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Posts Tagged ‘diagonal spreads’

How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

Monday, November 9th, 2015

One of the best times to set up an options strategy is just before a company announces earnings.  Today I would like to share our experience doing this last month with Facebook (FB) last month.  I hope you will read all the way through – there is some important information there.If you missed them, 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.


How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

When a company reports results each quarter, the stock price often fluctuates far more than usual, depending on how well the company performs compared both to past performance and to the market’s collective level of expectations.  Anticipating a big move one way or another, just prior to the announcement, option prices skyrocket, both puts and calls.

At Terry’s Tips, our basic strategy involves selling short-term options to others (using longer-term options as collateral for making those sales).  One of the absolute best times for us is the period just before an upcoming earnings announcement. That is when we can collect the most premium.

An at-the-money call (stock price and strike price are the same) for a call with a month of remaining life onFacebook (FB) trades for about $3 ($300 per call).  If that call expires shortly after an earnings announcement, it will trade for about $4.80.  That is a significant difference. In options parlance, option prices are “high” or “low” depending on their implied volatility (IV).  IV is much higher for all options series in the weeks before the announcement.  IV is at its absolute highest in the series that expires just after the announcement.  Usually that is a weekly option series.

Here are IV numbers for FB at-the-money calls before and after the November 4th earnings announcement:

One week option life before, IV = 57  One week option life after, IV = 25
Two week option life before, IV = 47  Two week option life after, IV = 26
One month option life before, IV =38  One month option life after, IV = 26
Four month option life before, IV = 35  Four month option life after, IV = 31

These numbers clearly show that when you are buying a 4-month-out call (March, IV=35) and selling a one-week out call (IV=57), before an announcement, you are buying less expensive options (lower IV) than those which you are selling. After the announcement, this gets reversed.  The short-term options you are selling are relatively less expensive than the ones you are buying.  Bottom line, before the announcement, you are buying low and selling high, and after the announcement, you are buying high and selling low.

You can make a lot of money buying a series of longer-term call options and selling short-term calls at several strike prices in the series that expires shortly after the announcement.  If the long and short sides of your spread are at the same strike price, you call it a calendar spread, and if the strikes are at different prices, it is called a diagonal spread.

Calendar and diagonal spreads essentially work the same, with the important point being the strike price of the short option that you have sold.  The maximum gain for your spread will come if the stock price ends up exactly at that strike price when the option expires.  If you can correctly guess the price of the stock after the announcement, you can make a ton of money.

But as we all know, guessing the short-term price of a stock is a really tough thing to do, especially when you are trying to guess where it might end up shortly after the announcement.  You never know how well the company has done, or more importantly, how the market will react to how the company has performed.  For that reason, we recommend selecting selling short-term options at several different strike prices.  This increases your chances of having one short strike which gains you the maximum amount possible.

Here are the positions held in our actual FB portfolio at Terry’s Tips on Friday, October 30th, one week before the Nov-1 15 calls would expire just after FB announced earnings on November 4th:

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

We owned calls which expired in March 2016 at 3 different strikes (97.5, 100, and 105) and we were short calls with one week of remaining life at 4 different strikes (103, 105, 106, and 107). There was one calendar spread at the 105 strike and all the others were diagonal spreads.  We owned 2 more calls than we were short.  This is often part of our strategy just before announcement day.  A fairly large percent of the time, the stock moves higher in the day or two before the announcement as anticipation of a positive report kicks in.  We planned to sell another call before the announcement, hopefully getting a higher price than we would have received earlier.  (We sold a Nov1-15 204 call for $2.42 on Monday).  We were feeling pretty positive about the stock, and maintained a more bullish (higher net delta position) than we normally do.

