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Archive for the ‘VXX’ Category

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.

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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).

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Last week I suggested buying two calendar spreads on the inverse volatility ETP called SVXY.  At the time, it was trading at $58 and history showed it was highly likely to move higher in the short run.  It didn’t.  Instead, it has fallen to below $46 today.  Anyone who followed this trade (as I did) is facing about a 75% loss right now.

Today I would like to discuss this trade a bit more, and tell you what I am doing about it.


Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

As I said last week, the market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 last week, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 28 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.

Here is the two-year chart of VIX so you can get an idea of how unusual the current high level of volatility is:
XIV Chart September 2015

XIV Chart September 2015

Note that about 90% of the time, VIX is well below 20.  When it moves higher than that number, it is only for a short period of time.  Every excursion over 20 is quickly reversed.

There is a strong correlation between the value of VIX and the price changes in SVXY.
When VIX is low (or falling), SVXY almost always moves higher.  When VIX shoots higher (or stays higher), SVXY will fall.  Over the past month, SVXY has fallen from the low $90’s to about half of that today.  Never in the 7-year history of this ETP has it fallen by such a whopping amount.

SVXY is constructed by trading on the futures of VIX.  Each day, the ETP purchases at the spot price of VIX and sells the one-month-out futures.  Since about 90% of the time, the futures price is greater than the spot price (a condition called contango), SVXY gains slightly in value.  The average contango number is about 5%, and that is how much SVXY is expected to gain in those months.

Every once in a while (less than 10% of the time), current uneasiness is so high (like it is today), VIX is higher than the futures values.  When this occurs, it is called backwardation (as opposed to contango).  Right now, we have backwardation of about -8%.  If this continued for a month, SVXY might be expected to fall by that amount.

However, backwardation is not the dominant condition for very long.  It rarely lasts as long as a week.  It is highly likely that contango will return, VIX will fall back below 20, and SVXY will recover.

Let’s review the trades I made last week:

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 September 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

The chart shows that if the stock fell below $46 (as it has today), the spreads will lose nearly $500 of the $670 cost.  That is just about what has happened. In fact, implied volatility (IV) of the SVXY options has fallen from about 100 to about 90 which means the value of the Oct1-15 calls has also fallen a bit that the above graph indicates.  The 60 spread could be sold right now for about $1.20 and the 65 spread would get only about $.65.  That works out to a loss of about $480 on a $670 investment (about 75% after commissions).

While a 75% loss is just awful, remember that we expected to make 90% on these spreads if the stock had ended up between $60 and $67 as we expected it would (and we would presumably have rolled the Sep1-15 expiring calls to future weekly series and increased our gain to well over 100%.

Every once in a while, the market does exactly the opposite of what you expected (or what historic experience would predict). This is one of those times.  Fortunately, they occur in far less than 50% of the time.  If you made this same bet on a number of occasions, over the long run, you should make excellent gains.

This time, you either have a choice of closing out the spreads or doing nothing, just hanging on (waiting for a resurgence of SVXY and being able to sell the remaining Oct1-15 calls at a higher price).  If you do sell the spread rather than letting the short Sep1-15 calls expire worthless today, be sure to use a limit order.  Most of the time, you should be able to get a price which is just slightly below the mid-point of the quoted spread price.  Options on SVXY carry wide bid-ask ranges, but spreads are usually possible to execute near the mid-point of the quoted prices.

I plan to do nothing today.  Even if I decide to sell Sep2-15 or Sep-15 calls against my long Oct1-15 positions, I will do it later (once SVXY has moved higher, as it should when the market settles down and VIX falls back to where it usually hangs out).

The spreads I suggested making a week ago have proved to be extremely unprofitable (at least so far).  But taking losses is a necessary part of option trading.  There are often big losses, but big gains are also possible (and oftentimes, probable).


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.

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.

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Last week we outlined an options play based on the historical fluctuation pattern for our favorite ETP called SVXY.  This week we will compare those fluctuations to the market in general (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as the market definition). We proposed buying a vertical call spread for a one-month-out expiration date with the lower strike about 6% above the starting stock price.

