from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

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

Long-Term Options Strategies For Companies You Like

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

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

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

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

Face Book Chart July 2015

Face Book Chart July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

A subscriber wrote in and asked what he should do if he thought the market would be 6% lower by the end of September.  I thought about his question a little bit, and decided to share my thoughts with you, just in case you have similar feelings at some time along the way.Terry

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

We will use the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as a proxy for the market.  As I write this, SPY is trading just below $210.  If it were to fall by 6% by the end of September (3 months from now), it would be trading about $197 at that time.  The prices for the possible investments listed below are slightly more costly than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the options or the option spreads, and include the commission cost (calculated at $1.25 per contract, the price that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim).

#1.  Buy an at-the-money put.  One of the most common option purchases is the outright buy of a put option if you feel strongly that the market is crashing.  Today, with SPY trading at $210, a September 2015 put option at the 210 strike would cost you $550.  If SPY is trading at $197 (as the subscriber believed it would be at the end of September), your put would be worth $1300.  You would make a profit of $750, or 136% on your investment.

Buying a put involves an extremely high degree of risk, however. The stock must fall by $5 ½ (about 2.6%) before you make a nickel of profit.  If the market remains flat or goes higher by any amount, you would lose 100% of your investment.  Studies have shown that about 80% of all options eventually expire worthless, so by historical measures, there is a very high likelihood that you will lose everything.  That doesn’t sound like much of a good investment idea to me, even if you feel strongly about the market’s direction.  It is so easy to get it wrong (I know from frequent personal experience).

If you were to buy an out-of-the-money put (i.e., the strike price is below the stock price), the outlook is even worse.  A Sept-15 205 put would cost about $400 to buy.  While that is less than the $550 you would have to shell out for the at-the-money 210 put, the market still has to fall by a considerable amount, $9 (4.3%) before you make a nickel.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t even consider it.

#2.  Buy an in-the-money put.  You might consider buying a put which has a higher strike than the stock price.  While it will cost more (increasing your potential loss if the market goes up), the stock does not need to fall nearly as far before you get into a profit zone.  A Sept-15 215 put would cost you $800, and the stock would only have to fall by $3 (1.4%) before you could start counting some gains.  If the market remains flat, your loss would be $300 (38%).

If the stock does manage to fall to $197, your 215 put would be worth $1800 at expiration, and your gain would be $1000, or 125% on your investment.  In my opinion, buying an in-the-money put is not a good investment idea, either, although it is probably better than buying an at-the-money put, and should only be considered if you are strongly convinced that the stock is headed significantly lower.

#3.  Buy a vertical put spread.  The most popular directional option spread choice is probably a vertical spread.  If you believe the market is headed lower, you buy a put and at the same time, sell a lower-strike put as part of a spread.  You only have to come up with the difference between the cost of the put you buy and what you receive from selling a lower-strike put to someone else.  In our SPY example, you might buy a Sept-15 210 put and sell a Sept-15 200 put.  You would have to pay $300 for this spread.  The stock would only have to fall by $3 before you started collecting a profit.  If it closed at any price below $200, your spread would have an intrinsic value of $1000 and you would make a profit of $700 (230% on your investment), less commissions.

With this spread, however, if the stock remains flat or rises by any amount, you would lose your entire $300 investment.  That is a big cost for being wrong.  But if you believe that the market will fall by 6%, maybe a flat or higher price isn’t in your perceived realm of possible outcomes.

Another (more conservative) vertical put spread would be to buy an in-the-money put and sell an at-the-money put. If you bought a Sept-15 220 put and sold a Sept-15 210 put, your cost would be $600.  If the stock closed at any price below $210, your spread would be worth $1000 and your gain ($400) would work out to be about 64% after commissions. The neat thing about this spread is that if the stock remained flat at $210, you would still gain the 64%.  If there is an equal chance that a stock will go up, go down, or stay flat, you would have two out of the three possible outcomes covered.

You also might think about compromising between the above two vertical put spreads and buy a Sept-15 215 put and sell a Sept-15 205 put.  It would cost you about $420.  Your maximum gain, if the stock ended up at any price below $205, would be $580, or about 135% on your investment.  If the stock remains flat at $210, your spread would be worth $500 at expiration, and you would make a small gain over your cost of $420.  You would only lose money if the stock were to rise by more than $.80 over the time period.

