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Posts Tagged ‘Credit Spreads’

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

Friday, October 31st, 2014

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

And again, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/412276080/da-vinci-bodyboard

Terry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Little About Vertical Spreads

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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

But first, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/412276080/da-vinci-bodyboard

Terry

A Little About Vertical Spreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Avoid an Option Assignment

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

This message is coming out a day early because the underlying stock we have been trading options on has fallen quite a bit once again, and the put we sold to someone else is in danger of being exercised, so we will trade a day earlier than usual to avoid that possibility.

I hope you find this ongoing demonstration of a simple options strategy designed to earn 3% a week to be a simple way to learn a whole lot about trading options.

Terry

How to Avoid an Option Assignment

Owning options is a little more complicated than owning stock. When an expiration date of options you have sold to someone else approaches, you need to compare the stock price to the strike price of the option you sold.  If that option is in the money (i.e., if it is put, the stock is trading at a lower price than the strike price, and if it is a call, the stock is trading at a higher price than the strike price), in order to avoid an exercise, you will need to buy back that option.  Usually, you make that trade as part of a spread order when you are selling another option which has a longer life span.

If the new option you are selling is at the same strike price as the option you are buying back, it is called a calendar spread (also called a time spread), and if the strike prices are different, it is called a diagonal spread.

Usually, the owner of any expiring put or call is better off selling their option in the market rather than exercising the option.  The reason is that there is almost always some remaining premium over and above the intrinsic value of the option, and you can almost always do better selling the option rather than exercising your option.  Sometimes, however, on the day or so before an option expires, when the time premium becomes very small (especially for in-the-money options), the bid price may not be great enough for the owner to sell the option on the market and still get the intrinsic value that he could get through exercising.

To avoid that from happening to you when you are short the option, all you need to do is buy it back before it expires, and no harm will be done.  You won’t lose much money even if an exercise takes place, but sometimes commissions are a little greater when there is an exercise.  Not much to worry about, however.

SVXY fell to the $74 level this week after trading about $78 last week.  In our actual demonstration portfolio we had sold an Oct1-14 81 put (using our Jan-15 90 put as security).  When you are short an option (either a put or a call) and it becomes several dollars in the money at a time when expiration is approaching, there is a good chance that it might be exercised.  Although having a short option exercised is sort of a pain in the neck, it usually doesn’t have much of a financial impact on the bottom line.  But it is nice to avoid if possible.

We decided to roll over the 81 put that expires tomorrow to next week’s option series.  Our goal is to always collect a little cash when we roll over, and that meant this week we could only roll to the 80.5 strike and do the trade at a net credit.  Here is the trade we made today:

Buy To Close 1 SVXY Oct1-14 81 put (SVXY141003P81)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Oct2-14 80.5 put (SVXY141010P80.5) for a credit of $.20  (selling a diagonal)

Our account value is now $1620 from our starting value of $1500 six weeks ago, and we have $248 in cash as well as the Jan-15 90 put which is trading about $20 ($2000).  We have not quite made 3% a week so far, but we have betting that SVXY will move higher as it does most of the time, but it has fallen from $86 when we started this portfolio to $74 where it is today.  One of the best things about option trading is that you can still make gains when your outlook on the underlying stock is not correct.  It is harder to make gains when you guess wrong on the underlying’s direction, but it is possible as our experiment so far has demonstrated.

 

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Last week I reviewed the performance of the Terry’s Tips options portfolio for the first half of the year.  I should have waited a week because this week was a great one – our composite average gained another 6%, making the year-to-date record 22%, or about 3 times as great as the market (SPY) gain of about 7%.

Last week I also discussed a GOOG vertical put credit spread which is designed to gain 100% in the year if GOOG finished up 2014 at any price higher than where it started, something that it has done in 9 of its 10 years in business.  I want to congratulate those subscribers who read my numbers closely enough to recognize that I had made a mistake.  I reported that we had sold a (pre-split) 1120 – 1100 vertical put credit spread and collected $5.03 which was slightly more than the $500 per spread that I would have at risk. Actually, if the difference between the short and long sides was $20, and the maximum loss would be almost $15 (and the potential return on investment would be 33% rather than 100%).  We actually sold the spread for $10.06, not $5.03, and I mistakenly reported the post-split price.  We are now short 560 puts and long 550 puts, so the difference between the two strikes is $10 and we collected $5.03, or just about half that amount.  Bottom line, if GOOG finishes the year above $560, we will make 100% on our investment.  It closed at $585 Friday, so it can fall by $25 from here and we will still double our money.