The results were a little unbelievable, possibly gaining an average of 65% a month (assuming the fluctuation pattern continued into the future). If you used an outside indicator to determine which months were more likely to end up with a winning result, you would invest in just under half the months, but when you did invest, your average gain might be in the neighborhood of 152%.  Your average monthly gain would be approximately the same if you only invested half the time or all the time, but some people like to increase the percentage of months when they make gains (the pain of losing always seems to be worse than the pleasure of winning).

This week we will offer a second way to bet that the stock will rise by 12.5% in about 38% of the months (as it has in the past).  It involves buying a calendar spread rather than a vertical call spread (and sort of legging into a long call position as an alternative to the simple purchase of a call).


Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First. Let’s compare the monthly price fluctuations of SPY and SVXY.  You will see that they are totally different.

Here is a graph showing how much SPY has fluctuated each month over the past 38 months:

Over the 38 months of the time period, SPY rose in 28 months and fell in 10 months.  By far, the most popular monthly change was in the zero to +2.5% range.  Note that in less than 8% of the months (3 out of 38) SPY fluctuated by more than 5%, while in over 92% of the months, the fluctuation was less than 5%.

Compare the monthly fluctuations of SPY with those for SVXY over the same time period:

SVXY rose in 28 of the 38 months, exactly the same number as SPY. However, the absolute percentage price changes are far higher for SVXY.  In nearly half the months, SVXY fluctuated by more than 10% either way (18 of 38 months).  In 24 of the 38 months (63%), SVXY changed by more than 5% in either direction compared to less than 8% of the months for SPY.  In 21 of the 38 months (55%)  SVXY gained over 5%.

Bottom line, monthly fluctuations for SVXY are considerably greater than they are for SPY.  In most months, the price change for SPY is relatively insignificant and for SVXY, the price is rarely anywhere near where it started out each expiration month.

Buying Vertical Spreads:

If you were to buy a one-month vertical spread on SPY, buying the at-the-money strike price and selling at a strike $5 higher, the spread would cost about $1.65 ($165) and you could sell it for $5.00 ($500) if the stock rose about 2 1/2% or more.  However, if the historical pattern persisted, you would make the maximum gain in only 13 of 38 months, or 34% of the time.

The same 5-point spread in SVXY would cost far more ($2.50) but you could look forward to making the maximum gain in 21 of 38 months (55% of the time).  While buying this spread would give you a statistical edge, it probably is not the best spread to purchase.  A more profitable spread would be at higher strike prices – betting that the stock would increase by 12.5% or more (which it has 38% of the time).  Since this higher-strike price would cost far less, your statistical edge would be much greater as would your gains in those months when a big increase took place.

A second alternative would be to simply buy a call which was about 6% above the purchase price.  Last week, in a demonstration portfolio at Terry’s Tips, with SVXY trading at $75, we bought a one-month-out 80 call.  It cost $1.40.  If the stock rose by 12.5% from $75, it would be trading around $84 ½ and you could sell the call for about 3 times what you paid for it.

We also bought some SVXY Dec4-14 – Dec2-14 80 calendar call spreads for $1.14.  This is a way of buying a 5-week call at the 80 strike, paying less than a 4-week call which cost $1.40.  When the Dec2-14 short calls expire in two weeks, we would not replace them, and stick with uncovered long calls that expires a week later than the Dec-14 call.  The only extra risk we are taking here is that the stock skyrockets 12.5% in the very first two weeks so that the Dec2-14 80 call finishes in the money (something that seems unlikely to happen his month since VIX is so low so that most of the increase in SVXY should come from the contango component).  This spread seems to be a better alternative than just buying the Dec-14 80 call, but we will see how it works out. Of course, I’ll report back to you.