Here is the risk profile graph for the above positions.  It shows our expected gain or loss one week later (after the announcement) when the Nov1-15 calls expired:

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

When we produced this graph, we instructed the software to assume that IV for the Mar-16 calls would fall from 35 to 30 after the announcement.  If we hadn’t done that, the graph would have displayed unrealistically high possible returns.  You can see with this assumption, a flat stock price should result in a $300 gain, and if the stock rose $2 or higher, the gain would be in the $1000 range (maybe a bit higher if the stock was up just moderately because of the additional $242 we collected from selling another call).

So what happened?  FB announced earnings that the market liked.  The stock soared from about $102 to about $109 after the announcement (but then fell back a bit on Friday, closing at $107.10).  We bought back the expiring Nov1-15 calls (all of which were in the money on Thursday or Friday) and sold further-out calls at several strike prices to get set up for the next week.   The portfolio gained $1301 in value, rising from $7046 to $8347, up 18.5% for the week.  This is just a little better than our graph predicted.  The reason for the small difference is that IV for the March calls fell only to 31, and we had estimated that it would fall to 30.

You can see why we like earnings announcement time, especially when we are right about the direction the stock moves.  In this case, we would have made a good gain no matter how high the stock might go (because we had one uncovered long call).  Most of the time, we select short strikes which yield a risk profile graph with more downside protection and limited upside potential (a huge price rise would yield a lower gain, and possibly a loss).

One week earlier, in our Starbucks (SBUX) portfolio, we had another earnings week.  SBUX had a positive earnings report, but the market was apparently disappointed with guidance and the level of sales in China, and the stock was pushed down a little after the announcement.  Our portfolio managed to gain 18% for the week.

Many people would be happy with 18% a year on their invested capital, and we have done it in a single week in which an earnings announcement took place.  We look forward to having three more such weeks when reporting season comes around once again over the course of a year, both for these two underlyings and the 4 others we also trade (COST, NKE, JNJ, and SPY).
“I have confidence in your system…I have seen it work very well…currently I have had a first 100% gain, and am now working to diversify into more portfolios.  Goldman/Sachs is also doing well – up about 40%…

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.


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).


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.




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.

How to Fine-Tune Market Risk With Weekly Options

Monday, August 17th, 2015

This week I would like to share an article word-for-word which I sent to Insiders this week.  It is a mega-view commentary on the basic options strategy we conduct at Terry’s Tips.  The report includes two tactics that we have been using quite successfully to adjust our risk level each week using weekly options.

If you are already trading options, these tactic ideas might make a huge difference to your results.  If you are not currently trading options, the ideas will probably not make much sense, but you might enjoy seeing the results we are having with the actual portfolios we are carrying out for our subscribers.


How to Fine-Tune Market Risk With Weekly Options

“Bernie Madoff attracted hundreds of millions of dollars by promising investors 12% a year (consistently, year after year). Most of our portfolios achieve triple that number and hardly anyone knows about us.  Even more significant, our returns are actual – Madoff never delivered gains of any sort. There seems to be something wrong here.

Our Capstone Cascade portfolio is designed to spin off (in cash) 36% a year, and it has done so for 10 consecutive months and is looking more and more likely that we will be able to do that for the long run (as long as we care to carry it out).  Actually, at today’s buy-in value (about $8300), the $3600 we withdraw each year works out to be 43%.  Theta in this portfolio has consistently added up to double what we need to make the monthly withdrawal, and we gain even more from delta when SVXY moves higher.

Other portfolios are doing even better.  Rising Tide has gained 140% in just over two years while the underlying Costco has moved up 23.8% (about what Madoff promised).   Black Gold appears to be doing even better than that (having gained an average of 3% a week since it was started).

A key part of our current strategy, and a big change from how we operated in the past, is having short options in each of several weekly series, with some rolling over (usually about a month out) each week.  This enables us to tweak the risk profile every Friday without making big adjustments that involve selling some of the long positions.  If the stock falls during a week, we will find ourselves with previously-sold short options that  are at higher strikes than the stock price, and we will collect the  maximum time premium in a month-out series by selling an at-the-money (usually call) option.

