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Posts Tagged ‘Bullish Options strategies’

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 bought 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.

Make 40% in One Month With This Costco Trade

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Make 40% in One Month With This Costco Trade

Two weeks ago, LinkedIn (LNKD) issued poor guidance while at the same time announced higher than expected earnings. Investors clobbered the stock, focusing on the guidance rather than the earnings. At the same time, as is often the case, another company in the same industry, Facebook (FB) was also traded down. With FB falling to $98, I reported to you on a trade that would make 66% after commissions if the company closed at any price above $97.50 on March 18, 2016. FB has now recovered and is well over $104 and this spread looks like it will be a winner. All we have to do is wait out the remaining 4 weeks (no closing trade will be necessary as long as the stock is at any price above $97.50).

Today, a similar thing took place. Walmart (WMT) announced earnings which narrowly beat estimates, but missed top line revenue by a bit. However, they projected that next quarterly earnings (starting now) would be flat. This announcement was a big disappointment because they had earlier projected growth of 3% – 4%. The stock fell 4.5% on that news.

Costco (COST) is also a retailer, and many investors believe that as Walmart goes, so will Costco. They sold COST down on WMT’s news by the same percentage, 4.5%. This how the lemmings do it, time and time again.

That seemed to be an over-reaction to me. COST is a much different company than WMT. COST is adding on new stores every month while WMT is in the process of closing 200 stores, for example. WMT has a much greater international exposure than COST, and the strong dollar is hurting them far more.

I expect cooler heads will soon prevail and COST will recover. Today, with COST trading at $147.20, I made a bet that 4 weeks from now, COST will be at least $145. If it is, I will make 40% after commissions on this spread trade. The stock can fall by $2.20 by that time and I will still make 40%.

Here is what I did for each contract:

Buy to Open 1 COST Mar-16 140 put (COST160318P140)
Sell to Open 1 COST Mar-16 145 put (COST160318P145) for a credit of $1.45 (selling a vertical)

This is called selling a bull put credit spread. When the trade is made, your broker will deposit the proceeds ($145) in your account (less the commission of $2.50 which Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), or a net of $142.50). The broker will make a maintenance requirement of $500 (the difference between the two strike prices). There is no interest on this requirement (like a margin loan), but it just means that $500 in your account can’t be used to buy other stock or options.

Since you received $142.50 when you sold the spread, your net investment is $357.50 (the difference between $500 and $142.50). This is your maximum loss if COST were to end up at any price lower than $140 when the puts expire. The break-even price is $143.57. Any ending price above this will be profitable and any ending price below this will result in a loss. (If the stock ends up at any price between $140 and $145, you will have to repurchase the 145 put that you originally sold, and the 140 put you bought will expire worthless.)

Since I expect the stock will recover, I don’t expect to incur a loss. It is comforting to know that the stock can fall by $2.20 and I will still make my 40%.

If you wanted to be more aggressive and bet the stock will move higher, back above the $150 where it was before today’s sell-off, you could buy March puts at the 145 strike and sell them at the 150 strike. You could collect at least $2.00 for that spread, and you would gain 65% if COST ended up above $150. Higher risk and higher reward. The stock needs to move a bit higher for you to make the maximum gain. I feel more comfortable knowing it can fall a little and still give me a seriously nice gain for a single month.

By the way, these trades can be made in an IRA (if you have a broker like thinkorswim which allows options spread trading in an IRA).

If you make either of these trades, please be sure you do it with money you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged instruments and often have high-percentage gains and losses. With spreads like the above, at least you know precisely what the maximum loss could be. You can’t lose more than you risk.

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

 

The market is closed for the Marin Luther King holiday today, and maybe you have a little time to see how we plan to make some exceptional returns by playing what might happen with oil prices.

I would like to share with you details on a new portfolio we have set up at Terry’s Tips. It is a long-term bet that the price of oil will eventually recover from its recent 12-year lows, but maybe it will get even worse in the short run before an eventual recovery takes place. In the wonderful world of stock options, you can bet on both possibilities at once, and possibly make double-digit monthly gains while you wait for the future to unfold.