#4.  Sell a call credit vertical spread.  People with a limited understanding of options (which includes a huge majority of American investors) don’t even think about calls when they believe that the market is headed lower.  However, you can gain all the advantages of the above put vertical spreads, and more, by trading calls instead of puts if you want to gain when the market falls.  When I want to make a directional bet on a lower market, I always use calls rather than puts.

If you would like to replicate the risk-reward numbers of the above compromise vertical put spread, you would buy a Sept-15 215 call and sell a Sept-15 205 call. The higher-strike call that you are buying is much cheaper than the lower-strike call you are selling.  You could collect $600 for the spread.  The broker would place a $1000 maintenance agreement (no interest charge) on your account (this represents the maximum possible loss on the spread if you had not received any credit when placing it, but in our case, you collected $600 so the maximum possible loss is $400 – that is how much you will have to have in your account to sell this spread).  Usually, buying a vertical put spread or selling the same strikes with a credit call vertical spread cost about the same – in this case, the call spread happened to be a better price (an investment of $400 rather than $420).

There are two advantages to selling the call credit spread rather than buying the vertical put spread.  First, if you are successful and the stock ends up below $205 as you expect, both the long and short calls will expire worthless.  There will be no commission to pay on closing out the positions. You don’t have to do anything other than wait a day for the maintenance requirement to disappear and you get to keep the cash you collected when you sold the spread at the outset.

Second, when you try to sell the vertical put spread for $10 (the intrinsic value if the stock is $205 or lower), you will not be able to get the entire $10 because of the bid-ask price situation.  The best you could expect to get is about $9.95 ($995) as a limit order.  You could do nothing and let the broker close it out for you – in that case you would get exactly $1000, but most brokers charge a $35 or higher fee for an automatic closing spread transaction.  It is usually better to accept the $995 and pay the commission (although it is better to use calls and avoid the commissions altogether).

#5.  Buy a calendar spread.  My favorite spreads are calendar spreads so I feel compelled to include them as one of the possibilities. If you think the market is headed lower, all you need to do is buy a calendar spread at a strike price where you think the stock will end up when the short options expire. In our example, the subscriber believed that the stock would fall to $197 when the September options expired.  He could buy an Oct-15 – Sept-15 197 calendar spread (the risk-reward is identical whether you use puts or calls, but I prefer to use calls if you think the market is headed lower because you are closing out an out-of-the-money option which usually has a lower bid-ask range).  The cost of this spread would be about $60.  Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain from the spread at the various possible stock prices:

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

You can see that if you are exactly right and the stock ends up at $197, your gain would be about $320, or over 500% on your investment (by the way, I don’t expect the stock will fall this low, but I just went into the market to see if I could get the spread for $60 or better, and my order executed at $57).

What I like about the calendar spread is that the break-even range is a whopping $20.  You can be wrong about your price estimate by almost $10 in either direction and you would make a profit with the spread.  The closer you can guess to where the stock will end up, the greater your potential gain.  Now that I have actually bought a calendar spread at the 197 strike, I will buy another calendar spread at a higher strike so that I have more upside protection (and be more in line with my thinking as to the likely stock price come September).

There are indeed an infinite number of option investments you could make if you have a feeling for which way the market is headed.  We have listed 5 of the more popular strategies if someone believes the market is headed lower.  In future newsletters we will discuss more complicated alternatives such as butterfly spreads and iron condors.

Why Option Prices are Often Different

Monday, June 1st, 2015

This week I would like to discuss why stock option prices are low in some weeks and high in others, and how option spread prices also differ over time.  If you ever decide to become an active option investor, you should understand those kinds of important details.Terry

Why Option Prices are Often Different

The wild card in option prices is implied volatility (IV).  When IV is high, option prices are higher than they are when IV is lower.  IV is determined by the market’s assessment of how volatile the market will be at certain times.  A few generalizations can be made:

1. Volatility (and option prices) are usually lower in short trading weeks.  When there is a holiday and only four trading days, IV tends to be lower.  This means that holiday weeks are not good ones to write calls against your stock.  It is also a poor time to buy calendar spreads.  Better to write the calls or buy the calendar spread in the week before a holiday week.

2. Volatility is higher in the week when employment numbers are published on Friday.  This is almost always the first week of the calendar month.  The market often moves more than usual on the days when those numbers are published, and option prices in general tend to be higher in those weeks.  These would be good weeks to sell calls against your stock or buy calendar spreads.