If the stock rises during the week, we may find that we have more in-the-money calls than we would normally carry, so we will sell new month-out calls which are out of the money.  Usually, we can buy back in-the-money calls and replace them with out-of-the-money calls and do it at a credit, again avoiding adjustment trades which might cause losses when the underlying displays whip-saw price action.

For the past several weeks, we have not suffered through a huge drop in our underlyings, but earlier this year, we incurred one in SVXY.  We now have a way of contending with that kind of price action when it comes along.  If a big drop occurs, we can buy a vertical call spread in our long calls and sell a one-month-out at-the-money call for enough cash to cover the cost of rolling the long side down to a lower strike.  As long as we don’t have to come up with extra cash to make the adjustment, we can keep the same number of long calls in place and continue to sell at-the-money calls each week when we replace expiring short call positions.  This tactic avoids the inevitable losses involved in closing out an out-of-the-money call calendar spread and replacing it with an at-the-money calendar spread which always costs more than the spread we sold.

Another change we have added is to make some long-term credit put spreads as a small part of an overall 10K Strategy portfolio, betting that the underlying will at least be flat in a year or so from when we placed the spread.  These bets can return exceptional returns while in many respects being less risky than our basic calendar and diagonal spread strategies.  The longer time period allows for a big drop in stock price to take place as long as it is offset by a price gain in another part of the long-term time frame.  Our Better Odds Than Vegas II portfolio trades these types of spreads exclusively, and is on target to gain 91% this year, while the Retirement Trip Fund II portfolio is on target to gain 52% this year (and the stock can fall a full 50% and that gain will still come about).

The trick to having portfolios with these kinds of extraordinary gains is to select underlying stocks or ETPs which you feel strongly will move higher.  We have managed to do this with our selections of COST, NKE, SVXY, SBUX, and more recently, FB, while we have  failed to do it (and faced huge losses) in our single failing portfolio, BABA Black Sheep where Alibaba has plummeted to an all-time low since we started the portfolio when it was near its all-time high.  Our one Asian diversification effort has served to remind us that it is far more important to find an underlying that you can count on moving higher, or at least staying flat (when we usually do even better than when it moves higher).

Bottom line, I think we are on to something big in the way we are managing our investments these days.  Once you have discovered something that is working, it is important to stick with it rather than trying to improve your strategy even more.  Of course, if the market lets us know that the strategy is no longer working, changes would be in order.  So far, that has not been the case.  The recent past has included a great many weeks when we enjoyed 10 of our 11 portfolios gaining in value, while only BABA lost money as the stock continued to tumble. We will soon find another underlying to replace BABA (or conduct a different strategy in that single losing portfolio).”

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Before I delve into this week’s option idea I would like to tell you a little bit about the actual option portfolios that are carried out for Insiders at Terry’s Tips.  We have 11 different portfolios which use a variety of underlying stocks or ETPs (Exchange Traded Products).  Eight of the 11 portfolios can be traded through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim (so you can follow a portfolio and never have to make a trade on your own).  The 3 portfolios that cannot be Auto-Traded are simple to do on your own (usually only one trade needs to be made for an entire year).

Ten of our 11 portfolios are ahead of their starting investment, some dramatically ahead.  The only losing portfolio is based on Alibaba (BABA) – it was a bet on the Chinese market and the stock is down over 30% since we started the portfolio at the beginning of this year (our loss is much greater).  The best portfolio for 2015 is up 55% so far and will make exactly 91% if the three underlyings (AAPL, SPY, and GOOG) remain where they presently are (or move higher).  GOOG could fall by $150 and that spread would still make 100% for the year.

Another portfolio is up 44% for 2015 and is guaranteed to make 52% for the year even if the underlying (SVXY) falls by 50% between now and the end of the year.  A portfolio based on Costco (COST) was started 25 months ago and is ahead more than 100% while the stock rose 23% – our portfolio outperformed the stock by better than 4 times.  This is a typical ratio –  portfolios based on Nike (NKE) and Starbucks (SBUX) have performed similarly.

