option life before, IV = 35  Four month option life after, IV = 31

These numbers clearly show that when you are buying a 4-month-out call (March, IV=35) and selling a one-week out call (IV=57), before an announcement, you are buying less expensive options (lower IV) than those which you are selling. After the announcement, this gets reversed.  The short-term options you are selling are relatively less expensive than the ones you are buying.  Bottom line, before the announcement, you are buying low and selling high, and after the announcement, you are buying high and selling low.

You can make a lot of money buying a series of longer-term call options and selling short-term calls at several strike prices in the series that expires shortly after the announcement.  If the long and short sides of your spread are at the same strike price, you call it a calendar spread, and if the strikes are at different prices, it is called a diagonal spread.

Calendar and diagonal spreads essentially work the same, with the important point being the strike price of the short option that you have sold.  The maximum gain for your spread will come if the stock price ends up exactly at that strike price when the option expires.  If you can correctly guess the price of the stock after the announcement, you can make a ton of money.

But as we all know, guessing the short-term price of a stock is a really tough thing to do, especially when you are trying to guess where it might end up shortly after the announcement.  You never know how well the company has done, or more importantly, how the market will react to how the company has performed.  For that reason, we recommend selecting selling short-term options at several different strike prices.  This increases your chances of having one short strike which gains you the maximum amount possible.

Here are the positions held in our actual FB portfolio at Terry’s Tips on Friday, October 30th, one week before the Nov-1 15 calls would expire just after FB announced earnings on November 4th:

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

We owned calls which expired in March 2016 at 3 different strikes (97.5, 100, and 105) and we were short calls with one week of remaining life at 4 different strikes (103, 105, 106, and 107). There was one calendar spread at the 105 strike and all the others were diagonal spreads.  We owned 2 more calls than we were short.  This is often part of our strategy just before announcement day.  A fairly large percent of the time, the stock moves higher in the day or two before the announcement as anticipation of a positive report kicks in.  We planned to sell another call before the announcement, hopefully getting a higher price than we would have received earlier.  (We sold a Nov1-15 204 call for $2.42 on Monday).  We were feeling pretty positive about the stock, and maintained a more bullish (higher net delta position) than we normally do.

Here is the risk profile graph for the above positions.  It shows our expected gain or loss one week later (after the announcement) when the Nov1-15 calls expired:

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

When we produced this graph, we instructed the software to assume that IV for the Mar-16 calls would fall from 35 to 30 after the announcement.  If we hadn’t done that, the graph would have displayed unrealistically high possible returns.  You can see with this assumption, a flat stock price should result in a $300 gain, and if the stock rose $2 or higher, the gain would be in the $1000 range (maybe a bit higher if the stock was up just moderately because of the additional $242 we collected from selling another call).

So what happened?  FB announced earnings that the market liked.  The stock soared from about $102 to about $109 after the announcement (but then fell back a bit on Friday, closing at $107.10).  We bought back the expiring Nov1-15 calls (all of which were in the money on Thursday or Friday) and sold further-out calls at several strike prices to get set up for the next week.   The portfolio gained $1301 in value, rising from $7046 to $8347, up 18.5% for the week.  This is just a little better than our graph predicted.  The reason for the small difference is that IV for the March calls fell only to 31, and we had estimated that it would fall to 30.

You can see why we like earnings announcement time, especially when we are right about the direction the stock moves.  In this case, we would have made a good gain no matter how high the stock might go (because we had one uncovered long call).  Most of the time, we select short strikes which yield a risk profile graph with more downside protection and limited upside potential (a huge price rise would yield a lower gain, and possibly a loss).

One week earlier, in our Starbucks (SBUX) portfolio, we had another earnings week.  SBUX had a positive earnings report, but the market was apparently disappointed with guidance and the level of sales in China, and the stock was pushed down a little after the announcement.  Our portfolio managed to gain 18% for the week.

Many people would be happy with 18% a year on their invested capital, and we have done it in a single week in which an earnings announcement took place.  We look forward to having three more such weeks when reporting season comes around once again over the course of a year, both for these two underlyings and the 4 others we also trade (COST, NKE, JNJ, and SPY).
“I have confidence in your system…I have seen it work very well…currently I have had a first 100% gain, and am now working to diversify into more portfolios.  Goldman/Sachs is also doing well – up about 40%…

First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

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

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


First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

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

First Saturday Report October Results 2015

First Saturday Report October Results 2015


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

Enjoy the full report here.