3. IV rises substantially leading up to a company’s earnings announcement.  This is the best of all times to write calls against stock you own.  Actual volatility might be great as well, so there is some danger in buying the stock during that time.

4. Calendar spreads (our favorite) are less expensive if you buy spreads in further-out months rather than shorter terms.  For example, if you were to buy an at-the-money SPY calendar spread, buying an August-July spread would cost $1.44, but a September–August spread would cost only $.90.  If you were to buy the longer-out month spread and waited a month, you might be able close out the spread for a 50% gain if the price is about the same after 30 days.

Today we created a new portfolio employing further-out calendar spreads at Terry’s Tips.  We used the underlying SVXY which (because of contango) can usually be counted on to move higher (it has averaged about a 45% gain every year historically, just as its inverse, VXX, has fallen by that much).  We added a bullish diagonal call spread to several calendars (buying December and selling September) to create the following risk profile graph:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

We will have to wait 109 days for the September short options to expire, and hopefully, we will not have to make any more trades before then. This portfolio was set up with $4000, and we have set aside almost $400 to make an adjusting trade in case the stock makes a huge move in either direction.

The neat thing about this portfolio is that there is a very large break-even range.  The stock can fall about $15 before we lose on the downside, or it can go almost $30 higher before we lose on the upside.  With the extra cash we have, these break-even numbers can be expanded quite easily by another $10 or so in either direction, if necessary.

It would be impossible to set up a risk profile graph with such a large break-even range if we selected shorter-term calendar spreads instead of going way out to the December-September months.  Now we will just have to wait a while before we collect what looks like a 25% gain over quite a large range of possible stock prices.

How to Make 80% a Year With Long-Term Option Bets

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

One of my favorite options plays is a long-term bet that a particular stock will be equal to or higher than it is today at some future date.  Right now might be a perfect time to make that kind of a bet with one of my favorite stocks, Apple (AAPL).Each January, I pick several stocks I feel really positive about and buy a spread that will make an extraordinary gain if the stock is flat or any higher when the options expire one year out.  Today I would like to tell you about one of these spreads we placed in one of the Terry’s Tips portfolios we carry out, and how you can place a similar spread right now.  If AAPL is only slightly higher than it is today a year from now, you would make 100% on your investment.

Terry

How to Make 80% a Year With Long-Term Option Bets

I totally understand that it may seem preposterous to think that over the long run, 80% a year is a possible expectation to have for a stock market investment.  But if the AAPL fluctuates in the future as it has in the past, it will absolutely come about. It can be done with a simple option spread that can be placed right now, and you don’t have to do anything else but wait out a year. If the stock is any higher at the end of the year, the options expire worthless and you don’t even have to close out the spread.  You just get to keep the money you got at the beginning.

Let’s check out the 10-year chart for Apple:

10 Year Apple Chart May 2015

10 Year Apple Chart May 2015

In 9 of the last 10 years, AAPL has been higher at the end of the calendar year than it was at the beginning.  Only in the market-meltdown of 2008-2009 was the stock at a lower price at the end of the year than it was at the beginning.

In January of this year, in one of our Terry’s Tips portfolios, we placed the following trade when AAPL was trading at $112.  We felt confident that the stock would be at least a little higher a year from then.  The precise date would be January 15, 2016, the third Friday of the month when monthly options expire.  This is the trade we made:

Buy To Open 7 AAPL Jan-16 105 puts (AAPL160115P105)
Sell To Open 7 AAPL Jan-16 115 puts (AAPL160115P115) for a credit of $5.25 (selling a vertical)

For each spread, we collected $525 less $2.50 in commissions, or $522.50.  For 7 spreads, we collected $3657.50 after commissions.  The amount at risk per spread was $1000 – $522.50, or $477.50.  For all 7, that worked out to $3342.50.

The proceeds from selling the spread, $3657.50, was placed in our account when the sale was made.  The broker placed a maintenance requirement on us for $7000 (the maximum we could lose if the stock ended up below $105 at expiration.  Our actual risk if this happened would be $7000 less the $3657.50 we received, or $3342.50.  If AAPL ends up at any price above $115 on January 15, 2016, both options will expire worthless and we will make a gain of 109% on our investment.

Since we placed that spread, AAPL has moved up nicely, and it is now at $132.  If you did not want to wait another six months to collect the 109%, you could buy back the spread today for $2.67 ($269.50 per spread after commissions).  Buying back all 7 spreads would cost $1886.50, resulting in a profit of $1771.  This works out to be a 53% gain for the 4 months.  We are waiting it out rather than taking a gain right now, knowing that 109% will come our way even if the stock falls about $17 from here.