We are proud of our portfolio performance and hope you will consider taking a look at how they are set up and perform in the future.


3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

If you think the market will be flat for the next month, there are several options strategies you might employ.  In each of the following three strategies, I will show how you could invest $1000 and what the risk/reward ratio would be with each strategy.  As a proxy for “the market,” we will use SPY as the underlying (this is the tracking stock for the S&P 500 index).  Today, SPY is trading at $210 and we will be trading options that expire in just about a month (30 days from when I wrote this).

Strategy #1 – Calendar Spread.  With SPY trading at $210, we will buy calls which expire on the third Friday in October and we will sell calls which expire in 30 days (on September 4, 2015).  Both options will be at the 210 strike.  We will have to spend $156 per spread (plus $2.50 commissions at the thinkorswim rate for Terry’s Tips subscribers).  We will be able to buy 6 spreads for our $1000 budget. The total investment will be $951.   Here is what the risk profile graph looks like when the short options expire on September 4th:

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

On these graphs, the column under P/L Day shows the gain (or loss) when the short options expire at the stock price in the left-hand column.  You can see that if you are absolutely right and the market is absolutely flat ($210), you will double your money in 30 days.  The 210 calls you sold will expire worthless (or nearly so) and you will own October 210 calls which will be worth about $325 each since they have 5 weeks of remaining life.

The stock can fluctuate by $4 in either direction and you will make a profit of some sort.  However, if it fluctuates by much more than $4 you will incur a loss.  One interesting thing about calendar spreads (in contrast to the other 2 strategies we discuss below) is that no matter how much the stock deviates in either direction, you will never lose absolutely all of your investment.  Since your long positions have an additional 35 days of life, you will always have some value over and above the options you have.  That is one of the important reasons that I prefer calendar spreads to the other strategies.

Strategy #2 – Butterfly Spread:  A typical butterfly spread in involves selling 2 options at the strike where you expect the stock to end up when the options expire (either puts or calls will do – the strike price is the important thing) and buying one option an equidistant number of strikes above and below the strike price of the 2 options you sold.  You make these trades all at the same time as part of a butterfly spread.

You can toy around with different strike prices to create a risk profile graph which will provide you with a break-even range which you will be comfortable with.  In order to keep the 3 spread strategies similar, I set up strikes which would yield a break-even range which extended about $4 above and below the $210 current strike.  This ended up involving selling 2 Sept-1 2015 calls at the 210 strike, and buying a call in the same series at the 202.5 strike and the 217.5 strike.  The cost per spread would be $319 plus $5 commission per spread, or $324 per spread.  We could buy 3 butterfly spreads with our $1000 budget, shelling out $972.

Here is the risk profile graph for that butterfly spread when all the options expire on September 4, 2015:

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see that the total gain if the stock ends up precisely at the $210 price is even greater ($1287) than it is with the butterfly spread above ($1038).  However, if the stock moves either higher or lower by $8, you will lose 100% of your investment.  That’s a pretty scary alternative, but this is a strategy that does best when the market is flat, and you would only buy a butterfly spread if you had a strong feeling of where you think the price of the underlying stock will be on the day when all the options expire.

Strategy #3 – Short Iron Condor Spread.  This spread is a little more complicated (and is explained more fully in my White Paper).  It involves buying (and selling) both puts and calls all in the same expiration series (as above, that series will be the Sept1-15 options expiring on September 4, 2015).  In order to create a risk profile graph which showed a break-even range which extended $4 in both directions from $210, we bought calls at the 214 strike, sold calls at the 217 strike and bought puts at the 203 strike while selling puts at the 206 strike.  A short iron condor spread is sold at a credit (you collect money by selling it).  In this case, each spread would collect $121 less $5 commission, or $116.  Since there is a $3 difference between each of the strikes, it is possible to lose $300 per spread if the stock ends up higher than $217 or lower than $203.  We can’t lose the entire $300, however, because we collected $116 per spread at the outset.  The broker will put a hold on $300 per spread (it’s called a maintenance requirement and does not accrue interest like a margin loan does), less the $116 we collected.  That works out to a total net investment of $184 per spread (which is the maximum loss we could possibly incur).  With our $1000 budget, you could sell 5 spreads, risking $920.

