from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

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Posts Tagged ‘Bearish Options Strategies’

Benefiting From the Current Uncertainty of Oil Supply

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

The price of oil is fluctuating all over the place because of the uncertainty of OPEC’s current effort to get a widespread agreement to restrict supply. This has resulted in unusually high short-term option prices for USO (the stock that mirrors the price of oil). I would like to share with you an options spread I made in my personal account today which I believe has an extremely high likelihood of success.

Terry

Benefiting From the Current Uncertainty of Oil Supply

I personally believe that the long-run price of oil is destined to be lower. The world is just making too much of it and electric cars are soon to be here (Tesla is gearing up to make 500,000 next year and nearly a million in two years). But in the short run, anything can happen.

Meanwhile, OPEC is trying to coax producers to limit supply in an effort to boost oil prices. Every time they boast of a little success, the price of oil bounces higher until more evidence comes out that not every country is on board. Iran and Yemen won’t even show up to the meeting. Many oil-producing companies have hated one another for centuries, and the idea of cooperating with each other seems a little preposterous to me.

The good old U.S.A. is one of the major producers of oil these days, and it is not one of the participants in OPEC’s discussion of limiting supply. Two significant new domestic oil discoveries have been announced in the last couple of months, and the total number of operating rigs has moved steadily higher in spite of the currently low oil prices.

Bottom line, option prices on USO are higher than we have seen them in quite a while, especially the shortest-term options. Implied volatility (IV) of the long-term options I would like to buy is only 36 compared to 64 for the shortest-term weekly options I will be selling to someone else.

Given my inclination to expect lower rather than higher prices in the future, I am buying both puts and calls which expire a little over a year from now and selling puts and calls which expire on Friday. Here are the trades I made today when USO was trading at $10.47:

Buy To Open 20 USO 19Jan18 10 puts (USO180119P10)
Sell To Open 20 USO 02Dec16 10 puts (USO161202P10) for a debit of $1.20 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 20 USO 19Jan18 10 calls (USO180119C10)
Sell To Open 20 USO 02Dec16 10.5 calls (USO161202C10.5) for a debit of $1.58 (buying a diagonal)

Of course, you can buy just one of each of these spreads if you wish, but I decided to pick up 20 of them. For the puts, I paid $1.43 ($143) for an option that has 60 weeks of remaining life. That means it will decay in value by an average of $2.38 every week of its life. On the other hand, I collected $.23 ($23) from selling the 02Dec16 out-of-the-money 10 put, or almost 10 times what the long-term put will fall by. If I could sell that put 60 times, I would collect $1380 of over the next 60 weeks, more than 10 times what I paid for the original spread.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows what my spreads should be worth when the short options expire on Friday:

USO Risk Profile Graph December 2016

USO Risk Profile Graph December 2016

My total investment in these spreads was about $5600 after commissions, and I could conceivably make a double-digit return in my very first week. If these short-term option prices hold up for a few more weeks, I might be able to duplicate these possible returns many more times before the market settles down.

As usual, I must add the caveat that you should not invest any money in options that you cannot truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments and can lose money, just as most investments. I like my chances with the above investment, however, and look forward to selling new calls and puts each week for a little over a year against my long options which have over a year of remaining life.

Halloween Special Expires at Midnight Tonight

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Halloween Special Expires at Midnight Tonight

I want to send you a copy of the October 29, 2016 Saturday Report, the weekly email sent to paying subscribers to Terry’s Tips.  This report details how our 13 actual portfolios perform each week.    Last week was a down one for the market (SPY lost 0.7%), and many of our portfolios experienced a similar loss.  Others did considerably better.

The portfolio based on Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) gained 25% while the stock rose 1.7%.  The portfolio based on Facebook (FB) gained 8.7% even though FB fell by 0.6% last week.  This portfolio was started with $6000 one year and three weeks ago, and is now worth $13,449, a gain of 124%.

One of our portfolios invests in companies which are about to announce earnings, and closes out the positions on the Friday after the announcement.  Last week, we closed out our spreads in Mastercard (MA) which had been put on only a week and a half earlier.  We enjoyed a gain of 34.3% (after commissions, as is the case for all of these portfolios).

Finally, we have a portfolio that is designed as protection against a market crash or correction.  While SPY fell only 0.6%, this bearish portfolio picked up 13.6% (admittedly, this was an unusually positive result which rarely occurs to this extent, but sometimes we are a little lucky).

