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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.

 

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).

Two Interesting Option Bets for 2014 – SPY and Google

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Today I would like to tell you about two actual option trades that I made just this morning and my reasoning behind them.  They are both long-term bets on what I expect the market to do in 2014.  One of these bets might make an average of 85% every year if the market behaves like it has in the past.

By the way, last week when I salted this newsletter (and my blog) with the keywords “option trading” and “trading options” to see if Google Alerts picked it up, I was not surprised to see that I did not make the cut.  Google seems to have switched what they think is important from keywords to social media traffic, and since Terry’s Tips does not have a Facebook or Twitter account, I am not considered worthy of inclusion in their searches.  Oh well, at least I learned where I stand, right up there with the chopped liver.

I hope you will find these two trades I made interesting enough to consider doing on your own (only with money you can afford to lose) if you agree with my assumptions.

Two Interesting Option Bets for 2014 – SPY and Google

While most stocks go up some months and down others, when you check out how they perform for a whole year, most of the time they manage to move higher between the beginning and end of the year.

The market (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY as the measure) has gone up or fallen by less than 2% in 33 out of 40 years.  A single stock I like, Google (GOOG), has gone up 9 out of the 10 years that it has been publicly traded.

I believe that a year from now, the market in general and GOOG in particular will be higher than it is today.  If I am right, the two trades I made today will make a gain of 53% on the market and 105% on GOOG.

With SPY trading at $182.30 today, allowing for a possible 2% loss in 2014, I decided to sell a Dec-14 180 put and at the same time, buy a Dec-14 170 put.  If SPY is above $180 when these puts expire on the third Friday of December (the 20th) 2014, both of these puts will expire worthless and I will be able to keep any cash I collected when I sold the spread today.

I sold the SPY vertical spread for $3.57 ($354.50 after commissions).  The maximum loss I can have from the spread will come about if SPY closes below $170 when the options expire.  Subtracting the $$354.50 I received from selling the spread from the $1000 maximum loss means that I will have risked $645.50 to possibly collect a possible $354.50.  This works out to a 53% return on my maximum loss.

My broker will post a maintenance requirement on my account for $1000 while we wait for the options to expire.  This is not a loan like a margin loan and no interest is charged.  It is just money cash in my account that I can’t use of other purposes for the year.  The actual amount of cash I have tied up in the spread is only $645.50 , however, since I collected $354.50 in cash when I sold the spread today.

If I made $354.5 in each of the 33 years when the market rose or fell by less than 2% and lost the entire $645.50 at risk in the 7 years when the market fell over the last 40 years, my average gain for the 40 years would be $179.50 per year, or 27% per year.  That beats most investments today by a huge margin.  (The actual average gain would be higher than this because in some of those 7 losing years the loss would not be a total one).

My 2014 bet on Google is even more interesting, mostly because Google has moved higher over the course of the year 9 times out of 10.  Only in the market melt-down in 2007 did it end up lower than when it started out the year.

GOOG was trading at $1008 today, Monday, I sold a Jan-15 1020 put and bought a Jan-15 1010 put. (You could also trade the minis on GOOG which are one-tenth the value of the regular options).  I collected $10.30 ($1027.50 after paying $2.50 in commissions – the rate that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), from selling the vertical put spread and my maximum loss is $972.50. (Note: There is a big range between the bid and ask prices – it is important to place a limit order when trading these options rather than a market order.)  I will make over 105% on my investment for the year if the stock is at $1020 or any higher January 17, 2015 (it only needs to go up $12 over the course of a full year and a month).

If I made this same bet every year for 10 years and Google behaved like it did over the past 10 years, I would collect a total of $9247.50 in the 9 winning years and lose $972.50 once, for a gain of $8275 over the decade, or an average of 85% a year on my money.  Again, this is a pretty good return in today’s market.

Critical to the success with these trades is the assumption that markets in the future will behave like they have in the past.  While that is not always the case, the past is usually a pretty good indicator of what the future might be.  These trades are just an example of how you can make superior returns using options rather than buying stock if you play the odds wisely.