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

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

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


Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Like Calendar Spreads

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

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


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




Why I Like Calendar Spreads


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


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


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


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


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

Two 2015 Case Studies of Options Portfolios

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Case Study #1 – Costco Options Portfolio


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


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

 2015 Stock Price Of COST

2015 Stock Price Of COST







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

COST Stock vs Portfolio 2015 

COST Stock vs Portfolio 2015




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


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


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


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



Rising Tide






























































    Total Account Value




Annualized ROI at today’s net Theta:



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


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

 Rising Tide Positions Oct 2015

 Rising Tide Positions Oct 2015


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


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


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

Rising Tide Risk Profile Graph Oct 2015 

Rising Tide Risk Profile Graph Oct 2015


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


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


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


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


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


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


Case Study #2 – Starbucks (SBUX) Options Portfolio


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


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


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

 SBUX Stock vs Portfolio 2015

SBUX Stock vs Portfolio 2015




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


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


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

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

Monday, September 14th, 2015

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

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

Happy trading.


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

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

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

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

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowest Subscription Price Ever:  As a back-to-school special, we are offering the lowest subscription price than we have ever offered – our full package, including all the free reports, my White Paper, which explains my favorite option strategies in detail, and shows you exactly how to carry them out on your own, a 14-day options tutorial program which will give you a solid background on option trading, and two months of our weekly newsletter full of tradable option ideas.  All this for a one-time fee of $39.95, less than half the cost of the White Paper alone ($79.95).

For this lowest-price-ever $39.95 offer, click here, enter Special Code BTS (or BTSP for Premium Service – $79.95).

A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Market volatility continues to be high, and the one thing we know from history is that while volatility spikes are quite common, markets eventually settle down.  After enduring a certain amount of psychic pain, investors remember that that the world will probably continue to move along pretty much as it has in the past, and market fears will subside.While this temporary period of high volatility continues to exist, there are some trades to be made that promise extremely high returns in the next few months.  I would like to discuss one today, a trade I just executed in my own personal account so I know it is possible to place.


A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

As we have been discussing for several weeks, VIX, the so-called Fear Index, continues to be over 25.  This compares to the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.  When VIX eventually falls, one thing we know is that SVXY, the ETP that moves in the opposite direction as VIX, will move higher.

Because of the persistence of contango, SVXY is destined to move higher even if VIX stays flat.  Let’s check out the 5-year chart of this interesting ETP:

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

Note that while the general trend for SVXY is to the upside, every once in a while it takes a big drop.  But the big drops don’t last very long.  The stock recovers quickly once fears subside.  The recent drop is by far the largest one in the history of SVXY.

As I write this, SVXY is trading about $47, up $2 ½ for the day. I believe it is destined to move quite a bit higher, and soon.  But with the trade I made today, a 62% profit (after commissions) can be made in the next 4 months even if the stock were to fall by $7 (almost 15%) from where it is today.

This is what I did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today I would like to pass along a trade I just made.  It has a chance of making 50% if the stock stays flat or moves moderately higher over the next ten days.  I want to share it with you just in case you might like to try it yourself (with some money you could afford to lose – we’re talking about $670 here, per contract).Terry

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

The market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 yesterday, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 30 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

One of our favorite underlying equities (it’s an Exchange Traded Product, or ETP) is SVXY.  It is essentially a way to bet that you think that volatility in the market is likely to fall. When the market is quiet and VIX hangs out in the 12 – 14 range, SVXY inexorably moves higher over time because of a thing called contango (which we can’t explain fully here, but it means that volatility futures are usually higher than the current option volatilities because the future is less certain than the present).

SVXY is the opposite of VXX, an ETP which suffers from the effects of contango. VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted $3000 or so to its present level of $24 over the past 6 years, making it the dog-of-all-dog stocks.  Since SVXY is the opposite of VXX, it has gone up by about the same amount (although it has not been in existence so long).  Its average annual gain has been about 45% since it started up.

SVXY has taken a huge hit with the recent market turmoil, falling from the low $90’s to $58.  When the market settles down, as it most surely will, SVXY can be counted on to move back up to where it was a week ago.  With VIX at 30, history says it is a great time to buy.

Here is what I did today:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

If the stock is exactly where it is when I made the trades ($58.10), the graph says that I will make a gain of $412, or 61% on my investment.  If the stock moves higher by as much as $10 (anywhere in the range of $58 – $68), I should make about $600, or almost 90% in ten days.  If the stock falls by less than $5, I should still make a gain of some sort.  If it falls by more than $5, I would lose money.  In the event of a flat or lower price, the short calls would expire worthless and I would have 4 more weeks of life in the Oct1-15 calls I own.  Presumably, I would then sell new weekly calls against those positions and lower my net investment considerably (and have more time for the stock to recover).

Implied volatility (IV) of these options is excessive right now (over 100), and if the market does settle down, IV should fall.  That might mean the gains would be not as great as the graph indicates, but there should be significant gains nonetheless.

I really like my chances here.  I will report back on how it works out.

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.


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.


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.

Making 36%

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

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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