AAPL might not be headed to $240 as Carl Ichan (net worth, $23 billion) believes it is, but it seems likely that it might be higher a year from now than it is today.  Options for June, 2016 have just become available for trading.  As I write this today, AAPL is trading at $132.  If you were willing to bet that over the next 12 months, the stock might edge up by $3 or more, you could sell the following spread (in my personal account, I made this exact trade today):

Buy To Open (pick a number) AAPL Jun-16 125 puts (AAPL160617P125)
Sell To Open ((pick a number) AAPL Jun-16 135 puts (AAPL160617P135) for a credit of $5.10  (selling a vertical)

Each contract will cost you about $500 to place, after commissions. This spread will make a 100% profit after commissions if AAPL ends up at any price above $135 on June 17, 2016.

You might wonder why the title of this blog mentioned 80% as a long-term annual gain possibility.  If AAPL behaves in the next 10 years as it has in the last 10 years, and makes a gain in 9 of those years, over the course of a decade, you would gain 100% in 9 years and lose 100% (although the actual loss might be less) in one year, for an average gain of 80% a year.

For sure, you would not want to place all, or even a large part, of your investment portfolio in long-term spreads like this.  But it seems to me that a small amount, something that you can afford to lose, is something that you might consider, if only for the fun of doubling your money in a single year.

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

This week I came to the conclusion that the market may be in for some trouble over the next few months (or longer).  I am not expecting a crash of any sort, but I think it is highly unlikely that we will see a large upward move anytime soon.

Today, I would like to share my thinking on the market’s direction, and talk a little about how you can use calendar spreads to benefit when the market (for most stocks) doesn’t do much of anything (or goes down moderately).

Terry

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

For several reasons, the bull market we have enjoyed for the last few years seems to be petering out.  First, as Janet Yellen and Robert Shiller, and others, have recently pointed out, the S&P 500 average has a higher P/E, 20.7 now, compared to 19.5 a year ago, or compared to the 16.3 very-long-term average.  An elevated P/E can be expected in a world of zero interest rates, but we all know that world will soon change.  The question is not “if” rates will rise, but “when.”

Second, market tops and bottoms are usually marked by triple-digit moves in the averages, one day up and the next day down, exactly the pattern we have seen for the past few weeks.

Third, it is May.  “Sell in May” is almost a hackneyed mantra by now (and not always the right thing to do), but the advice is soundly supported by the historical patterns.

The market might not tank in the near future, but it seems to me that a big increase is unlikely during this period when we are waiting for the Fed to act.

At Terry’s Tips, we most always create positions that do best if the market is flat or rises moderately.  Based on the above thoughts, we plan to take a different tack for a while.  We will continue to do well if it remains flat, but we will do better with a moderate drop than we would a moderate rise.

As much as you would like to try, it is impossible to create option positions that make gains no matter what the underlying stock does.  The options market is too efficient for such a dream to be possible.  But you can stack the odds dramatically in your favor.

If you want to protect against a down market using calendar spreads, all you have to do is buy spreads which have a lower strike price than the underlying stock.  When the short-term options you have sold expire, the maximum gain comes when the stock is very close to the strike price.  If that strike price is lower than the current price of the stock, that big gain comes after the stock has fallen to that strike price.

If you bought a calendar spread at the market (strike price same as the stock price), you would do best if the underlying stock or ETF remained absolutely flat.  You can reduce your risk a bit by buying another spread or two at different strikes.  That gives you more than one spot where the big gain comes.

At Terry’s Tips, now that we believe the market is more likely to head lower than it is to rise in the near future, we will own at-the-money calendar spreads, and others which are at lower strike prices.  It is possible to create a selection of spreads which will make a gain if the market is flat, rises just a little bit, or falls by more than a little bit, but not a huge amount.  Fortunately, there is software that lets you see in advance the gains or losses that will come at various stock prices with the calendar spreads you select (it’s free at thinkorswim and available at other brokers as well, although I have never seen anything as good as thinkorswim offers).

Owning a well-constructed array of stock option positions, especially calendar spreads, allows you to take profits even when the underlying stock doesn’t move higher.  Just select some spreads which are at strikes below the current stock price.  (It doesn’t matter if you use puts or calls, as counter-intuitive as that seems – with calendar spreads, it is the strike price, not whether you use puts or calls, that determines your gains or losses.)