So far, the stock has edged up to close today about 5% higher than it started out last week (after recovering from a big drop on Monday).  Contango is above 10%, unusually high, but not so unusual for the month of December because of the “holiday effect” (December is often characterized by low volume and higher stock prices, and VIX futures for this month are typically lower than any other month).  The contango number is a rough approximation of how much SVXY should increase in one month from the daily adjustment which is made (selling the one-month-out futures and buying at the spot price of VIX).  Of course, if VIX fluctuates, SVXY will move in the opposite direction.  If VIX moves higher, SVXY might move lower even if it is helped by the contango tailwinds.


An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Friday, November 28th, 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and/or loved ones, and are ready for some exciting new information.  Admittedly, the title of this week’s Idea of the Week is a little bizarre.  Surely, such a preposterous claim can’t possibly have a chance of succeeding.  Yet, that is about what your average monthly gain would have been if you had used this strategy for the past 37 months that the underlying ETP (SVXY) has been in existence.  In other words, if the pattern of monthly price changes continues going forward, a 40% average monthly gain should result (actually, it would be quite a bit more than this, but I prefer to underpromise and over-deliver).  Please read on.

We will discuss some exact trades which might result in 40%+ monthly gains over the next four weeks.  I hope you will study every article carefully.  Your beliefs about options trading may be changed forever.


An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First of all, we need to say a few words about our favorite underlying, SVXY.  It is not a stock.  There are no quarterly earnings reports to push it higher or lower, depending on how well or poorly it performs.  Instead, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) which is a derivative of several other derivatives, essentially impossible to predict which way it will move in the next week or month.  The only reliable predictor might be to look how it has performed in the past, and see if there is a way to make extraordinary gains if the historical pattern of price changes manages to extend into the future.  This price change pattern is the basis of the 40% monthly gain potential that we have discovered.

SVXY is the inverse of VXX, a popular hedge against a market crash.  VXX is positively correlated with VIX (implied volatility of SPY options), the so-called fear index.  When the market crashes or corrects, options volatility, VIX, and VXX all soar.  That is why VXX is such a good hedge against a market crash.  Some analysts have written that a $10,000 investment in VXX will protect against any loss on a $100,000 stock portfolio (I have calculated that you would really need to invest about $20,000 in VXX to protect against any loss in a $100,000 stock portfolio, but that is not a relevant discussion here.)

While VXX is a good hedge against a market crash, it is a horrible long-term holding.  In its 7 years of existence, it has fallen an average of 67% a year.  On three occasions, they have had to engineer 1-for-4 reverse splits to keep the stock price high enough to bother trading.  In seven years, it has fallen from a split-adjusted $2000+ price to today’s under-$30.

Over the long run, VXX is just about the worst-performing “stock” that you could possibly find.  That is why we are so enamored by its inverse, SVXY.

Deciding to buy a stock is a simple decision.  Compare that to SVXY, an infinitely more complicated choice.  First, you start with SPY, an ETP which derives its value from the weighted average stock price of 500 companies in the S&P 500 index.  Options trade on SPY, and VIX is derived from the implied volatility (IV) of those options.  Then there are futures which are derived from the future expectations of what VIX will be in future months. SVXY is derived from the value of short-term futures on VIX.  Each day, SVXY sells these short-term futures and buys at the spot price (today’s value) of VIX.  Since about 90% of the time, short-term futures are higher than the spot price of VIX (a condition called contango), SVXY is destined to move higher over the long run – an average of about 67% a year, the inverse of what VXX has done.  Simple, right?

While SVXY is anything but a simple entity to understand or predict, its price-change pattern is indeed quite simple.  In most months, it moves higher.  Every once in a while, however, market fears erupt and SVXY plummets.  In October, for example, SVXY fell from over $90 to $50, losing almost half its value in a single month.  While owning SVXY might be a good idea for the long run, in the short run, it can be an awful thing to own.

Note on terminology: While SVXY is an ETP and not literally a stock, when we are using it as an underlying entity for options trading, it behaves exactly like a stock, and we refer to it as a stock rather than an ETP.