Today we will discuss two other spreads we placed at the beginning of 2014 in one of the 10 portfolios we conduct for all to see at Terry’s Tips.

Terry

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2:

We have a portfolio we call Better Odds Than Vegas.  In January, we picked three companies which we felt confident would be higher at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.  If we were right, we would make 100% on our money.  We believed our odds were better than plunking the money down on red or black at the roulette table.

Late in 2013, the Wall Street Journal interviewed 13 prominent analysts and asked them what they expected the market would do in 2014.  The average projection was that it would gain slightly more than 5%.  The lowest guess was that it would fall by 2%.  We decided to make a trade that would make a nice gain if any one of the 13 analysts were correct.  In other words, if SPY did anything better than falling by 2%, our spread would make money.

In January, when SPY was trading about $184, we sold a vertical credit put spread for December, buying 177 puts and selling 182 puts.  We collected $2.00 at that time.  If the stock manages to close at any price higher than $182 on the third Friday in December, we will get to keep our entire $200 (per spread – we sold 8 spreads, collecting $1600).  The maintenance requirement would be $500 per spread less the $200 we collected, or $300 per spread ($2400, our maximum loss which would come if SPY closed below $177 in December).  Our potential profit would be about 66% on the investment, and this would come if the market was absolutely flat (or even fell a little bit) over the course of the year.  The stock closed Friday at $198.20, so it could fall by $16.20 between now and December and we would still make 66%.

The third company we bet on in this portfolio in January was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), now called Keurig Coffee Roasters.  This was a company with high option premiums that we have followed closely over the years (being in my home state of Vermont).  We have made some extraordinary gains with options on several occasions with GMCR.  Two directors (who were not billionaires) had bought a million dollars each of company stock, and we believed that something big might be coming their way.

With the stock trading about $75, we made an aggressive bet, both in our selection of strike prices and expiration month. Rather than giving the stock a whole year to move higher, we picked June, and gave it only 6 months to do something good.  We sold Jun-14 80 puts and bought Jun-14 70 puts, and collected $5.40.  If the stock stayed at $75, we would make only a small profit on the third Friday in June, but if it rose above $80 by that time, we would make $5.40 on an investment of $4.60, or 117%.

The good news that we anticipated came true – Coke came along and bought 10% of the company for $1 billion and signed a 10-year licensing agreement with GMCR.  The stock shot up to $120 overnight (giving Coke a $500 million windfall gain, by the way).  At that point, we picked up a little extra from the original spread.  We sold a vertical call credit spread for the June expiration month, buying the 160 calls and selling 150 calls, collecting an extra $1.45 per spread.  This did not increase our maintenance requirement because we had, in effect, legged into a short iron condor spread. It would be impossible for us to lose money on both our spreads, so the broker only charged the maintenance requirement on one of them.

Selling the call spread meant that our total gain for the six months would amount to almost 150% if GMCR ended up at any price between $80 and $150.  It ended up at about $122 and we enjoyed this entire gain.

We have since sold another GMCR vertical credit put spread for Jan-15, buying 90 puts and selling 100 puts for a credit of $3.45.  Our maximum loss is $6.55, and this would come if the stock closed below $90 on the third Friday in January.  The potential maximum gain would amount to 52% for the six months.  This amount was far less than the first spread because we selected strikes which were well below the then-current price of the stock (GMCR is now $125, well above our $100 target).  This makes our potential gain for this stock for the year a very nice 200%.

We advocate making these kinds of long-term options bet when you feel confident that a company will somehow be the same or higher than it is at the beginning. If you are right, extraordinary gains are possible. In our case, our portfolio has gained 41% for the year so far, and the three stocks can all fall by a fair amount and we will still make 100% on our starting investment when these options expire (hopefully worthless so we can keep all the cash we collected at the outset) on January 17, 2015.

Six-Month Review of Our Options Strategies – Part 1

Monday, June 30th, 2014

We have just finished the first half of 2014.  It has been a good year for the market.  It’s up about 6.7%.  Everyone should be fairly happy.  The composite portfolios conducted at Terry’s Tips have gained 16% over these months, almost 2 ½ times as much as the market rose.  Our subscribers are even happier than most investors.