Check Out a Long-Term Bet on FaceBook (FB)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

In the family charitable trust I set up many years ago, I trade options to maximize the amounts I can give away each year.  In this portfolio, I prefer not to actively trade short-term options, but each year, I make selected bets on companies I feel good about and I expect they won’t tank in price over the long run.  Last week, I made such a bet on FaceBook (FB) that I would like to tell you about today.  The spread will make over 40% in the next 8 months even if the stock were to fall $5 over that time.Terry

Check Out a Long-Term Bet on FaceBook (FB)

When most people think about trading options, they are thinking short-term.  If they are buying calls in hopes that the stock will skyrocket, they usually by the cheapest call they can find.  These are the ones which return the greatest percentage gain if you are right and the stock manages to make a big upward move.  The cheapest calls are the shortest term ones, maybe with only a week of remaining life.  Of course, about 80% of the time, these options expire worthless and you lose your entire bet, but hopes of a windfall gain keep people playing the short-term option-buying game.

Other people (including me) prefer to sell these short-term options, using longer-term options as collateral.  Instead of buying stock and writing calls against it, longer-term options require far less capital and allow for a potentially higher return on investment if the stock stays flat or moves higher.  This kind of trading requires short-term thinking, and action, as well.  When the short-term options expire, they must be replaced by further-out short options, and if they are in the money, they must be bought back before they expire, allowing you to sell new ones in their place.

Most of the strategies we advocate at Terry’s Tips involve this kind of short-term thinking (and adjusting each week or month when options expire).  For this reason, many subscribers sign up for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim (it’s free) and have trades executed automatically for them, following one or more of our 10 actual portfolios.

Some portfolios make longer-term bets, and since they do not require active trading, they are not offered through Auto-Trade.  With these bets, you place the trade once and then just wait for time to expire.  If you are right, and the stock falls a little, stays flat, or goes up by any amount, the options you started with all expire worthless, and you end up with a nice gain without making a single extra trade.

In one of our Terry’s Tips demonstration portfolios, in January of this year, we placed long-term bets that AAPL, SPY, and GOOG would move higher during 2015, and when the January 2016 options expired, we would make a nice gain.  In fact, we knew precisely that we would make 91% on our investment for that one-year period.  At this point in time, all three of these stocks have done well and are ahead of where they need to be for us to make our 91% gain for the year.  We could close out these positions right now and take a 44% gain for the 3 months we have owned these options.  Many subscribers have done just that.

Let’s look at FaceBook and the long-term trade I just made in it.  I like the company (even though I don’t use their product).  They seem to have figured out how to monetize the extraordinary traffic they enjoy.  I looked at the chart for their 3 years of existence:

FaceBook FB Chart 2015

FaceBook FB Chart 2015

Note that while there have been times when the stock tanked temporarily, if you look at any eight-month period, there was never a stretch when it was lower at the end of 8 months than at the beginning.  Making a bet on the longer-term trend is often a much safer bet, especially when you pick a company you feel good about.

With the stock trading about $80, in my charitable trust, I made a bet that in 8 months, it would be trading at some price which was $75 or higher on the third Friday of December, 2015.  I make most of my donations in December, so like to be in cash at that time.

This is the trade I placed:

Buy to open FB Dec-15 70 puts (FB151219P70)
Sell to open FB Dec-15 75 puts (FB151219P75) for a credit of $1.52  (selling a vertical)

For every contract I sold, I collected $152 which immediately went into my account.  The puts I sold were at a higher strike than the puts I bought, so they commanded a higher price.  The broker placed a maintenance requirement on me of $5 ($500 per contract) which would be reduced by the $152 I collected.  This left me with a net investment of $348.  This would be my maximum loss if FB ended up below $70 on December 19, 2015.

A maintenance requirement is not like a margin loan.  No interest is charged.  It just means that I must leave $348 in cash in the account until the puts expire (or I close out the positions).  I can’t use this money to buy other options or stock.

If the stock ended up at $74 in December, I would have to buy back the 75 put I had sold for $1.  This would reduce my profit to $52 (less commissions of $3.75 – 3 commissions of $1.25  on the initial trades as well as the closing one).

If the stock ends up at any price above $75 (which I feel confident that it will), all my puts will expire worthless, the $348 maintenance requirement will disappear, and I get to keep the $152 (less $2.50 commission).  That works out to a 43% gain for the 8 months.