We have performed an exhaustive study of monthly price fluctuations (using expiration month numbers rather than calendar month figures).  Our major finding was that in half the months, SVXY ended up more than 12% higher or lower than where it started out.  It was extremely unusual for it to be trading at the end of an expiration month anyway near where it started out.  This would suggest that buying a straddle (both a put and a call) at the beginning of the month might be a good idea.  However, such a straddle would cost about 10% of the value of the stock, a cost that does not leave much room for gains since the stock would have to move by 10% before your profits would start, and that occurs only about half the time.

A second significant finding of our backtest study of SVXY price fluctuations was that in 38% of the months, the stock ended up at least 12.5% higher than it started the expiration month.  If this pattern persisted into the future, the purchase of an at-the-money call (costing about 5% of the stock price) might be a profitable bet.  There are other strategies which we believe are better, however.

One possible strategy would be to buy a one-month out vertical call spread with the lower strike about 6% above the current price of the stock.  Last week, with SVXY trading about $75, we bought a Dec-14 80 call and sold a Dec-14 85 call.  The spread cost us $1.11 ($111 per spread, plus $2.50 in commissions at the special thinkorswim rate for paying Terry’s Tips subscribers).  This means that if the stock ends up at any price above $85 (which it has historically done 38% of the time), we could sell the spread for $497.50 after commissions, making a profit of $384 on an investment of $113.50.  That works out to a 338% gain on the original investment.
If you bought a vertical call spread like this for $113.50 each month and earned a $384 gain in the 14 months (out of 37 historical total) when SVXY ended up the expiration month having gained at least 12.5%, you would end up with $5376 in gains in those months.  If you lost your entire $113.50 investment in the other 23 months, you would have losses of $2610, and this works out to a net gain of $2766 for the total 37 months, or an average of $74 per month on a monthly investment of $113.50, or an average of 65% a month.  Actually, it would be better than this because wouldn’t lose the entire investment in many months when the maximum gain did not come your way.

But as good as 65% a month seems (surely better than the 40% a month I talked about at the beginning), it could get better.  Again using the historical pattern, we identified another variable which could tell us whether or not we should buy the vertical spread at the beginning of the month. If you followed this measure, you would only buy the spread in 17 of the 37 months.  However, you would make the maximum gain in 10 of those months. Your win rate would be 58% rather than 38%, and your average monthly gain would be 152%.  This variable is only available for paying subscribers to Terry’s Tips, although maybe if you’re really smart and can afford to spend a few dozen hours of searching, you can figure it out for yourself.

Starting in a couple of weeks, we are offering a portfolio that will execute spreads like this every month, and this portfolio will be available for Auto-Trading at thinkorswim (so you don’t have to place any of the orders yourself).  Each month, we will start out with $1000 in the portfolio and buy as many spreads as we can at that time.  We expect it will be a very popular portfolio for our subscribers.  With potential numbers like this, I’m sure you can agree with our prognosis.

Of course, this entire strategy is based on the expectation that future monthly price fluctuations of SVXY will be similar to the historical pattern of price changes.  This may or may not be true in the real world, but we think our chances are pretty good.  For example, for the November expiration that ended just one week ago, the stock had risen a whopping 34%.  In the preceding October expiration month, it had fallen by almost that same amount, but at the beginning of the month, our outside variable measure would have told us not to buy the spread for that month, so we would have made the 338% in November and avoided any loss at all in October.

There are other possible spreads that could be placed to take advantage of the unusual price behavior of SVXY, and we will discuss some of them in future reports.  I invite you to check them out carefully, and to look forward for a year-end special price designed to entice you to come on board for the lowest price we have ever offered. It could be the best investment decision you make in 2014.

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  This sample demonstration portfolio holds a SVXY Mar-15 75 put, and each week, (almost always on Friday), we buy back an expiring weekly put and sell a one-week-out put in its place, trying to sell at a strike which is $1 – $2 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 or $2 above the stock price).  Our goal in this portfolio is to make 3% a week.

Last week, SVXY rose to just less than $75 and we bought back the expiring Nov-14 73 put  and sold a Dec1-14 75 put (selling a calendar), collecting a credit of $1.75 ($172.50 after commissions).