Our results would have been even better except for our one big losing portfolio which has lost nearly 80% because we tried something which was exactly the opposite to the basic strategy used in all the other portfolios (we essentially bought options rather than selling short-term options as our basic strategy does).  In one month, we bought a 5-week straddle on Oracle because in was so cheap, and the stock did not fluctuate more than a dollar for the entire period. We lost about 80% of our investment.  If we had bought a calendar spread instead (like we usually do), it would have been a big winner.

Today I would like to discuss the six-month results of a special strategy that we set up in January which was designed to make 100% in one year with very little (actually none) trades after the first ones were placed.

Terry

Six-Month Review of Our Options Strategies:

We have a portfolio we call Better Odds Than Vegas.  In January, we picked three companies which we felt confident would be higher at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.  If we were right, we would make 100% on our money.  We believed our odds were better than plunking the money down on red or black at the roulette table.

Today we will discuss the first company we chose – Google (GOOG).  This company had gone public 10 years earlier, and in 9 of those 10 years, it was higher at the end of the calendar year than it was at the outset.  Only in the market melt-down of 2007 did it fail to grow at least a little bit over the year.  Clearly, 9 out of 10 were much better odds than the 5 out of 10 at the roulette table (actually the odds are a little worse than this because of the two white or yellow possibilities on the wheel).

In January 2014 when we placed these trades, GOOG was trading just about $1120.  We put on what is called a vertical credit spread using puts.  We bought 5 January 2015 1100 puts and with the same trade sold 5 Jan-15 1120 puts for a credit spread of $5.03.  That put a little more than $2500 in our account after commissions.  The broker would charge us a maintenance requirement of $5000 on these spreads.  A maintenance requirement is not a loan, and no interest is charged on it – you just can’t spend that money buying other stocks or options.

If you subtract the $2500 we received in cash from the $5000 maintenance requirement you would end up with an investment of $2500 which represented the maximum loss you could get (and in this case, it was the maximum gain as well).  If GOOG ended up the year (actually on the third Friday in January 2015) at any price higher than where it started ($1120), both put options would expire worthless, the maintenance requirement would disappear, and we would get to keep the $2500 we got at the beginning.

Then GOOG declared a 2 – 1 stock split (first time ever) and we ended up with 10 put contracts at the 560 and 550 strike prices.  Usually, when a company announces that a split is coming, people buy the stock and the price moves higher.  Once the split has taken place, many people sell half their shares and the stock usually goes down a bit.  That is exactly what happened to GOOG.  Before the split, it rose to over $1228.  We were happy because it could then fall by over $100 and we would still double our money with our original put spreads.  But then, after the split, following the pattern that so many companies do, it fell back to a split-adjusted $1020, a level at which we would lose our entire investment.

Fortunately, today GOOG is trading at about $576, a number which is above our break-even post-split price of $560.  All it has to do now for the rest of the year is to go up by any amount or fall by less than $16 and we will double our money.  We still like our chances. If we were not so confident, we could buy the spread back today and pay only $4.25 for it and that would give us a profit of about 15% for the six months we have held it.

Next week we will discuss the two other vertical put spreads we sold in January.  After you read about all 3 of our plays, you will have a better idea on how to use these kinds of spreads on companies you like, and return a far greater percentage gain than the stock goes up (in fact, it doesn’t have to go up a penny to earn the maximum amount).

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

Monday, June 16th, 2014

The recent developments in Iraq have nudged options volatility higher, but for one underlying, SVXY, it has apparently pushed IV through the roof.  This development has brought about some potentially profitable option spread possibilities.Terry

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

In case you don’t know what SVXY is, you might check out the chart of its volatility-related inverse, VXX.  This is the ETP many investors use as a protection against a market crash.  If a crash comes along, options volatility skyrockets, taking VXX right along with it.  The only problem with VXX is that over time, it is just about the worst investment you could imagine making.  Three times in the last five years they have had to engineer 1 – for – 4  reverse splits to keep the price higher enough to bother with buying.  Over the past 7 years, VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted price over $2000 to its current $32.

Wouldn’t you like to buy the inverse of VXX?  You can.  It’s called SVXY  (XIV is also its inverse, but you can’t trade options on XIV).