I hope you enjoy my thinking about an option strategy based on the future of oil prices. Maybe you might like to emulate these positions in your own account or become a Terry’s Tips Insider and watch them evolve over time.

Terry

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Nobel Laureate Yale University professor Robert Shiller was interviewed by Alex Rosenberg of CNBC on July 6, 2015. He delivered his oft-repeated message that he believed that both stocks and bonds were overvalued and likely to fall. The last couple of weeks in the market makes his forecast seem pretty accurate. And then he continued on to say that he thought that oil would be a good investment, and that he was putting some of his own money on a bet that oil prices would move higher in the long run.
“One should have a wide variety of assets in one’s portfolio. And oil, by the way, is a particularly important asset to have in one’s portfolio, because we need it, and the economy thrives on it,” he said.

“So yeah, prices have come down a lot, partly because of the invention of fracking,” which has increased supply levels. “Will that reverse and go up smartly? I don’t know. But I’m just thinking—historically, commodities have been a good part of a portfolio, and they’re not pricey, so why not?”

So how has his advice turned out? On the day that Shiller suggested buying oil, USO (the most popular ETP that tracks the price of oil) was trading at $19. It is almost exactly half of that amount today.

We might wonder how Mr. Shiller feels about losing half his money in six months. If he hasn’t sold it yet, he really hasn’t lost it of course, but his account value is surely a whole lot less than it was.

I like the idea of getting into oil at a price which is half of what this apparently brilliant man bought it for, and also would like to benefit if the steady drop in the price of oil might continue a bit longer in the short run. Iran is scheduled to start dumping lots of its oil on the world market as the sanctions are removed, and OPEC has shown no inclination to reduce production (in its effort to discourage American frackers who have a higher cost of production). If the supply of oil continues to grow at a faster rate than demand, lower prices will probably continue to be the dominant trend, at least until a major war or terrorist action breaks out, or OPEC changes its tune and cuts back on production. If oil costs more to produce than it can be sold for (as OPEC asserts), then eventually supply must shrink to such a point that oil prices will improve.

Intuition would tell us that lower gas prices in the U.S. should help our economy (except for oil producers). Instead of paying $4 per gallon of gas, American drivers can pay about half that amount and have lots of money left over to buy other things. One would think that this would stimulate the economy and be good for the stock market. Apparently, it has not worked out that way. The recent drop in the stock market was supposedly due to fears of weakness in international economies. Many of them are dependent on oil revenues, and they are in bad shape with oil so cheap. Sometimes what seems intuitively true doesn’t work out in the real world.

It makes sense to me that at some point, supply and demand must even out, and a price achieved that is at least as high as the average cost of getting oil out of the ground. On a 60 Minutes episode on the subject of oil drilling in Saudi Arabia, the minister cited $60 per barrel as that number. This is more than double the current selling price of oil. It seems logical to believe that sometime in the future, this number will once again be reached. If that is the case, USO should be double what it is now.

The portfolio we created at Terry’s Tips (aptly called Black Gold) involves buying call LEAPS on USO which expire in 2018 so we have two years to wait for a rebound in oil.

Here are the two spreads we placed in this portfolio which was set up with $3500 (the actual cost of these spreads, including commissions, was $3186)

Buy To Open 7 USO Jan-18 8 calls (USO180119C8)
Sell To Open 7 USO Mar-16 10.5 calls (USO160318C10.5) for a debit of $2.32 (buying a diagonal)

Buy To Open 10 USO Jan-18 8 calls (USO180119C8)
Sell To Open 10 USO Feb-16 8 calls (USO160229C8) for a debit of $1.52 (buying a calendar)

The first spread (the diagonal) is set up to provide upside protection. The intrinsic value of this spread is $2.50 (the difference between the strike prices of the long and short sides). No matter how high the stock moves, this spread can never trade for less than $2.50. Actually, since there are 22 more months of life to the long Jan-18 calls, they will always have an additional time premium value that will keep the spread value well over $2.50. Since we paid only $2.32 for the spread, we can never lose money on it if the stock were to move higher.