The account value was then $1570, up $70 for the week, and $336 from the starting value of $1234 on October 17th, 5 weeks ago.  This works out to $67 a week, well more than the $37 weekly gain we need to achieve our 3% weekly goal.  In fact, we have gained 5.4% a week for the 5 weeks we have carried out this portfolio.

At this point, we closed out this portfolio so that we could replace the positions with new options plays designed to take advantage of the SVXY price fluctuation pattern we spoke about today.  It seems like very few people were following our strategy of selling weekly puts against a long Mar-15 put, but we clearly showed how 3% a week was not only possible, but fairly easy to ring up.  Where else but with stock options can you achieve these kinds of investment returns?

How to Make 60% to 100% in 2014 if a Single Analyst (Out of 13) is Right – an Update

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Last week we discussed vertical spreads.  This week, I would like to continue that discussion by repeating some of what we reported in late December of last year.  It involves making a relatively long-term (one year) bet on the direction of the entire market.

And again, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out:


How to Make 60% to 100% in 2014 if a Single Analyst (Out of 13) is Right – an Update

This is part of we wrote last December – “Now is the time for analysts everywhere to make their predictions of what will happen to the market in 2014.  Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Wall Street bulls eye more stock gains in 2014.  Their forecasts – ”The average year-end price target of 13 stock strategists polled by Bloomberg is 1890, a 5.7% gain … (for the S&P 500).  The most bullish call comes from John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer (a prediction of +13%).”

The Journal continues to say “The bad news: Two stock strategists are predicting that the S&P 500 will finish next year below its current level. Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel Nicolaus, for example, predicts the index will fall to 1750, which represents a drop of 2% from Tuesday’s close.”

I would like to suggest a strategy that will make 60% to 100% or more (depending on which strike prices you choose to use) if any one of those analysts is right. In other words, if the market goes up by any amount or falls by 2%, you would make those returns with a single options trade that will expire at the end of 2014.

The S&P tracking stock (SPY) is trading around $180.  If it were to fall by 2% in 2014, it would be trading about $176.40.  Let’s use $176 as our downside target to give the pessimistic analyst a little wiggle room.  If we were to sell a Dec-14 176 put and buy a Dec-14 171 put, we could collect $1.87 ($187) per contract.  A maintenance requirement of $500 would be made.  Subtracting the $187 you received, you will have tied up $313 which represents the greatest loss that could come your way (if SPY were to close below $171, a drop of 5% from its present level).  We placed this exact spread in one of the 10 actual portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips.

Once you place these trades (called selling a vertical put spread), you sit back and do nothing for an entire year (until these options expire on December 20, 2014). If SPY closes at any price above $176, both puts would expire worthless and you would get to keep $187 per contract, or 60% on your maximum risk.

If you wanted to get a little more aggressive, you could make the assumption that the average estimate of the 13 analysts was on the money, (i.e., the market rises 5.7% in 2014).  That would mean SPY would be at $190 at the end of the year. You could sell a SPY Dec-14 190 put and buy a Dec-14 185 put and collect $2.85 ($285), risking $2.15 ($215) per contract.  If the analysts are right and SPY ends up above $190, you would earn 132% on your investment for the year.

By the way, you can do any of the above spreads in an IRA if you choose the right broker.

Note: I prefer using puts rather than calls for these spreads because if you are right, nothing needs to be done at expiration, both options expire worthless, and no commissions are incurred to exit the positions.  Buying a vertical call spread is mathematically identical to selling a vertical put spread at these same strike prices, but it will involve selling the spread at expiration and paying commissions.”

We are now entering November, and SPY is trading around $201.  It could fall by $25 and the 60%-gainer spread listed above would make the maximum gain, or it could fall by $12 and you could make 132% on your money for the year.  Where else can you make these kinds of returns these days?

On a historical basis, for the 40 years of the S&P 500’s existence, the index has fallen by more than 2% in 7 years.  That means if historical patterns continue for 2014, there is a 17.5% chance that you will lose your entire bet and an 83.5% chance that you will make 60% (using the first SPY spread outlined above).  If you had made that same bet every year for the past 40 years, you would have made 60% in 33 years and lost 100% in 7 years.  For the entire time span, you would have enjoyed an average gain of 32% per year.  Not a bad average gain.

