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

Today we are going to look at what the analysts are forecasting for 2014 and suggest some option strategies that will make 60% or more if any one of the analysts interviewed by the Wall Street Journal are correct. They don’t all have to be correct, just one of the 13 they talked to.

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

 
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% (depending on which underlying 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). 
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. 
You could make 100% on your investment with a similar play using Apple as the underlying.  You would have to make the assumption that Apple will fluctuate in 2014 about as much as the S&P.  For most of the past few years, Apple has done much better than the general market, so it is not so much of a stretch to bet that it will keep up with the S&P in 2014.
Apple is currently trading about $520.  You could sell at vertical put spread for the January 2015 series, selling the 510 put and buying the 480 put and collect a credit of $15.  If Apple closes at any price above $510 on January 17, 2015, both puts would expire worthless and you would make 100% on your investment.  You would receive $1500 for each of these spreads you placed and there would be a $1500 maintenance requirement (the maximum loss if Apple closes below $480).
Apple is trading at about 10 times earnings on a cash-adjusted basis, is paying a 2.3% dividend, and is continuing an aggressive stock buy-back campaign, three indications that make a big stock price drop less likely to come about in 2014.
A similar spread could be made with Google puts, but the market is betting that Google is less likely to fall than Apple, and your return on investment would be about 75% if Google fell 2% or went up by any amount.  You could sell Jan-15 1020 puts and buy Jan-15 990 puts and collect about $1300 and incur a net maintenance requirement of $1700 (your maximum loss amount).
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 put SPY 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.  I would advise against it, however, because your gains will eventually be taxed at ordinary income rates (at a time when your tax rate is likely to be higher) rather than capital gains rates.
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.
What are the chances that every single analyst was wrong?  Someone should do a study on earlier projections and give us an answer to that question.  We all know that a market tumble could come our way if the Fed begins to taper, but does that mean the market as a whole would drop for the entire year?  Another unanswerable question, at least at this time.
On a historical basis, for the 40 years of the S&P 500’s existence (counting 2013 which will surely be a gaining year), 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.

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