from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

Archive for the ‘Weekly Options’ Category

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.

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.

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Bernie Madoff attracted billions of dollars because he said he had a system that would generate gains of 12% a year.  For many investors, 12% must seem like a pretty good return.  Options investors think differently.  They prefer to have at least some of their investment capital in something that could conceivably make a far greater return.Today I would like to discuss an investment I made this week in a demonstration (actual money on the line) portfolio for Terry’s Tips Insiders.  It is designed to make about 25% in the next four weeks.

Terry

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

One of our favorite underlyings these days is USO, an ETP (Exchange Traded Product) which closely tracks the price of oil.  If you have filled your car with gas lately, you know that the price of oil must have been trading lower over the recent past.  In fact, it has.  A barrel of oil has fallen from about $100 to $50, while USO has dropped from about $40 to about $18.

There are a couple of reasons to believe that the downward trend of USO might continue for a while longer.  First, the way this ETP is designed, it suffers from contango (futures prices for further-out months are higher than the spot price of oil).  At the current level of contango, if the price of oil remains the same, USO should lose about 21% of its value over the course of a year due to the influence of contango.

Second, some large investment banks (e.g., Citi) have come out and said that the price of oil is likely to fall in half once again before the current glut is eliminated and oil might start recovering in the third quarter.

With these two reasons suggesting that oil (and USO) might be headed lower, at least  for the next month or so, we looked back at every calendar monthly change in USO for the recent past, and we learned that in the last 25 months, on only two occasions did USO fall by more than 15% in a single month, and only once did it rise by more than 5.6%.

If this historical pattern continues for the next month, the portfolio we set up has an 88% chance of making a gain, and the average gain over most of the possible stock prices is over 25%.

Here are the calendar spreads we placed in a portfolio that could be set up for no more than $2900 at today’s prices with USO trading about $18.45:

Buy to Open 8 USO Jan-16 16 puts (USO160115P16)
Sell to Open 8 USO Mar4-15 16 puts (USO150327P16) for a debit of $1.26  (buying a calendar)

Buy to Open 8 USO Jan-16 17 puts (USO160115P17)
Sell to Open 8 USO Mar4-15 17 puts (USO150327P17) for a debit of $1.42  (buying a calendar)

Buy to Open 4 USO Jan-16 18 puts (USO160115P18)
Sell to Open 4 USO Mar4-15 18 puts (USO150327P18) for a debit of $1.58  (buying a calendar)

Here is the risk profile graph for these spreads for March 27th when the short puts expire:

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

The vertical red lines on the graph are set at -15% on the downside and +5% on the upside, and roughly indicate the break-even range for the positions.  Over the past 25 months, USO has fluctuated inside this range in 22 of the 25 months.  You can eyeball the potential gain and see that across a very large portion of the possible prices within this range, the indicated gain is close to $1000, or about 33% on your investment.

We like our chances with these positions.  It seems like a much higher chance of making double what Mr. Madoff was promising, and in only one month rather than a full year.  Option investors think differently than stock buyers.  I will report back on how well we do.

List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Friday, February 27th, 2015

I noticed that the value of some of our portfolios was changing after the market for the underlying stock had closed.  Clearly, the value of the options was changing after the 4:00 EST close of trading.  I did a Google search to find a list of options that traded after hours, and came up pretty empty.  But now I have found the list, and will share it with you just in case you want to play for an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading each day.

Terry

List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Since option values are derived from the price of the underlying stock or ETP (Exchange Traded Product), once the underlying stops trading, there should be no reason for options to continue trading.  However, more and more underlyings are now being traded in after-hours, and for a very few, the options continue trading as well, at least until 4:15 EST.

Options for the following symbols trade an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading – DBA, DBB, DBC, DBO, DIA, EFA, EEM, GAZ, IWM, IWN, IWO, IWV, JJC, KBE, KRE, MDY, MLPN, MOO, NDX, OEF, OIL, QQQ, SLX, SPY, SVXY, UNG, UUP, UVXY, VIIX, VIXY, VXX, VXZ, XHB, XLB, XLE, XLF, XLI, XLK, XLP, XLU, XLV, XLY, XME, XRT.

Most of these symbols are (often erroneously) called ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).  While many are ETFs, many are not – the popular volatility-related market-crash-protection vehicle – VXX is actually an ETN (Exchange Traded Note).  A better way of referring to this list is to call them ETPs.

Caution should be used when trading in these options after 4:00.  From my experience, many market makers exit the floor exactly at 4:00 (volume is generally low after that time and not always worth hanging around).  Consequently, the bid-ask ranges of options tend to expand considerably.  This means that you are less likely to be able to get decent prices when you trade after 4:00.  Sometimes it might be necessary, however, if you feel you are more exposed to a gap opening the next day than you would like to be.

I would like to tell you about one of our portfolios that might interest you.  At the beginning of the year, we picked three underlyings that we felt would be at least the same at the end of 2015 as they were at the beginning.  They were SPY (S&P 500 tracking stock), AAPL, and GOOG.  If we are right, and they are the same or any higher in price when the Jan-16 options expire (on January 15, 2016), we will make exactly 52% on our investment.  We made a single credit spread trade for each of these stocks, and if all goes well, the options will expire worthless and we won’t have to do another thing (except collect our 52% profit on that date).  At this point in time, all three underlyings are trading quite a bit higher than where they were when we started, so they could actually fall quite a ways from here and we will still collect those same gains. This is just one of 10 portfolios that we carry out for Terry’s Tips subscribers.  Each carries out a different strategy, and we update how each is doing every week in our Saturday Report.  We welcome you to come on board and check them all out.

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Yesterday I sent you a note describing an interesting way to make some serious money with options, betting that the price of oil will either stabilize or move higher from today’s low levels.  Thanks to subscriber Thomas, there is a better underlying out there.  Just in case you were planning to place the trades, I thought you should check this one out first.

Terry

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

This is a re-write of yesterday’s letter, except the underlying is USO (another ETF) rather than OIH.  The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

USO Historical Chart 2015

USO Historical Chart 2015

There is a distinct advantage to USO, however.  The options are far more liquid and bid-ask spreads are much smaller for USO.  In other words, you can get much better prices when you place orders or roll over your short positions to the next month.

USO closed at $19.60 Friday.  Here are the trades I plan to make today:

Buy 3 USO Jan-16 19 calls (USO160115C19)
Sell 3 USO Mar-15 19.5 calls (USO150320C19.5) for $1.45 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 USO Jan-16 19 call (USO160115C19) for $3.35
The spread order is priced at $.02 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask price for the spread, and the single call order is placed at $.05 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask.  You should be able to get those prices.

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $435 plus $335 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $775.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

USO Risk Profioe Graph 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of USO ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain at least $200, or about 25% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 25% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny (in fact, if it actually is flat, your gain should be $327, or over 40%).  If you just bought USO instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if USO falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 19 call gives you upside protection in case USO moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if USO drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $19.50) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire. It is conceivable that you could collect $300 every month and get all your mney back in 3 months, and further  sales would be clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.

 

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