Where else can you find a return like this when the stock can fall by $5 and you still make the gain?  It is a bet that I don’t expect to lose any sleep over.

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

One of the great mysteries in the investment world (at least to me, an admitted options nut) is why anyone would buy stock in a company they really like when they could dramatically increase their expected returns with a simple stock options strategy instead.  Of course, buying options is a little more complicated and takes a little extra work, but if you could make two or three times (or more) on your investment, wouldn’t that little extra effort be more than worth it?  Apparently not, since most people take the lazy way out and just buy the stock.Today I will try to persuade you to give stock options a try.  I will show you exactly what I am doing in one of my Terry’s Tips portfolios while trading one of my favorite stocks.

Terry

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

I like just about everything about Costco.  I like to shop there.  I buy wine by the case, paying far less than my local wine store (I am not alone – Costco is the largest retailer of wine in the world, selling several billions of dollars’ worth every year).  I like Costco because they treat their employees well, paying them about double what Walmart pays its people.  I like shopping at Costco because I know I am never paying more than I should for anything I buy.  It seems to me that the other customers like it, too.  Everyone seems to be happy while roaming the aisles and enjoying the free samples they offer (I have a skinflint friend who shops at Costco once a week just for the samples – they are his lunch that day).

But most of all, I like the stock (COST).  It has been very nice to me over the years, and I have consistently made a far greater return using options than I would have if I had just gone out and bought the stock.

I recently set up an actual brokerage account to trade COST options for the educational benefit of Terry’s Tips paying subscribers.  I put $5000 in the account.  Today, it is worth $6800.  I started out buying calendar spreads, some at at-the-money strike prices and others at higher strike prices (using calls).  I currently own October 2015 calls at the 145 and 150 strike prices (the stock is trading about $146.50), and I am short (having sold to someone else) May-15 calls at the 145, 147, and 150 strike prices.  These calls will expire in 23 days, on May 15, 2015.  (Technically, the 147 calls I am short are with a diagonal spread rather than a calendar spread because the long side is at the 145 strike.  With calendar spreads, the long and short sides are at the same strike price.)

Here is the risk profile graph for my positions.  It shows how much money I will make (or lose) at the various possible prices where COST might be on May 15th when the short options expire:

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

In the lower right-hand corner, the P/L Day number shows the expected gain or loss if the stock stays flat ($148.54), or is $3 higher, or lower, than the current price.  If the stock stays absolutely flat, I should make about $976, or about 14% on the $6800 I have invested.

I could have bought 46 shares of the stock with $6800 instead of owning these options.   If the stock doesn’t go up any in the next 23 days, I would not gain a penny.  But the options will make a profit of about $976.

If the stock falls $2 by May 15, I would lose $92 with my stock investment, and my options would make a gain of $19. I am still better off owning the options.  Only if the stock falls more than $2 ½ dollars over those three weeks would I be worse off with the options positions.  But I like this stock.  I think it is headed higher.  That’s why I bought COST in the first place.

If I am right, and the stock goes up by $3, I would make $138 if I owned 46 shares of the stock, or I would make $1,700 with my options positions.  That’s more than 10 times as much as I would make by owning the stock.

Can you understand why I am confused why anyone would buy stock rather than trading the options when they find a stock they really like?  It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Of course, when the options I have sold are set to expire in 23 days, I need to do something.  I will need to buy back the options that are in the money (at a strike which is lower than the stock price), and sell new options (collecting even more money) in a further-out month, presumably June.  The lazy guys who just bought the stock instead of owning stock are lucky in this regard – they don’t have to do anything.  But if the stock had stayed flat or risen moderately over those three weeks, I know that I am way ahead of the stock-owners every time.

While stock owners sit around and do nothing, my job on May 15 will be to roll over the short calls to the next month (and use the cash that is generated to buy new spreads to increase future returns even more).  I show my subscribers exactly what and how to make those trades each month (in both the COST portfolio and 9 other portfolios which use different underlying stocks).  Hopefully, eventually, they won’t need me any longer, but they will have discovered how to use stock options to dramatically increase their investment returns on their own.

$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

This week I would like to share an option spread idea which will cost you only $20 to try (plus commission).  Of course, it you like the idea, you could buy a hundred or more of them like I did, or you could just get your options toe wet at a cost of a decent lunch (skip lunch and take a walk instead – it could improve both your physical and financial health).