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  (We owned one Mar-15 65 put, and each week, we roll over a short put to the next weekly which is about $1 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 higher than the stock price).  SVXY soared higher this week, and we had to make an adjustment.  We wanted to sell a weekly put at the 70 strike since the stock was trading around $68, but that strike is $3 higher than our long put, and we would create a maintenance requirement of $300 to sell that strike put.

Instead, today I sold the Mar-15 65 put and bought a Mar-15 70 put (buying a vertical spread) for $2.43 ($243).  Then I bought back the Oct4-14 65 put for a few pennies and sold a Nov1-14 70 put, collecting $2.94 $294) for the spread.   The account value is at $1324, or $90 higher than $1234 where we started out.  This averages out to $45 per week, slightly above the 3% ($37) average weekly gain we are shooting for.  (Once again, we would have done much better this week if the stock had moved up by only $2 instead of $5).

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.


A Little About Vertical Spreads

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Today we will discuss vertical spreads, and how you can use them when you have a strong feeling about which way a stock is headed.

But first, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out:


A Little About Vertical Spreads

Vertical spreads are known as directional spreads.  When you place such a spread, you are betting that the stock will move in a particular direction, either up or down.  If you are right, you can make a nice gain.  Even better, you can usually create a vertical spread that also makes money if the stock doesn’t move in the direction you hoped, but stays absolutely flat instead.

If you have a strong feeling that a particular stock will move higher in the near future, you might be inclined to either buy the stock or buy a call on it.  Both of these choices have disadvantages.  Buying the stock ties up a great deal of money, and even if you are right and the stock moves higher, your return on investment is likely to be quite small.

Buying calls gives you great leverage and a much higher return on investment if you are indeed right and the stock moves higher.  But much of the cost of a call is premium (the extra amount you pay out so that you don’t have to put up so much cash compared to buying the stock).  The stock needs to go up a certain amount just to cover the premium, and you don’t start making money until that premium is covered.  If the stock doesn’t go up (and no matter how great you are at picking winners, you will probably be disappointed many times), you could lose some or all of your investment.  Bottom line, buying calls is a losing proposition much of the time – you have to be really lucky to come out a winner.

Buying a vertical spread is a safer alternative than either buying stock or calls.  You give up some of the extraordinary gains for a great likelihood of making a more moderate gain, and if you play your cards right, you can also make a gain if the stock stays flat.

Let’s look at an example.  Last week, my favorite underlying, SVXY, had been beaten down because VIX had shot up over 25.  I felt very strongly that the market fears would eventually subside, VIX would fall back to the 15 level, and SVXY (which moves in the opposite direction of VIX) would move higher.

Late last week, when SVXY was trading right at $60, I bought November 55 calls and sold November 60 calls as a vertical spread.  It cost me $3 ($300 per contract).  When these calls expire in about a month, if the stock is any higher than $60, my spread will be worth exactly $5, and I will make about 60% on my investment.  The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to move any higher than was at the time for me to make that kind of a gain.

In reality, while I did make this vertical spread, I didn’t use calls.  Instead, I sold a vertical spread using puts, buying November 60 puts and selling November 55 puts. I collected $2, an amount which is the exact same risk that I would have taken if I had bought the vertical spread with calls.  The broker will charge a maintenance fee of $5 ($500) on each spread, but since I collected $200 at the outset, my risk, and the amount I had to put up, is only $300.

The risks and rewards are identical if you buy a vertical with calls or sell a vertical with puts (assuming the strike prices are the same), but there is a neat thing about using puts if you believe the stock is headed higher.  In this case, if the stock ends up at the November expiration at any price higher than $60, both the long and short puts will expire worthless (and I get to keep the $200 I got at the beginning).  There is no exit trade to make, and best of all, no commissions to pay.  For this reason, I almost always use puts when I buy a vertical spread betting on a higher stock price rather than calls (the only exceptions come when the spread can be bought for a lower price using calls, something which occurs on occasion).