 

 

 

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Every day, I get a Google alert for the words “options trading” so that I can keep up with what others, particularly those with blogs, are saying about options trading.  I always wondered why my blogs have never appeared on the list I get each day.  Maybe it’s because I don’t use the exact words “option trading” like some of the blogs do.

Here is an example of how one company loaded up their first paragraph with these key words (I have changed a few words so Google doesn’t think I am just copying it) – “Some experts will try to explain the right way to trade options by a number of steps.  For example, you may see ‘Trading Options in 6 Steps’ or ’12 Easy Steps for Trading Options.’  This overly simplistic approach can often send the novice option trading investor down the wrong path and not teach the investor a solid methodology for options trading. (my emphasis)”  The key words “options trading” appeared 5 times in 3 sentences.  Now that they are in my blog I will see if my blog gets picked up by Google.

Today I would like to share my thoughts on what 2014 might have in store for us, and offer an options strategy designed to capitalize on the year unfolding as I expect.

Terry

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

What’s in store for 2014?  Most companies seem to be doing pretty well, although the market’s P/E of 17 is a little higher than the historical average.  Warren Buffett recently said that he felt it was fairly valued.  Thirteen analysts surveyed by Forbes projected an average 2014 gain of just over 5% while two expected a loss of about 2%, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago. With interest rates so dreadfully low, there are not many places to put your money except in the stock market. CD’s are yielding less than 1%.  Bonds are scary to buy because when interest rates inevitably rise, bond prices will collapse.  The Fed’s QE program is surely propping up the market, and some tapering will likely to take place in 2014.  This week’s market drop was attributed to fears that tapering will come sooner than later.

When all these factors are considered, the best prognosis for 2014 seems to be that there will not be a huge move in the market in either direction.  If economic indicators such as employment numbers, corporate profits and consumer spending improve, the market might be pushed higher except that tapering will then become more likely, and that possibility will push the market lower.  The two might offset one another.

This kind of a market is ideal for a strategy of multiple calendar spreads, of course, the kind that we advocate at Terry’s Tips.  One portfolio I will set up for next year will use a Jan-16 at-the-money straddle as the long side (buying both a put and a call at the 180 strike price).  Against those positions we will sell out-of-the-money monthly puts and calls which have a month of remaining life. The straddle will cost about $36 and in one year, will fall to about $24 if the stock doesn’t move very much (if it does move a lot in either direction, the straddle will gain in value and may be worth more than $24 in one year).  Since the average monthly decay of the straddle is about $1 per month,  that is how much monthly premium needs to be collected to break even on theta.  I would like to provide for a greater move on the downside just in case that tapering fears prevail (I do not expect that euphoria will propel the market unusually higher, but tapering fears might push it down quite a bit at some point).  By selling puts which are further out of the money, we would enjoy more downside protection.

Here is the risk profile graph for my proposed portfolio with 3 straddles (portfolio value $10,000), selling out-of-the-money January-14 puts and calls. Over most of the curve there is a gain approaching 4% for the first month (a five-week period ending January 19, 2014).   Probably a 3% gain would be a better expectation for a typical month.  A gain over these 5 weeks should come about if SPY falls by $8 or less or moves higher by $5 or less.  This seems like a fairly generous range.

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

For those of you who are not familiar with these risk profile graphs (generated by thinkorswim’s free software), the P/L Day column shows the gain or loss expected if the stock were to close on January 19, 2014 at the price listed in the Stk Price column, or you can estimate the gain or loss by looking at the graph line over the various possible stock prices.  I personally feel comfortable owning SPY positions which will make money each month over such a broad range of possible stock prices, and there is the possibility of changing that break-even range with mid-month adjustments should the market move more than moderately in either direction.

The word “conservative” is usually not used as an adjective in front of “options strategy,” but I believe this is a fair use of the word for this actual portfolio I will carry out at Terry’s Tips for my paying subscribers to follow if they wish (or have trades automatically executed for them in their accounts through the Auto-Trade program at thinkorswim).

There aren’t many ways that you can expect to make 3% a month in today’s market environment.  This options strategy might be an exception.