Here is the risk profile graph for this short iron condor spread:

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see the total potential gain for the short iron condor spread is about half what it was for either of the earlier spreads, but it has the wonderful feature of coming your way at any possible ending stock price between $206 and $214.  Both the calendar spread and the butterfly spread required the stock to be extremely near $210 to make the maximum gain, and the potential gains dropped quickly as the stock moved in any direction from that single important stock price.  The short iron condor spread has a lower maximum gain but it comes your way over a much larger range of possible ending stock prices.

Another advantage of the short iron condor is that if the stock ends up at any price in the profit range, all the options expire worthless, and you don’t have to execute a trade to close out the positions.  Both the other strategies require closing trades.

This is clearly not a complete discussion of these option strategies.  Instead, it is just a graphic display of the risk/reward possibilities when you expect a flat market.  Maybe this short report will pique your interest so that you will consider subscribing to our service where I think you will get a thorough understanding of these, and other, options strategies that might generate far greater returns than conventional investments can offer.

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

One of the great mysteries in the investment world (at least to me, an admitted options nut) is why anyone would buy stock in a company they really like when they could dramatically increase their expected returns with a simple stock options strategy instead.  Of course, buying options is a little more complicated and takes a little extra work, but if you could make two or three times (or more) on your investment, wouldn’t that little extra effort be more than worth it?  Apparently not, since most people take the lazy way out and just buy the stock.Today I will try to persuade you to give stock options a try.  I will show you exactly what I am doing in one of my Terry’s Tips portfolios while trading one of my favorite stocks.


Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

I like just about everything about Costco.  I like to shop there.  I buy wine by the case, paying far less than my local wine store (I am not alone – Costco is the largest retailer of wine in the world, selling several billions of dollars’ worth every year).  I like Costco because they treat their employees well, paying them about double what Walmart pays its people.  I like shopping at Costco because I know I am never paying more than I should for anything I buy.  It seems to me that the other customers like it, too.  Everyone seems to be happy while roaming the aisles and enjoying the free samples they offer (I have a skinflint friend who shops at Costco once a week just for the samples – they are his lunch that day).

But most of all, I like the stock (COST).  It has been very nice to me over the years, and I have consistently made a far greater return using options than I would have if I had just gone out and bought the stock.

I recently set up an actual brokerage account to trade COST options for the educational benefit of Terry’s Tips paying subscribers.  I put $5000 in the account.  Today, it is worth $6800.  I started out buying calendar spreads, some at at-the-money strike prices and others at higher strike prices (using calls).  I currently own October 2015 calls at the 145 and 150 strike prices (the stock is trading about $146.50), and I am short (having sold to someone else) May-15 calls at the 145, 147, and 150 strike prices.  These calls will expire in 23 days, on May 15, 2015.  (Technically, the 147 calls I am short are with a diagonal spread rather than a calendar spread because the long side is at the 145 strike.  With calendar spreads, the long and short sides are at the same strike price.)

Here is the risk profile graph for my positions.  It shows how much money I will make (or lose) at the various possible prices where COST might be on May 15th when the short options expire:

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

In the lower right-hand corner, the P/L Day number shows the expected gain or loss if the stock stays flat ($148.54), or is $3 higher, or lower, than the current price.  If the stock stays absolutely flat, I should make about $976, or about 14% on the $6800 I have invested.