Watching how these portfolios unfold over time in the Saturday Report is a wonderful (and easy) way to learn the intricacies of option trading.  You can get started today by coming on board at our half-off Halloween Special which expires at midnight tonight. I will personally send you the October 29th Saturday Report so you can start immediately.

Most of these portfolios employ what we call the 10K Strategy.  It involves selling short-term options on individual stocks and using longer-term (or LEAPS) as collateral.  It is sort of like writing calls, except that you don’t have to put up all that cash to buy 100 or 1000 shares of the stock.  The 10K Strategy is sort of like writing calls on steroids.  It is an amazingly simple strategy that really works with the one proviso that you select a stock that stays flat or moves higher over time.

Lowest Subscription Price Ever

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

For this lowest-price-ever $39.95 offer, click here, enter Special Code HWN16 (or HWN16P for Premium Service – $79.95).

 If you are ready to commit for a longer time period, you can save even more with our half-price offer on our Premium service for an entire year.  This special offer includes everything in our basic service, and in addition, real-time trade alerts and full access to all of our portfolios so that you can Auto-Trade or follow any or all of them.  We have several levels of our Premium service, but this is the maximum level since it includes full access to all nine portfolios which are available for Auto-Trade.  A year’s subscription to this maximum level would cost $1080.  With this half-price offer, the cost for a full year would be only $540.  Use the Special Code MAX16P.

 This is a time-limited offer.  You must order by midnight tonight, October 31, 2016.  That’s when the half-price offer expires, and you will have to go back to the same old investment strategy that you have had limited success with for so long (if you are like most investors).

This is the perfect time to give you and your family the perfect Halloween treat that is designed to deliver higher financial returns for the rest of your investing life.

I look forward to helping you survive Halloween by sharing this valuable investment information with you at the lowest price ever. It may take you a little homework, but I am sure you will end up thinking it was well worth the investment.

Happy trading.

Terry

P.S.  If you would have any questions about this offer or Terry’s Tips, please call Seth Allen, our Senior Vice President at 800-803-4595.  Or make this investment in yourself at the lowest price ever offered in our 15 years of publication – only $39.95 for our entire package.  Get it here using Special Code HWN16 (or HWN16P for Premium Service – $79.95).   Do it today, before you forget and lose out.  This offer expires at midnight tonight, October 31, 2016.

 

 

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

This week I would like start an ongoing discussion about one of my favorite option plays. It is called a calendar spread. It is also known as a time spread or a horizontal spread. But most people call it a calendar because that’s where you focus much of your attention while you hold this kind of a spread. On a specific date on the calendar, you discover whether you made or lost money since you first bought the calendar spread. In the next few blogs, I will discuss all sorts of variations and permutations you can make with calendar spreads, but today, we will focus on a bare bones explanation of the basic spread investment.

Terry

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

A calendar spread consists of the simultaneous purchase of one option (either a put or a call) and the sale of another option (either a put or call), with both the purchase and the sale at the same strike price, and the life span of the option you bought is greater than the option you sold. You can trade either puts or calls in this kind of spread, but not both in the same spread. You have to choose to use either puts or calls, but as we will see at a later time, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which choice you make.

Some things that we all know about options: 1) they all have a limited life span, and 2) if the underlying stock does not change in price, all options fall in value every day. This is called decay. In option parlance, it is called theta. Theta is the amount that the option will decay in value in a single day if the underlying stock remains flat.

The basic appeal of a calendar spread is that the decay (or theta) of the option that has been sold is greater than the decay (or theta) of the stock that was bought. Every day that the stock remains flat, the value of the spread should become slightly greater. For this reason, most buyers of calendar spreads are hoping that the stock does not move in either direction very much (but we will see that is not always the case with all calendar spreads).

Here is a typical calendar spread purchase on Nike (NKE) on August 24, 2016 when NKE was trading just about $60:

Buy to Open 5 NKE 20Jan17 60 calls (NKE170120C60)
Sell to Open 5 NKE 23Sep16 60 calls (NKE160923C60) for a debit of $2.20 (buying a calendar)

The options that are being bought will expire on January 21, 2017 (about 5 months from now) and the options being sold will expire on September 23, 2016, one month from now. You don’t really care what the prices are for the calls you bought or the calls you sold, just as long as the difference between the two prices is $2.20 ($220 per spread, plus a commission of about $2.50 per spread). That’s how much money you will have to come up with to buy the spread. This spread order will cost $1100 plus $12.50 in commissions, or $1112.50.