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Most of the time we talk about how wonderful it is to be trading options.  In the interests of fair play, today I will point out the downsides of options as an investment alternative.

Terry

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

1. Taxes.  Except in very rare circumstances, all gains are taxed as short-term capital gains.  This is essentially the same as ordinary income.  The rates are as high as your individual personal income tax rates. Because of this tax situation, we encourage subscribers to carry out option strategies in an IRA or other tax-deferred account, but this is not possible for everyone.  (Maybe you have some capital loss carry-forwards that you can use to offset the short-term capital gains made in your option trading).

2. Commissions.  Compared to stock investing, commission rates for options, particularly for the Weekly options that we trade in many of our portfolios, are horrendously high.  It is not uncommon for commissions for a year to exceed 30% of the amount you have invested.  Because of this huge cost, all of our published results include all commissions.  Be wary of any newsletter that does not include commissions in their results – they are misleading you big time.

Speaking of commissions, if you become a Terry’s Tips subscriber, you may be eligible to pay only $1.25 for a single option trade at thinkorswim.  This low rate applies to all your option trading at thinkorswim, not merely those trades made mirroring our portfolios (or Auto-Trading).

3. Wide Fluctuations in Portfolio Value.   Options are leveraged instruments.  Portfolio values typically experience wide swings in value in both directions.

Many people do not have the stomach for such volatility, just as some people are more concerned with the commissions they pay than they are with the bottom line results (both groups of people probably should not be trading options).

4. Uncertainty of Gains. In carrying out our option strategies, we depend on risk profile graphs which show the expected gains or losses at the next options expiration at the various possible prices for the underlying.  We publish these graphs for each portfolio every week for subscribers and consult them hourly during the week.

Oftentimes, when the options expire, the expected gains do not materialize.  The reason is usually because option prices (implied volatilities, VIX, -  for those of you who are more familiar with how options work) fall.   (The risk profile graph software assumes that implied volatilities will remain unchanged.).   Of course, there are many weeks when VIX rises and we do better than the risk profile graph had projected.   But the bottom line is that there are times when the stock does exactly as you had hoped (usually, we like it best when it doesn’t do much of anything) and you still don’t make the gains you originally expected.

With all these negatives, is option investing worth the bother?  We think it is.  Where else is the chance of 50% or 100% annual gains a realistic possibility?  We believe that at least a small portion of many people’s investment portfolio should be in something that at least has the possibility of making extraordinary returns.

With CD’s and bonds yielding ridiculously low returns (and the stock market not really showing any gains for quite a while – adjusted for inflation, the market is 12% lower than it was in March,  2000,), the options alternative has become more attractive for many investors, in spite of all the problems we have outlined above.

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

Monday, November 25th, 2013

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

Please continue reading down so you can see how you can come on board as a Terry’s Tips subscriber for no cost at all while enjoying all the benefits that thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade offers to anyone who opens an account with them.