The second spread, the calendar which is slightly in the money (at the 8 strike while the stock is trading about $8.75) is designed to provide downside protection in case the price of oil moves lower. Ideally, we would like the stock to fall about $.75 to end up exactly at $8 in 5 weeks when the Feb-16 calls expire. If that happens, those calls we sold will expire worthless and we will be in a position to sell new calls that expire a month later at the same strike. We should be able to collect about $500 from that sale, well over 10% of the initial cost of all the positions). No matter where the stock ends up, we will sell new calls at the February expiration, most likely in the March-16 series at the 8 strike price. If that is near the money, we should be able to collect about $.50 for each option, and it won’t take too many monthly sales at that level to completely cover our initial $1.52 cost of the spread. We will have 21 opportunities to sell new monthly premium to cover the original cost.

The long side of the calendar spread (the Jan-18 calls) will always have a value which is greater than the short-term calls that we sell at the 8 strike price. It is not always certain that they will be worth $1.32 more than the short-term calls like they are at the beginning, however. If the stock stays within a few dollars of $8, the long side should be worth at least $1.32 higher than the short side. If the stock makes a very large move in either direction, the long side might not be worth $1.32 more than the short side. Hopefully, we will collect new premium each month early on so that the original $1.32 cost has been returned to us and we are then playing with the house’s money for all the remaining months.

When the Mar-16 10.5 calls expire, we will sell new calls with about a month or two of life, choosing strike prices that are appropriate at the time, being careful not to choose a strike which is too low to insure we have at least some spreads which will not lose money no matter how high the stock price moves over the next two years. Presumably, we will be selling short term (one or two month) calls at increasingly higher strike prices as the stock moves higher in the long run, collecting new premium and watching the value of our long Jan-18 8 calls increase substantially in value as they become more and more in the money.

This is the risk profile graph which shows what we should make or lose at various possible stock prices in 5 weeks when the Feb-16 calls expire:

USO Risk Profile Graph Jan 2016
USO Risk Profile Graph Jan 2016

The stock can fall about 9% in 5 weeks before a loss occurs on the downside, or it can go up by any reasonable amount and a double-digit gain should be made on the original cost of the spreads. Each month, we plan to sell enough short-term premium to give us a 10% gain as long as the stock does not fluctuate outside a range of about 10% in either direction. Most months, this should be possible.

This explanation may be a little confusing to anyone who is not familiar with stock options. It would all make total sense if you became a Terry’s Tips Insider and read our 14-day tutorial. It takes a little effort, but it could change your investment returns for the rest of your life.

First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

This week I would like to share with you (for the first time ever) every option position we hold in every stock-based actual portfolio we carry out at Terry’s Tips.  You can access this report here.If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads, and  How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

There is a lot of material to cover in the report and videos, but I hope you will be willing to make the effort to learn a little about a non-traditional way to make greater investment returns than just about anything out there.

Terry

First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Here is a summary of how well our 5 stock-based portfolios using our 10K Strategy performed last month as well as for their entire lifetime:

First Saturday Report October Results 2015

First Saturday Report October Results 2015

 

While it was a good month for the market, the best in 4 years, our 5 portfolios outperformed the market by 166% in October.

Enjoy the full report here.

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short video which explains why I like calendar spreads.  This week I have followed it up with a second video entitled How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

I hope you will enjoy both videos.  I also hope you will sign up for a Terry’s Tips insider subscription and start enjoying exceptional investment returns along with us (through the Auto-Trade program at thinkorswim).

Terry

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

When we set up a portfolio using calendar spreads, we create a risk profile graph using the Analyze Tab on the free thinkorswim trading platform.  The most important part of this graph is the break-even range for the stock price for the day when the shortest option series expires.  If the actual stock price fluctuates dangerously close to either end of the break-even range, action is usually required.

The simple explanation of what adjustments need to be made is that if the stock has risen and is threatening to move beyond the upside limit of the break-even range, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a higher strike price.  If the stock falls so that the lower end of the break-even range is threatened to be breached, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a lower strike.