The all-important date of this spread is September 23, 2016. That is the day on which the short options (the ones you sold) will expire. If the stock is trading on that day at any price below $60, the calls that you sold will expire worthless, and you will be the owner of 5 NKE 60 calls which have about 4 months of remaining life. If NKE is trading at exactly $60 on that day, those 20Jan17 60 calls will be worth about $3.05 and you could sell them for about $1525, netting yourself a profit of about $400 after commissions. That works out to a 35% gain for a single month, not a bad return at all, especially if you can manage to do it every month for the entire year (but now, we’re dreaming). That is, alas, the maximum you could make on the original spread, and that would come only if the stock were trading at exactly $60 on the day when the short calls expired.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain on the original spread at various prices where the stock might be trading on September 23rd:

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

In the lower right-hand corner under P/L Day, the profit or loss on the spread is listed for each possible stock price between $58 and $62. Those numbers should be compared to the investment of just over $1100. The graph shows the maximum gain takes place if the stock ends up right about $60, and about half that gain would result if the stock has moved a dollar higher or lower from $60. If it rises or falls by $2, a loss would result, but this loss would be much lower than the potential gains if the stock fluctuated by less than $2. If the stock moves by a much greater amount than $2, even greater losses would occur.

One good thing about calendar spreads is that the value of the options you bought will always be greater than the ones you sold, so you can never lose the entire amount of money you invested when you bought the spread. If you just buy a call option with the hopes that the stock will rise, or buy a put option with hopes that the stock will fall, you risk losing 100% of your investment if you are wrong. Even worse, in most cases, you would lose the entire investment if the stock stays flat rather than moving in the direction you were hoping.

With calendar spreads, you should never lose everything that you invested and you don’t have to be exactly right about the direction the stock needs to move. There is a range of possible prices where your spread will be profitable, and if you enter your proposed spread in a software program like the (free) Analyze Tab at thinkorswim, you can tell in advance what the break-even range will be for your investment.

There are ways that you can expand the break-even range so that a greater stock price fluctuation could be tolerated, and that will be the subject of our next blog.

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Today’s idea is a little complicated, but it involves an important part of any prudent investment strategy. Market crashes do come along every once in a while, and we are eight years away from the last one in 2008. What will happen to your nest egg if it happens again this year?

Options can be a good form of market crash insurance, and it is possible to set up a strategy that might even make a small gain if the crash doesn’t come along. That possibility sets it apart from most forms of insurance which cost you out-of-pocket money if the calamity you insure against doesn’t occur.

Terry

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

There are some strong indications that the old adage “Sell in May and Go Away” might be the appropriate move right now. Goldman Sachs has downgraded its outlook on equities to “neutral” over the next 12 months, saying there’s no particular reason to own them. “Until we see sustained signals of growth recovery, we do not feel comfortable taking equity risk, particularly as valuations are near peak levels,” the firm said in a research note.

For several months, Robert Shiller has been warning that the market is seriously overvalued by his unique method of measuring prices against long-term average p/e’s. George Soros is keeping the bears happy as well, doubling his wager against the S&P 500. The billionaire investor, who has been warning that the 2008 financial crisis could be repeated due to China’s economic slowdown, bought 2.1M-share “put” options in SPY during Q1. The magnitude of his bet against SPY is phenomenal, essentially 200 million shares short. Of course, he almost always deals in stratospheric numbers, but the size of this bet indicates that he feels pretty strongly about this one. He didn’t become a billionaire by being on the wrong side of market bets.

So what can you do to protect yourself against a big tumble in the market? We are setting up a bearish portfolio for Terry’s Tips subscribers, and this is what it will look like. It is based on the well-known fact that when the market crashes, volatility soars, and when volatility soars, the Exchange Traded Product (ETP) called VXX soars along with it.

Some people buy VXX as market crash insurance (or its steroid-like cousin, UVXY). Over the long run, VXX has been a horrible investment, however, possibly the worst thing you could have done with your money over the past six years. It has fallen from a split-adjusted $4000 to its present price of about $15. It has engineered 1-for-4 reverse splits three times to make the price worth bothering to trade. The split usually occurs when it gets down to about $12, so you can expect another reverse split soon.
An option strategy can be set up that allows you to own the equivalent of VXX while not subjecting you to the long-run inevitable downward trend. When volatility does pick up, VXX soars. In fact, it doubled once and went up 50% another time, both temporarily, in the last year alone. While it is a bad long-term investment, if your timing is right, you might pick up a windfall. Our options strategy is designed to achieve the potential upside windfall while avoiding the long-term prospects you face by merely buying the ETP.