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

 
Now is the time for analysts everywhere to make their predictions of what will happen to the market in 2014.  Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Wall Street bulls eye more stock gains in 2014.  Their forecasts – ”The average year-end price target of 13 stock strategists polled by Bloomberg is 1890, a 5.7% gain … (for the S&P 500).  The most bullish call comes from John Stoltzfus, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer (a prediction of +13%).”
The Journal continues to say “The bad news: Two stock strategists are predicting that the S&P 500 will finish next year below its current level. Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel Nicolaus, for example, predicts the index will fall to 1750, which represents a drop of 2% from Tuesday’s close.”
I would like to suggest a strategy that will make 60% to 100% (depending on which underlying you choose to use) if any one of those analysts is right. In other words, if the market goes up by any amount or falls by 2%, you would make those returns with a single options trade that will expire at the end of 2014.
The S&P tracking stock (SPY) is trading around $180.  If it were to fall by 2% in 2014, it would be trading about $176.40.  Let’s use $176 as our downside target to give the pessimistic analyst a little wiggle room.  If we were to sell a Dec-14 176 put and buy a Dec-14 171 put, we could collect $1.87 ($187) per contract.  A maintenance requirement of $500 would be made.  Subtracting the $187 you received, you will have tied up $313 which represents the greatest loss that could come your way (if SPY were to close below $171, a drop of 5% from its present level). 
Once you place these trades (called selling a vertical put spread), you sit back and do nothing for an entire year (until these options expire on December 20, 2014). If SPY closes at any price above $176, both puts would expire worthless and you would get to keep $187 per contract, or 60% on your maximum risk. 
You could make 100% on your investment with a similar play using Apple as the underlying.  You would have to make the assumption that Apple will fluctuate in 2014 about as much as the S&P.  For most of the past few years, Apple has done much better than the general market, so it is not so much of a stretch to bet that it will keep up with the S&P in 2014.
Apple is currently trading about $520.  You could sell at vertical put spread for the January 2015 series, selling the 510 put and buying the 480 put and collect a credit of $15.  If Apple closes at any price above $510 on January 17, 2015, both puts would expire worthless and you would make 100% on your investment.  You would receive $1500 for each of these spreads you placed and there would be a $1500 maintenance requirement (the maximum loss if Apple closes below $480).
Apple is trading at about 10 times earnings on a cash-adjusted basis, is paying a 2.3% dividend, and is continuing an aggressive stock buy-back campaign, three indications that make a big stock price drop less likely to come about in 2014.
A similar spread could be made with Google puts, but the market is betting that Google is less likely to fall than Apple, and your return on investment would be about 75% if Google fell 2% or went up by any amount.  You could sell Jan-15 1020 puts and buy Jan-15 990 puts and collect about $1300 and incur a net maintenance requirement of $1700 (your maximum loss amount).
If you wanted to get a little more aggressive, you could make the assumption that the average estimate of the 13 analysts was on the money, (i.e., the market rises 5.7% in 2014).  That would put SPY at $190 at the end of the year. You could sell a SPY Dec-14 190 put and buy a Dec-14 185 put and collect $2.85 ($285), risking $2.15 ($215) per contract.  If the analysts are right and SPY ends up above $190, you would earn 132% on your investment for the year.
By the way, you can do any of the above spreads in an IRA if you choose the right broker.  I would advise against it, however, because your gains will eventually be taxed at ordinary income rates (at a time when your tax rate is likely to be higher) rather than capital gains rates.
Note: I prefer using puts rather than calls for these spreads because if you are right, nothing needs to be done at expiration, both options expire worthless, and no commissions are incurred to exit the positions.  Buying a vertical call spread is mathematically identical to selling a vertical put spread at these same strike prices, but it will involve selling the spread at expiration and paying commissions.
What are the chances that every single analyst was wrong?  Someone should do a study on earlier projections and give us an answer to that question.  We all know that a market tumble could come our way if the Fed begins to taper, but does that mean the market as a whole would drop for the entire year?  Another unanswerable question, at least at this time.
On a historical basis, for the 40 years of the S&P 500’s existence (counting 2013 which will surely be a gaining year), the index has fallen by more than 2% in 7 years.  That means if historical patterns continue for 2014, there is a 17.5% chance that you will lose your entire bet and an 83.5% chance that you will make 60% (using the first SPY spread outlined above).  If you had made that same bet every year for the past 40 years, you would have made 60% in 33 years and lost 100% in 7 years.  For the entire time span, you would have enjoyed an average gain of 32% per year.  Not a bad average gain.

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

In case you are new to options or have been living under a rock for the past few months, you know that option prices are at historic lows.  The average volatility of SPY options (VIX) has been just over 20 over the years.  This means that option prices are expecting the stock (S&P 500) will fluctuate about 20% over the course of a year.

Right now, VIX is hanging out at less than 13.  Option buyers are not expecting SPY to fluctuate very much with a reading this low.   Since in reality, SPY jumps around quite a bit every time the word “tapering” appears in print, or the government appears to be unwilling to extend the debt limit, there is a big temptation to buy options rather than selling them.

Today I would like to share with you an idea we have developed at Terry’s Tips that has been quite successful in the short time that we have been watching it.