I could have bought 46 shares of the stock with $6800 instead of owning these options.   If the stock doesn’t go up any in the next 23 days, I would not gain a penny.  But the options will make a profit of about $976.

If the stock falls $2 by May 15, I would lose $92 with my stock investment, and my options would make a gain of $19. I am still better off owning the options.  Only if the stock falls more than $2 ½ dollars over those three weeks would I be worse off with the options positions.  But I like this stock.  I think it is headed higher.  That’s why I bought COST in the first place.

If I am right, and the stock goes up by $3, I would make $138 if I owned 46 shares of the stock, or I would make $1,700 with my options positions.  That’s more than 10 times as much as I would make by owning the stock.

Can you understand why I am confused why anyone would buy stock rather than trading the options when they find a stock they really like?  It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Of course, when the options I have sold are set to expire in 23 days, I need to do something.  I will need to buy back the options that are in the money (at a strike which is lower than the stock price), and sell new options (collecting even more money) in a further-out month, presumably June.  The lazy guys who just bought the stock instead of owning stock are lucky in this regard – they don’t have to do anything.  But if the stock had stayed flat or risen moderately over those three weeks, I know that I am way ahead of the stock-owners every time.

While stock owners sit around and do nothing, my job on May 15 will be to roll over the short calls to the next month (and use the cash that is generated to buy new spreads to increase future returns even more).  I show my subscribers exactly what and how to make those trades each month (in both the COST portfolio and 9 other portfolios which use different underlying stocks).  Hopefully, eventually, they won’t need me any longer, but they will have discovered how to use stock options to dramatically increase their investment returns on their own.

$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

This week I would like to share an option spread idea which will cost you only $20 to try (plus commission).  Of course, it you like the idea, you could buy a hundred or more of them like I did, or you could just get your options toe wet at a cost of a decent lunch (skip lunch and take a walk instead – it could improve both your physical and financial health).

The bet requires you to take a stab at what the price of oil might do in the next few weeks.  Your odds of winning are surely better than placing a bet on a fantasy baseball team, and it could be as much fun.  Read on.


$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

I continue to investigate investment opportunities in USO, both because there is a large Implied Volatility (IV) advantage to calendar spreads (i.e., longer-term options that you buy are “cheaper” than the shorter-term options that you are selling) and because of the ongoing discussion about which way oil prices are headed (with several investment banks (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Citi) telling their clients that oil is headed far lower), and on the other side, other analysts are saying oil is headed higher and hedge funds are covering their shorts.  The Iran nuclear deal, if successful and sanctions are lifted, could lower oil prices by $15 according to industry experts, and every rumor concerning how negotiations are going moves USO in one direction or the other.

Right now, the price of oil is about $59 a barrel (and West Texas Crude is about $5 less).  The price of USO moves roughly in tandem with this price, changing about $1 for every $2 in the change in the barrel price of oil.

We should know something about the Iran deal by the end of June, but its impact on oil prices is likely to occur later (it seems like sanctions will be gradually reduced over time).  The current price of USO has been edging higher in spite of unprecedented supplies, and the possibility of Iran flooding the market even more.   My best guess is that USO might be trading around $20 in June compared to its current $18.80.

That is just my guess.  You may have an entirely different idea of where the price of oil might be headed.  When trading calendar spreads, you want to select a strike price where you believe the stock will be trading when the short options expire.  If you are lucky to be near that strike, those options you sold to someone else will expire worthless (or nearly so) and there will be more time premium in the long options you hold that exists for any other option in that time series.

Yesterday, I bought USO Jul-15 – Jun-15 20 calendar spreads (using calls) and paid only $.20 ($20) per spread. If I am lucky enough for USO to be right at $20 when the June options expire, the July calls should be trading about $.80 and I would make about 3 ½ times on my money after commissions.  If I missed by a dollar (i.e., USO is at $19 or $21), I should double my money.  If I missed by $2 in either direction, I would about break even. More than $2 away from $20, I will probably lose money, but my initial cost was only $20, so how bad can it be?