There are several ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably higher:

1. Sell the lowest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a higher strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Buy a vertical call spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than buying a vertical spread.
4. If you have a fixed amount of money to work with, as we do in the Terry’s Tips portfolios, you may have to reduce the number of calendar spreads you own in order to come up with the necessary cash to make the required investment to maintain a satisfactory risk profile graph.

There are similar ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably lower.  However, the adjustment choices are more complicated because if you try to sell calls at a lower strike price than the long positions you hold, a maintenance requirement comes into play.  Here are the options you might consider when the stock has fallen:

1. Sell the highest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a lower strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Sell a vertical call spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.  Since the long call is at a higher strike price than the new lower-strike call you sell, there will be a $100 maintenance requirement per contract per dollar of difference between the strike price of the long and short calls.  This requirement is reduced by the amount of cash you collect from selling the vertical spread.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than selling a vertical spread.

Why I Like Calendar Spreads

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

I have created a short video which explains why I like calendar spreads.  It also shows the exact positions we hold in 3 Terry’s Tips actual portfolios so you can get a better idea of how we use calendar spreads.

 

I hope you will enjoy the video, and I welcome your comments.

 

Terry

 

Why I Like Calendar Spreads

 

The basic reason I like calendar spreads (aka time spreads) is that they allow you to make extraordinary gains compared to owning the stock if you are lucky enough to trade in a stock that stays flat or moves moderately higher.

 

I get a real kick out of making serious gains when the stock just sits there and doesn’t do anything.  Calendar spreads almost always do extremely well when nothing much happens in the market.

 

While I call them calendar spreads, if you look at the actual positions that we hold in our portfolios, you will see that the long calls we own are not always at the same strike prices as the short calls we have sold to someone else.  That makes them diagonal spreads rather than calendar spreads, but they operate exactly the same as calendar spreads.

 

With both calendar and diagonal spreads, the long calls you own decay at a slower rate than the short calls that you have sold to someone else, and you benefit from the differences in decay rates.  Both spreads do best when the stock ends up precisely at the strike price of an expiring option.  At that point, the short options expire worthless and new options can be sold at a further-out time series at the maximum time premium of any option in that series.

 

If you have sold short options at a variety of strike prices you can make gains over a wider range of possible stock prices.  We use the analyze tab on the free thinkorswim software to select calendar and diagonal spreads which create a risk profile graph which provides a break-even range that lets us sleep at night and will yield a profit if the stock ends up within that range.  I encourage you to try that software and create your own risk profile for your favorite stock, and create a break-even range which you are comfortable with.

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.

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A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Market volatility continues to be high, and the one thing we know from history is that while volatility spikes are quite common, markets eventually settle down.  After enduring a certain amount of psychic pain, investors remember that that the world will probably continue to move along pretty much as it has in the past, and market fears will subside.While this temporary period of high volatility continues to exist, there are some trades to be made that promise extremely high returns in the next few months.  I would like to discuss one today, a trade I just executed in my own personal account so I know it is possible to place.

Terry

A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

As we have been discussing for several weeks, VIX, the so-called Fear Index, continues to be over 25.  This compares to the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.  When VIX eventually falls, one thing we know is that SVXY, the ETP that moves in the opposite direction as VIX, will move higher.

Because of the persistence of contango, SVXY is destined to move higher even if VIX stays flat.  Let’s check out the 5-year chart of this interesting ETP:

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

Note that while the general trend for SVXY is to the upside, every once in a while it takes a big drop.  But the big drops don’t last very long.  The stock recovers quickly once fears subside.  The recent drop is by far the largest one in the history of SVXY.

As I write this, SVXY is trading about $47, up $2 ½ for the day. I believe it is destined to move quite a bit higher, and soon.  But with the trade I made today, a 62% profit (after commissions) can be made in the next 4 months even if the stock were to fall by $7 (almost 15%) from where it is today.