Last week I talked about buying short-term (weekly) call options on SVXY because in exactly half the weeks so far in 2014, the stock had moved $4 higher at least once during the week.  I also advised waiting until option prices were lower before taking this action.  Now that option prices have escalated, the best thing seems to be selling option premium rather than buying it.

Two weeks ago, a slightly out-of-the-money weekly SVXY option had a bid price of $1.05.  Friday, that same option had a bid price of $2.30, more than double that amount.

All other things being equal, SVXY should move higher each month at the current level of Contango (6.49%).  That works out to about $1.20 each week.  I would like to place a bet that SVXY moves higher by about that amount and sell a calendar spread at a strike price about that much above Friday’s close ($79.91).

Below I have displayed the risk profile graph  for a July-June 81 calendar put spread (I used puts rather than calls because if the stock does move higher, the June puts will expire worthless and I will save a commission by not buying them back.

This would be the risk profile graph if we were to buy 5 Jul-14 – Jun-14 put calendar spreads at the 81 strike price at a cost of $3.00 (or less).  You would have $1500 at risk and could make over 50% on your investment if the stock goes up by amount that contango would suggest.  Actually, as I write this Monday morning, it looks like SVXY will open up about a dollar lower, and the spread might better be placed at the 80 strike instead of the 81.

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014
SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014

A break-even range of $3 to the downside and about $5 on the upside looks quite comfortable.  If you had a little more money to invest, you might try buying September puts rather than July – this would allow more time for SVXY to recover if it does fall this week on scary developments in Iraq (or somewhere else in the world).

I have personally placed a large number of Sep-Jun calendar spreads on SVXY at strike prices both above and below the current stock price in an effort to take advantage of the unusually higher weekly option prices that exist  right now.

That’s enough about SVXY for today, but I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

Contango, Backwardation, and SVXY

Monday, May 19th, 2014

This week I would like to introduce you to a thing called contango.  This is relevant today because contango just got higher than I have seen it in many years – over 10% while most of the time, it hangs out in the 3% – 4% range.  This measure becomes important when you are trading in my favorite ETP (Exchange Traded Product), SVXY.  If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, read on.
Terry

Contango, Backwardation, and SVXY

There seems to be a widespread need for a definition of contango.   I figure that about 99% of investors have no idea of what contango or backwardation are.  That’s a shame, because they are important concepts which can be precisely measured and they strongly influence whether certain investment instruments will move higher (or lower).  Understanding contango and backwardation can seriously improve your chances of making profitable investments.

Contango sounds like it might be some sort of exotic dance that you do against (con) someone, and maybe the definition of backwardation is what your partner does, just the opposite (indeed, it is, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves because we haven’t defined contango is yet).

If you have an idea (in advance) which way a stock or other investment instrument is headed, you have a real edge in deciding what to do.  Contango can give you that edge.

So here’s the definition of contango – it is simply that the prices of futures are upward sloping over time, (second month more expensive than front month, third month more expensive than second, etc.), Usually, the further out in the future you look, the less certain you are about what will happen, and the more uncertainty there is, the higher the futures prices are.  For this reason, contango is the case about 75 – 90% of the time.

Sometimes, when a market crash has occurred or Greece seems to be on the brink of imploding, the short-term outlook is more uncertain than the longer-term outlook (people expect that things will settle down eventually).  When this happens, backwardation is the case – a downward-sloping curve over time.

So what’s the big deal about the shape of the price curve?  In itself, it doesn’t mean much, but when it gets involved in the construction of some investment instruments, it does become a big deal.

A Little About VXX (and its Inverse, SVXY)

One of the most frequent times that contango appears in the financial press is when VXX is discussed. VXX is an ETP which trades very much like any stock.  You can buy (or sell) shares in it, just like you can IBM.  You can also buy or sell options using VXX as the underlying. VXX was created by Barclay’s on January 29, 2009 and it will be closed out with a cash settlement on January 30, 2019 (so we have a few years remaining to play with it).

VXX is an equity that people purchase as protection against a market crash.  It is based on the short-term futures of VIX, the so-called “fear index” which is a measure of the implied volatility of options on SPY, the tracking stock for the S&P 500.  When the market crashes, VIX usually soars, the futures for VIX move higher as well, pushing up the price of VXX.