The bet requires you to take a stab at what the price of oil might do in the next few weeks.  Your odds of winning are surely better than placing a bet on a fantasy baseball team, and it could be as much fun.  Read on.

Terry

$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

I continue to investigate investment opportunities in USO, both because there is a large Implied Volatility (IV) advantage to calendar spreads (i.e., longer-term options that you buy are “cheaper” than the shorter-term options that you are selling) and because of the ongoing discussion about which way oil prices are headed (with several investment banks (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Citi) telling their clients that oil is headed far lower), and on the other side, other analysts are saying oil is headed higher and hedge funds are covering their shorts.  The Iran nuclear deal, if successful and sanctions are lifted, could lower oil prices by $15 according to industry experts, and every rumor concerning how negotiations are going moves USO in one direction or the other.

Right now, the price of oil is about $59 a barrel (and West Texas Crude is about $5 less).  The price of USO moves roughly in tandem with this price, changing about $1 for every $2 in the change in the barrel price of oil.

We should know something about the Iran deal by the end of June, but its impact on oil prices is likely to occur later (it seems like sanctions will be gradually reduced over time).  The current price of USO has been edging higher in spite of unprecedented supplies, and the possibility of Iran flooding the market even more.   My best guess is that USO might be trading around $20 in June compared to its current $18.80.

That is just my guess.  You may have an entirely different idea of where the price of oil might be headed.  When trading calendar spreads, you want to select a strike price where you believe the stock will be trading when the short options expire.  If you are lucky to be near that strike, those options you sold to someone else will expire worthless (or nearly so) and there will be more time premium in the long options you hold that exists for any other option in that time series.

Yesterday, I bought USO Jul-15 – Jun-15 20 calendar spreads (using calls) and paid only $.20 ($20) per spread. If I am lucky enough for USO to be right at $20 when the June options expire, the July calls should be trading about $.80 and I would make about 3 ½ times on my money after commissions.  If I missed by a dollar (i.e., USO is at $19 or $21), I should double my money.  If I missed by $2 in either direction, I would about break even. More than $2 away from $20, I will probably lose money, but my initial cost was only $20, so how bad can it be?

It seems like a low-cost play that might be fun.  I also bought these same spreads at the 19 strike (paying $.21) to hedge my bet a bit.  If I triple my money on either of the bets, I will be an overall winner.  You may want to bet on lower oil prices in June and buy spreads at a lower strike.

Another way to play this would be to exit early as long as a profit can be assured.  If at any time after a month from now, if USO is trading about where it is now, the calendar spread could be sold for about $.30 or more (a Jun-15 – May-20 calendar could be sold for a natural $.32 today).  If USO were trading nearer to $20, that spread could be sold for $.37 (which would result in a 40% profit after commissions on the spread that I am suggesting).

With a spread costing as little as this, commissions become important.  Terry’s Tips paying subscribers pay $1.25 per option at thinkorswim, even if only one option is bought or sold.  A calendar spread (one long option, one short one) results in a $2.50 per spread commission charge.  This means that you will incur a total commission of $5 on a spread cost of $20 counting both putting it on and closing it out (unless the short options expire worthless and you don’t have to buy them back – if this happens, your total commission cost would be $3.75 per spread).

Update on Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

About a month ago I sent out a strategy we were using to capitalize on the price of oil falling further (as many analysts, including those at Goldman, Citi, and Barclays, were predicting).  We set up a small demonstration portfolio which had $2910 to start, and bought calendar spreads at the 18, 17, and 16 strikes when USO was trading at $18.45.When the price of oil did retreat further, USO fell to about $17, and we sold our calendar spreads at the 17 and 18 strikes and replaced them with calendar spreads at the 15 and 14 strikes.  Since the strike prices of calendar spreads is what determines whether you are bullish or bearish on the stock, when we had all our calendar spreads at strikes below the stock price, we were extremely bearish.

Then the stock turned around and headed higher, taking away the gains we had made, and we were right back to where we started.  Today we made a new start, and I would like to share our thinking at this time.