It seems like a low-cost play that might be fun.  I also bought these same spreads at the 19 strike (paying $.21) to hedge my bet a bit.  If I triple my money on either of the bets, I will be an overall winner.  You may want to bet on lower oil prices in June and buy spreads at a lower strike.

Another way to play this would be to exit early as long as a profit can be assured.  If at any time after a month from now, if USO is trading about where it is now, the calendar spread could be sold for about $.30 or more (a Jun-15 – May-20 calendar could be sold for a natural $.32 today).  If USO were trading nearer to $20, that spread could be sold for $.37 (which would result in a 40% profit after commissions on the spread that I am suggesting).

With a spread costing as little as this, commissions become important.  Terry’s Tips paying subscribers pay $1.25 per option at thinkorswim, even if only one option is bought or sold.  A calendar spread (one long option, one short one) results in a $2.50 per spread commission charge.  This means that you will incur a total commission of $5 on a spread cost of $20 counting both putting it on and closing it out (unless the short options expire worthless and you don’t have to buy them back – if this happens, your total commission cost would be $3.75 per spread).

Trading Options Can be a Lifetime Learning Experience

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Last week was a good one for the market.  SPY rose 2.2%, a wonderful week.  The actual options portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips had a stellar week as well.  Nine of our ten portfolios gained at least 5%, and 3 of them gained over 33% in a single week.

Nike (NKE) announced blow-out earnings and the stock rose 6.4%.  Our portfolio that trades NKE options gained 13.5%, double the increase in the stock price.  This was far less than we usually do compared to stock price changes, however.

We have proved over and over that if you can find a stock that will increase if value, you can usually make 3 or 4 or more times as much with an options strategy as you could by simply buying the stock.

Of course, buying options is not quite so simple as buying stock.  To do it right requires gaining some understanding that most people just don’t have the energy or willpower to learn.


Trading Options Can be a Lifetime Learning Experience

If the truth be known, investing in stocks is pretty much like playing checkers.  Any 12-year-old can do it.  You really don’t need much experience or understanding.  If you can read, you can buy stock (and probably do just about as well as anyone else because it’s basically a roulette wheel choice).  Most people reject that idea, of course.  Like the residents of Lake Wobegone, stock buyers believe that they are all above average – they can reliably pick the right ones just about every time.

Trading options is harder, and many people recognize that they probably aren’t above average in that arena.  Buying and selling options is more like playing chess.  It can be (and is, for anyone who is serious about it) a life-time learning experience.

You don’t see columns in the newspaper about interesting checker strategies, but you see a ton of pundits telling you why you should buy particular stocks.  People with little understanding or experience buy stocks every day, and most of their transactions involve buying from professionals with far more resources and brains. Most stock buyers never figure out that when they make their purchase, about 90% of the time, they are buying from professionals who are selling the stock to them rather than buying it at that price.

Option investing takes study and understanding and discipline that the purchase of stock does not require.  Every investor must decide for himself or herself if they are willing to make the time and study commitment necessary to be successful in option trading.  Most people are too lazy.

It is a whole lot easier to play a decent game of checkers than it is to play a decent game of chess.  But for some of us, options investing is a whole lot more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding.  For example, Costco (COST) has had a good year so far, rising from $141.75 to Friday’s close at $152.59, a gain of 7.6%.  The Terry’s Tips  option portfolio that trades COST options (calendar and diagonal spreads) gained 40.4% over this same period, over 5 times as much.  With actual results like this, why wouldn’t any reasonable adult with enough cash to buy stock want to learn how to multiply his or her earnings by learning a little about the wonderful world of options?

Playing checkers (and buying stock) is boring.  Playing chess (and trading options) is far more challenging.  And rewarding, if you do it right.

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

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


An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

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

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

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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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