Terry
 
Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

For many years, Terry’s Tips has advocated buying calendar spreads.  These involve selling short-term options and benefitting from the fact that these options deteriorate in value faster than the longer-term options that we own as collateral.  However, when option prices are as low as they are right now, this strategy has difficulty making gains if the stock fluctuates more than just a little in either direction.  Volatility has always been the Darth Vader of calendar spreads, and with option prices as low as they are right now, it only takes a little volatility to turn a promising spread into a losing one.

If you could get a handle on when the market might be a little more volatile than it is at other times, buying options might be a better idea than selling them.  At Terry’s Tips, we admit that we have no idea which way the market is headed in the short run (we have tried to guess a number of times, or used technical indicators to give us clues, but our batting average has been pretty close to 50% – we could have done just about as well by flipping a coin).

With that in mind, when we buy options, we usually buy both a put and a call. If those options have the same strike price and expiration day, the simultaneous purchase of a put and call is called a straddle.

If you had a good feeling that the market would soon make a big move and you also had no strong feeling which direction that move might take, you might consider buying a straddle.

We did a backtest of SPY price changes and discovered that in the final week of an expiration month for the normal monthly options, SPY tended to fluctuate more than it did in the other three or four weeks of the expiration month.

Three months ago, we decided to buy an at-the-money SPY straddle on the Friday before the week when the monthly options would expire.  We hoped to buy this straddle for just over $2.  If SPY moved more than $2 in either direction at some point in the next week we would be guaranteed to be able to sell either the put or call for a profit (our backtest showed that SPY moved by more than $2 on many occasions on a single day).

On Friday, September 13th, we discovered that at-the-money the straddle was trading  about $2.50, more than we wanted to pay.  There was a reason for it.  SPY pays a dividend four times a year, and the ex-dividend date is the Thursday before the monthly options expire.  When a dividend is paid, the stock usually falls by the amount of the dividend (about $.80) for SPY on the day after it goes ex-dividend (all other things being equal).  For this reason, in the days before that happens, the put prices move much higher in anticipation of the stock falling on Friday.  This pushed the straddle price higher than we wanted to pay.

We decided not to buy the September at-the-money straddle on Friday the 13th (maybe it would be bad luck anyway).  But we should have coughed up the extra amount.  The stock rose more than $3 during the next week, and we could have collected a nice gain.

When the October expiration came around, we could have bought an at-the-money straddle on Friday, October 11 for just over $2, but the portfolio that we set up to buy straddles had all its money tied up in straddles on individual companies. So we didn’t make the purchase. Too bad, for in the next week, SPY rose by over $4.  We could have almost doubled our money.

Finally, on November 9, we finally got our act together.  It was the Friday before the regular monthly options were to expire on November 15.  When the stock was trading very near $176.50, we bought the 176.5 straddle which was due to expire in one week. We paid $2.16 for it. 

We had to wait until Thursday before it moved very much, but on that day when we could claim a 20% gain after commissions, we sold it (for $2.64).  The stock moved even higher on Friday (up $3.50 over our strike price), so we could have made more by waiting a day, but taking a sure 20% seemed like the best move to make.  We plan to make a similar purchase on Friday, December 13th, at least those of us who are not spooked by superstitions.

For three consecutive months, buying an at-the-money SPY straddle on the Friday before the monthly options expire has proved to be a profitable purchase.  Of course, we have no certainty that this pattern will continue into the future.  But these months did confirm what we had noticed in our backtest.

A Useful Way to Think About Delta

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This week we will start a discussion about the “Greeks” – the measures designed to predict how option prices will change when underlying stock prices change or time elapses. It is important to have a basic understanding of some of these measures before embarking on trading options.

I hope you enjoy this short discussion.

Terry 

A Useful Way to Think About Delta: The first “Greek” that most people learn about when they get involved in options is Delta. This important measure tells us how much the price of the option will change if the underlying stock or ETF changes by $1.00.

If you own a call option that carries a delta of 50, that means that if the stock goes up by $1.00, your option will increase in value by $.50 (if the stock falls by $1.00, your option will fall by a little less than $.50).