Terry

Update on Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

USO is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) which is highly correlated to the price of oil (West Texas Intermediate). But there is another component that is not as easy to contend with, and that is the speculative element.  Oil prices are less than half of what they were a year ago, and in spite of most of the big investment banks warning that even lower prices are coming, there seems to be some people out there who are betting that oil prices will eventually recover, and this may be a good time to get on board.  For example, Robert Shiller, Nobel laureate and Yale University economist  made a strong pitch to “buy oil” this week.  Consequently, over the past few days, USO has inched up a bit in spite of these recent developments:

• The supply of oil is at an 80-year high, and grew at more than 4 million barrels last week in spite of expectations far less than that.
• The rate of oil rigs closing down has fallen drastically (and it appears that the rigs that have been closed down so far were the lowest-producing ones so the supply of oil gets higher each week)
• There appears to be an accord with Iran which could flood the market with new oil from Iran if sanctions are removed.

We are siding with the investment banks’ predictions instead of Mr. Shiller’s (who is likely to be thinking longer-term). While we believe the short-term price of USO is headed lower (for the above reasons and the headwinds caused by contango), we hedged our bet a little, and established new positions in our demonstration portfolio.  We own puts expiring in Jan-16 and we have sold Apr-4 15 puts which expire in 3 weeks (on April 24th).  We have 8 calendar spreads at the 15 strike, 8 at the 16 strike, and 5 at the 17 strike at a time when the stock is trading at $17.45.  Our portfolio is worth $2910 today.

This is the risk profile graph for these calendar spread positions for April 24th:

USO Risk Profile Graph April 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph April 2015

The graph shows that if USO doesn’t change one cent in value for the next three weeks, we will make about 20% with our positions.  If it falls by about a dollar (or more) as we expect, we could make double that amount.  If we are wrong, and it goes higher by a dollar in three weeks, we will break even.

We like our chances with these positions, and they demonstrate how you can make extraordinary gains with options, even if you are not quite right in guessing which way a stock price is headed.  I always like the feeling that if the stock doesn’t change at all (which is so often the case), I will still make a nice gain when the short options expire.

Trading Options Can be a Lifetime Learning Experience

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Last week was a good one for the market.  SPY rose 2.2%, a wonderful week.  The actual options portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips had a stellar week as well.  Nine of our ten portfolios gained at least 5%, and 3 of them gained over 33% in a single week.

Nike (NKE) announced blow-out earnings and the stock rose 6.4%.  Our portfolio that trades NKE options gained 13.5%, double the increase in the stock price.  This was far less than we usually do compared to stock price changes, however.

We have proved over and over that if you can find a stock that will increase if value, you can usually make 3 or 4 or more times as much with an options strategy as you could by simply buying the stock.

Of course, buying options is not quite so simple as buying stock.  To do it right requires gaining some understanding that most people just don’t have the energy or willpower to learn.

Terry

Trading Options Can be a Lifetime Learning Experience

If the truth be known, investing in stocks is pretty much like playing checkers.  Any 12-year-old can do it.  You really don’t need much experience or understanding.  If you can read, you can buy stock (and probably do just about as well as anyone else because it’s basically a roulette wheel choice).  Most people reject that idea, of course.  Like the residents of Lake Wobegone, stock buyers believe that they are all above average – they can reliably pick the right ones just about every time.

Trading options is harder, and many people recognize that they probably aren’t above average in that arena.  Buying and selling options is more like playing chess.  It can be (and is, for anyone who is serious about it) a life-time learning experience.

You don’t see columns in the newspaper about interesting checker strategies, but you see a ton of pundits telling you why you should buy particular stocks.  People with little understanding or experience buy stocks every day, and most of their transactions involve buying from professionals with far more resources and brains. Most stock buyers never figure out that when they make their purchase, about 90% of the time, they are buying from professionals who are selling the stock to them rather than buying it at that price.

Option investing takes study and understanding and discipline that the purchase of stock does not require.  Every investor must decide for himself or herself if they are willing to make the time and study commitment necessary to be successful in option trading.  Most people are too lazy.

It is a whole lot easier to play a decent game of checkers than it is to play a decent game of chess.  But for some of us, options investing is a whole lot more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding.  For example, Costco (COST) has had a good year so far, rising from $141.75 to Friday’s close at $152.59, a gain of 7.6%.  The Terry’s Tips  option portfolio that trades COST options (calendar and diagonal spreads) gained 40.4% over this same period, over 5 times as much.  With actual results like this, why wouldn’t any reasonable adult with enough cash to buy stock want to learn how to multiply his or her earnings by learning a little about the wonderful world of options?

Playing checkers (and buying stock) is boring.  Playing chess (and trading options) is far more challenging.  And rewarding, if you do it right.

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