Our new portfolio will buy VXX 20Jan17 15 calls and sell fewer contracts in short-term calls. Sufficient short-term premium will be collected from selling the short term calls to cover the decay on the long calls (and a little bit more).

This portfolio will start with $3000. The entire amount will not be used at the outset, but rather be held in cash in case it might be needed to cover a maintenance call in case the market moves higher.

These might be the starting positions:

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 17Jun16 15 calls (VXX160617C15) for a debit of $2.40 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 24Jun16 16 calls (VXX160624C16) for a debit of $2.45 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 4 VXX 20Jan17 16 calls (VXX170120C16) for $3.30

Here is what the risk profile graph looks like with those positions as of June 18th after the short calls expire:
VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016

VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016
You can see that the portfolio will make gains no matter how high VXX might go. It will make a small gain (about 8% for the month) if the stock stays flat, and starts losing if VXX moves below $14.50. If it falls that far, we might sell call or two at the 14 strike and incur a maintenance requirement which would be partially offset by the amount we collected from selling the call(s). A trade like this would reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETP continues to fall, and it might have to be repeated if VXX continues even lower. At some point, some long calls might need to be rolled down to a lower strike to eliminate maintenance requirements that come along when you sell a call at a lower strike than the long call that covers it.

The above positions could be put on for about $2800. There would be about $200 in cash remaining for the possible maintenance requirement in case one might be necessary.

You probably should not attempt to set up and carry out this strategy unless you are familiar with options trading as it is admittedly a little complicated. A better idea might be to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and open an account at thinkorswim so that these trades could automatically be made for you through their Auto-Trade program.

Every investment portfolio should have a little downside insurance protection. We believe that options offer the best form for that kind of insurance because it might be possible to make a profit at the same time as providing market crash insurance.

As with all forms of investing, you should not be committing money that you truly cannot afford to lose.

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.

Terry

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

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

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

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

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

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).

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I like to trade calendar spreads.  Right now my favorite underlying to use is SVXY, a volatility-related ETP which is essentially the inverse of VXX, another ETP which moves step-in-step with volatility (VIX).  Many people buy VXX as a hedge against a market crash when they are fearful (volatility, and VXX. skyrockets when a crash occurs), but when the market is stable or moves higher, VXX inevitably moves lower.  In fact, since it was created in 2009, VXX has been just about the biggest dog in the entire stock market world.  On three occasions they have had to make 1 – 4 reverse splits just to keep the stock price high enough to matter.

Since VXX is such a dog, I like SVXY which is its inverse.  I expect it will move higher most of the time (it enjoys substantial tailwinds because of something called contango, but that is a topic for another time).  I concentrate in buying calendar spreads on SVXY (buying Jun-14 options and selling weekly options) at strikes which are higher than the current stock price.  Most of these calendar spreads are in puts, and that seems a little weird because I expect that the stock will usually move higher, and puts are what you buy when you expect the stock will fall.  That is the topic of today’s idea of the week.

Terry

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

It is important to understand that the risk profile of a calendar spread is identical regardless of whether puts or calls are used.  The strike price (rather than the choice of puts or calls) determines whether a spread is bearish or bullish.  A calendar spread at a strike price below the stock price is a bearish because the maximum gain is made if the stock falls exactly to the strike price, and a calendar spread at a strike price above the stock price is bullish.

When people are generally optimistic about the market, call calendar spreads tend to cost more than put calendar spreads.  For most of 2013-14, in spite of a consistently rising market, option buyers have been particularly pessimistic.  They have traded many more puts than calls, and put calendar prices have been more expensive.

Right now, at-the-money put calendar spreads cost more than at-the-money call calendar spreads for most underlyings, including SVXY.  As long as the underlying pessimism continues, they extra cost of the put spreads might be worth the money because when the about-to-expire short options are bought back and rolled over to the next short-term time period, a larger premium can be collected on that sale.  This assumes, of course, that the current pessimism will continue into the future.

If you have a portfolio of exclusively calendar spreads (you don’t anticipate moving to diagonal spreads), it is best to use puts at strikes below the stock price and calls for spreads at strikes which are higher than the stock price.  If you do the reverse, you will own a bunch of well in-the-money short options, and rolling them over to the next week or month is expensive (in-the-money bid-asked spreads are greater than out-of-the-money bid asked spreads so you can collect more cash when rolling over out-of-the-money short options).

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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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