In August of 2011 when the market (SPY) fell by 10%, VXX rose from $21 to $42, a 100% gain.  Backwardation set in and VXX remained above $40 for several months.  VXX had performed exactly as it was intended to.  Pundits have argued that a $10,000 investment in VXX protects a $100,000 portfolio of stocks against loss in case of a market crash.  No wonder it is so popular.  Investors buy about $3 billion worth of VXX every month as crash protection against their other investments in stocks or mutual funds.

There is only one small bad thing about VXX.  Over the long term, it is just about the worst stock you could ever buy. Over the last three years, they have had to have 3 reverse 1 – 4 stock splits just to keep the price of VXX high enough to bother with trading.  Every time it gets down to about $12, they engineer a reverse split and the stock is suddenly trading at $48.  Over time, it goes back to $12 and they do it again (at least that is how it has worked ever since it was created).

VXX is adjusted every day by buying VIX futures and selling VIX at its spot price.  (This is not exactly what happens, but conceptually it is accurate.)  As long as contango is in effect, they are essentially buying high (because future prices are higher than the spot price) and selling low (the current spot price).  The actual contango number represents an approximation of how much VXX will fall in one month if a market correction or crash doesn’t take place.

So it’s a sort of big deal when contango gets over 10% as it is today.  VXX is bound to tumble, all other things being equal.  On the other hand, SVXY is likely to go up by that much in a month since it is the inverse of VXX.  SVXY has had a nice run lately, moving up an average of 4.5% in each of the last three weeks, in fact.  You can see why it is my favorite ETP (I trade puts and calls on it in large quantities every week, usually betting that it will move higher).

That’s enough about contango for today, but if you are one of the few people who have read down this far, I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  I want to share some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans but I don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much traffic while I get a new website set up.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

 

How Option Prices are Determined

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Last week was one of the best for the market in about two years.  Our option portfolios at Terry’s Tips made great gains across the board as well.  One portfolio gained 55% for the week, in fact.  It is fun to have a little money tied up in an investment that can deliver those kinds of returns every once in a while.

This week I would like to discuss a little about what goes into an option price – what makes them what they are?

Terry

How Option Prices are Determined

Of course, the market ultimately determines the price of any option as buyers bid and sellers ask at various prices.  Usually, they meet somewhere in the middle and a price is determined.  This buying and selling action is generally not based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of value, but is soundly grounded on some mathematical considerations.

There are 5 components that determine the value of an option:

1. The price of the underlying stock

2. The strike price of the option

3. The time until the option expires

4. The cost of money (interest rates less dividends, if any)

5. The volatility of the underlying stock

The first four components are easy to figure out.  Each can precisely be measured.  If they were the only components necessary, option pricing would be a no-brainer.  Anyone who could add and subtract could figure it out to the penny.

The fifth component – volatility – is the wild card.  It is where all the fun starts.  Options on two different companies could have absolutely identical numbers for all of the first four components and the option for one company could cost double what the same option would cost for the other company.  Volatility is absolutely the most important (and elusive) ingredient of option prices.

Volatility is simply a measure of how much the stock fluctuates.  So shouldn’t it be easy to figure out?   It actually is easy to calculate, if you are content with looking backwards.  The amount of fluctuation in the past is called historical volatility.  It can be precisely measured, but of course it might be a little different each year.

So historical volatility gives market professionals an idea of what the volatility number should be.  However, what the market believes will happen next year or next month is far more important than what happened in the past, so the volatility figure (and the option price) fluctuates all over the place based on the current emotional state of the market.

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).

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Today I would like share with you the results of an actual trade recommendations I made for my paying subscribers on January 4th of this year and how subsequent price changes have opened up option possibilities that can further improve possibilities for a first investment.

Please don’t get turned off by what this new spread is called.

Terry

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

In my weekly Saturday Report that I send to paying subscribers, on January 4, 2014 I set up an actual demonstration portfolio in a separate trading account at thinkorswim in which I made long-term bets that three underlying stocks (GOOG, SPY, and GMCR) would be higher than they currently were at some distant point in the future.  The entire portfolio would make exactly 93% with the three spreads I chose if I were right about the stock prices.

Almost two months later, things are looking pretty good for all three spreads, but that is not as important as what we can learn about option possibilities.