This is what I did:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 35 put (SVXY160115P35)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 40 put (SVXY160115P40) for a credit of $1.95  (selling a vertical)

When this trade was executed, $192.50 (after a $2.50 commission) went into my account. If on January 15, 2016, SVXY is at any price higher than $40, both of these puts will expire worthless, and for every vertical spread I sold, I won’t have to make a closing trade, and I will make a profit of exactly $192.50.

So how much do I have to put up to place this trade?  The broker looks at these positions and calculates that the maximum loss that could occur on them would be $500 ($100 for every dollar of stock price below $40).  For that to happen, SVXY would have to close below $35 on January 15th.  Since I am quite certain that it is headed higher, not lower, a drop of this magnitude seems highly unlikely to me.

The broker will place a $500 maintenance requirement on my account.  This is not a loan where interest is charged, but merely cash I can’t use to buy shares of stock.  However, since I have collected $192.50, I can’t lose the entire $500. My maximum loss is the difference between the maintenance requirement and what I collected, or $307.50.

If SVXY closes at any price above $40 on January 15, both puts will expire worthless and the maintenance requirement disappears.  I don’t have to do anything except think of how I will spend my profit of $192.50.  I will have made 62% on my investment.  Where else can you make this kind of return for as little risk as this trade entails?

Of course, as with all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose.  But I believe the likelihood of losing on this investment is extremely low.  The stock is destined to move higher, not lower, as soon as the current turbulent market settles down.

If you wanted to take a little more risk, you might buy the 45 put and sell a 50 put in the Jan-15 series.  You would be betting that the stock manages to move a little higher over the next 4 months. You could collect about $260 per spread and your risk would be $240.  If SVXY closed any higher than $50 (which history says that it should), your profit would be greater than 100%.  I have also placed this spread trade in my personal account (and my charitable trust account as well).

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

Friday, September 4th, 2015

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

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

Terry

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

As I said last week, the market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 last week, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 28 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

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

XIV Chart September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s review the trades I made last week:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today I would like to pass along a trade I just made.  It has a chance of making 50% if the stock stays flat or moves moderately higher over the next ten days.  I want to share it with you just in case you might like to try it yourself (with some money you could afford to lose – we’re talking about $670 here, per contract).Terry

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

The market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 yesterday, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 30 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

One of our favorite underlying equities (it’s an Exchange Traded Product, or ETP) is SVXY.  It is essentially a way to bet that you think that volatility in the market is likely to fall. When the market is quiet and VIX hangs out in the 12 – 14 range, SVXY inexorably moves higher over time because of a thing called contango (which we can’t explain fully here, but it means that volatility futures are usually higher than the current option volatilities because the future is less certain than the present).

SVXY is the opposite of VXX, an ETP which suffers from the effects of contango. VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted $3000 or so to its present level of $24 over the past 6 years, making it the dog-of-all-dog stocks.  Since SVXY is the opposite of VXX, it has gone up by about the same amount (although it has not been in existence so long).  Its average annual gain has been about 45% since it started up.

SVXY has taken a huge hit with the recent market turmoil, falling from the low $90’s to $58.  When the market settles down, as it most surely will, SVXY can be counted on to move back up to where it was a week ago.  With VIX at 30, history says it is a great time to buy.

Here is what I did today:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

If the stock is exactly where it is when I made the trades ($58.10), the graph says that I will make a gain of $412, or 61% on my investment.  If the stock moves higher by as much as $10 (anywhere in the range of $58 – $68), I should make about $600, or almost 90% in ten days.  If the stock falls by less than $5, I should still make a gain of some sort.  If it falls by more than $5, I would lose money.  In the event of a flat or lower price, the short calls would expire worthless and I would have 4 more weeks of life in the Oct1-15 calls I own.  Presumably, I would then sell new weekly calls against those positions and lower my net investment considerably (and have more time for the stock to recover).

Implied volatility (IV) of these options is excessive right now (over 100), and if the market does settle down, IV should fall.  That might mean the gains would be not as great as the graph indicates, but there should be significant gains nonetheless.

I really like my chances here.  I will report back on how it works out.

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