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  (We own one Mar-15 65 put, and each week, we roll over a short put to the next weekly which is about $1 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 higher than the stock price).

This week, SVXY moved sharply higher, from about $57 to about $62.  Today I bought back the out-of-the-money Oct4-14 59 put for a few cents and sold an Oct5-14 64 put (about $2 in the money) for a credit of $3.65 ($365) on the diagonal spread.  The account value is at $1290, just a little higher than $1234 where we started out (we would have done much better if the stock had moved up by only $2 instead of $5).

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.  This week I sold the next weekly put at a strike which was $2 in the money because I think the stock is headed higher because VIX is still at an elevated level compared to where it has been for the past year or so.

Knowing When to Bite the Bullet

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Sometimes, the market does just the opposite of what you hoped it would, and you are faced with the decision to hang on and hope it will reverse itself, or accept that you guessed wrong, and close out your position and move on to something else.

That will be our subject today.


Knowing When to Bite the Bullet

Kenny Rogers said it well – “You’ve got to know when to walk away and know when to run.”  We set up demonstration portfolio to trade diagonal spreads on an ETP called SVXY.  We were betting that the stock would go up.  In each of the last two years, SVXY had doubled in value.  Its inverse, VXX, had fallen from a split-adjusted $3000+ to under $30 over the past 5 years, making it just about the biggest dog on the entire stock exchange (selling it short would have made anyone a bundle over that time period).  We felt comfortable being long (i.e., the equivalent of owning stock) in something that would do just the opposite of VXX.

In our demonstration portfolio, we decided to trade puts rather than calls because there was a lot more time premium in the weekly puts that we planned to sell to someone else than there was in the calls.  Each Friday, we would buy back the expiring put and replace it by selling another put with a week of remaining life.  This strategy enabled us to be short put options that had extremely high decay.

The biggest challenge was to decide which strikes to sell new puts at.  We selected a strike that was about $1 in-the-money (i.e., about a dollar higher than the stock price), or if the put we were buying back was well into the money so that the trade could not be made at a credit, we would select the highest strike we could take that could yield us a credit on the spread.  This meant that when the stock tumbled, the best we could do would be to sell a calendar spread at a very small credit.

In a six-week period, the stock managed to fall by over 30%.  Not such good news when we were betting that it would go up.  The biggest problem with a drop of this magnitude was that our short put was so far in the money that we risked an execution.  This would mean that the stock would be put to us (i.e., we would be forced to buy it at the strike price).  With that risk hanging over our head, the time has come to recognize our loss.

Admitting that you were wrong, at least for a certain time period, and closing out your trade, is sometimes the best thing you could do.  Many people hang on to their losing investments and sell the winners (usually for a smaller profit than they could have made by hanging on).  In the long run, this strategy leaves you with a portfolio of losing stocks that you are hoping will go higher (and probably never will).  Better to sell your losers and move on to something more promising.

Today we placed the following trade which closed out our spread:

Buy to Close 1 SVXY Oct4-14 80.5 put (SVXY141024P80.5)
Sell to Close 1 SVXY Jan-15 90 put (SVXY150117P90) for a credit of $9.71  (selling a diagonal)

When the trade was executed at this price, we were left with $1,234 in the account after paying commissions.  Since we started with $1500, we were faced with a loss of $266, or a little less than 18%.  This was over a period in which the stock we were betting on lost over 30%.  This is another example of how options can protect you better than merely buying stock.

We expected to make 150% a year on this portfolio, many times greater than the 18% we lost in the couple of months we operated it.  If the stock had remained flat or moved higher as we expected, we could have expected to gain the 3% a week we were hoping for.

Today, in the special account I set up this portfolio with $1500 (and now is down to $1234), I am trying again, this time at lower strike prices which are more appropriate to the current level of the stock.

This was the trade I executed today when the stock was trading about $57:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Mar-15 65 put (SVXY150320P65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Oct4-14 59 put (SVXY141025P59) for a debit of $12.07 (buying a diagonal)

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.

Making 36%

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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.

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