If you recall, early this year I was quite bullish on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) which has recently changed their name to Keurig Green Mountain.  The major reason was that three insiders who had never bought shares before had recently made huge purchases (two of a million dollars each).  I Googled these men and learned that they were mid-level executives who were clearly not high rollers.  I figured that if they were committing this kind of money, they must have had some very good reason(s),  Also, for four solid months, not a single director had sold a single share, something that was an unusual pattern for the company.

My feelings about the company were also boosted when a company writing for Seeking Alpha published an article in which they had selected GMCR as the absolute best company from a fundamental standpoint in a database of some 6000 companies.

This is what I wrote in that Saturday Report – “The third spread, on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), is a stronger bullish bet than either of the first two, for two reasons.  The stock is trading about in the middle of the long and short put prices (70 and 80), and the time period is only six months (expiring in June 2014) rather than 11 or 12 months.  I paid $540 for the Jun-14 80 – Jun-14 70 vertical put credit spread.  My maximum loss is $460 per spread if the stock closes below $70, and I will make 115% after commissions in six months if it closes above $80.”

This vertical put credit spread involved selling the Jun-14 80 puts for $13.06 and buying the Jun-70 puts for $7.66, collecting $540 for each spread.  I sold 5 of these spreads, collecting a total of $2700.  There would be a maintenance requirement of $5000 for the spreads (not a margin loan which would have interest charged on it, but an amount that I couldn’t use to buy other stocks or options).  Subtracting what I received in cash from the maintenance requirement, my real cost (and maximum loss) would be $2300.  If GMCR closed at any price above $80 on June 21, 2014, both puts would expire worthless and I could keep my $2700 and make 115% after commissions (there would be no commissions to pay if both puts expired worthless).

An interesting side note to the $2700 cash I received in this transaction.  In the same account, I also owned shares of my favorite underlying stock.  I am so bullish on this other company (which is really not a company at all, but an Exchange Traded Product (ETP)) that I owned some on margin, paying 9% on a margin loan.  The cash I received from the credit spread was applied to my margin loan and reduced the total on which I was paying interest.  In other words, I was enjoying a 9% gain on the spread proceeds while I waited out the six months for the options to expire.

In case you hadn’t heard, GMCR announced on February 5th that they had executed a 10-year contract with Coke to sell individual cups on an exclusive basis.  The stock soared some 50%, from $80 to over $120.  In addition, Coke bought 10% of GMCR for $1.25 billion, and gained over $600 million on their purchase in a single day.  Obviously, those insiders knew what they were doing when they made their big investments last November.

Now I am in an interesting position with this spread.  It looks quite certain that I will make the 115% if I just sit and wait another 4 months.  The stock is highly unlikely to fall back below $80 at this point.  I could but back the spread today for $.64, ($320 for the 5 spreads) and be content with a $2380 gain now rather than $2700 in June.

But instead, I decided to wait it out, and add a twist to my investment.  Since the deal with Coke will not reach the market until at least 2015, it seems to me that we are in for a period of waiting until the chances of success for single servings of Coke are better known.  The stock is probably not going to move by a large amount in either direction between now and June.

With that in mind, I sold another vertical credit spread with June options, this time using calls.  I bought Jun-14 160 calls and sold Jun-14 150 calls and collected $1.45 ($725 less $12.50 commissions).  These options will expire worthless if GMCR is at any price below $150 on June 21, 2014, something that I believe is highly likely.  I think it has already taken the big upward move that it will take this year.

If the stock ends up at any price between $80 and $150, I will make money on both spreads that I sold.  Now the total I can gain is $3400 (after commissions) and my net investment has now been reduced to $1600 and my maximum gain is 212% on my money at risk.

This new spread will not have any maintenance requirement because the broker understands that I can’t lose money on both vertical spreads I have sold.  He will look at the two spreads and notice that the difference between the long and short strike prices is 10 for both spreads.  As long as he is setting aside $5000 in a maintenance requirement on the account, he knows that I can lose that maximum amount on only one of the two spreads.

What I have done is to leg into what is called a short iron condor spread (legging in means you buy one side of a spread to start, and then add the other side at a later time – the normal way to execute a spread is to execute both sides at the same time).  You don’t have to know any more about it than know its name at this time, but I invite you to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and learn all about short iron condors as well as many other interesting options strategies.

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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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