The useful way to think about delta is to consider it the probability of that option finishing up (on expiration day) in the money. If you own a call option at a strike price of 60 and the underlying stock is selling at $60, you have an at-the-money option, and the delta will likely be about 50. In other words, the market is saying that your option has a 50-50 chance of expiring in the money (i.e., the stock is above $60 so your option would have some intrinsic value).

If your option were at the 55 strike, it would have a much higher delta value because the likelihood of its finishing up in the money (i.e., higher than $55) would be much higher. The stock could fall by $4.90 or go up by any amount and it would end up being in the money, so the delta value would be quite high, maybe 70 or 75. The market would be saying that there is a 70% or 75% chance of the stock ending up above $55 at expiration.

On the other hand, if your call option were at the 65 strike while the stock was selling at $60, it would carry a much lower delta because there would be a much lower likelihood of the stock going up $5 so that your option would expire in the money.

Of course, the amount of remaining life also has an effect on the delta value of an option. We will talk about that phenomenon next week.

A Strategy of Buying Weekly SPY Straddles

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

I performed a back-test of weekly SPY volatility for the past year and discovered that in just about half the weeks, the stock fluctuated at some point during the week by $3 either up or down (actual number 27 of 52 weeks).  That means if you could have bought an at-the-money straddle for $2 (both an at-the-money call and put), about half the time you could sell it for a 50% gain if you placed a limit order to sell the straddle for $3.  As long as the stock moves at least $3 either up or down at some point during the week you can be assured that the straddle can be sold for $3.

Here are the numbers for SPY for the past six months:

 

SPY Straddle Chart

SPY Straddle Chart

The weekly changes (highlighted in yellow) are the ones where SPY fluctuated more than $3 so that a 50% gain was possible (by the way this week is not over yet, and the stock fell over $3 at one point yesterday).

An interesting strategy for these months would be to buy 10 at-the-money SPY straddles on Friday (or whatever your budget is – each straddle will cost about $200). With today’s low VIX, an at-the-money straddle last Friday cost $1.92 to buy (one week of remaining life),  In the weeks when VIX was higher, this spread cost in the neighborhood of $2.35  (but actual volatility was higher, and almost all of the weeks showed a $3.50 change at some point during the week).

Over the past year, in the half of the weeks when the stock moved by at least $3, your gain on 10 straddles would be $1000 on the original straddle cost $2.  If the change took place early in the week, there would be time premium remaining and the stock would not have to fluctuate by quite $3 for the straddle to be sold for that amount.

The average loss in the other weeks would be about $700, maybe less.  On Friday morning, the worst-case scenario would be that you could sell the 70 straddles for $700 (causing a loss of $1300). This would occur if the stock were trading exactly at the strike price of the straddle – on Friday morning it could be sold for about $.70 because there would be some time premium remaining for both the puts and calls.  The maximum loss that occurred in about a third of the losing weeks was about $.70 but another third of the weeks when the 50% gain was not triggered, you could have broken even (on average) by selling the straddle at the close on Friday.  I calculated that the average loss for all of the last 12 months would be about $700 in those weeks when the 50% gain was not triggered.

This means an average investment of $2000 (10 straddles) would make an average gain of $150 per week. While that might be considered to be a decent gain by most standards, it could be dramatically improved if you varied the amount that you invested each week by following the volatility patterns.

There was a remarkable tendency for high-volatility weeks to occur together.  In the above table you can see that at one point there was a string of 14 weeks when 12 times a 50% gain was possible (high-lighted in yellow) and two weeks (high-lighted in red) when a small gain was possible because the closing price was greater than $2 away from the starting price.  Only one week out of the 14, 5/28/13 would a loss have occurred, and that would have been negligible because the stock closed $1.86 lower, almost covering the $2 initial cost of the straddle.

The same went for low-volatility weeks – there were strings of them as well. At one point early in 2013 the strategy would have incurred a string of seven consecutive weeks when no 50% was possible, and in the last six months pictured above, there were two four-week strings when SPY fluctuated by less than $3 in either direction.

If you invested $4000 in weeks after you made a gain and $2000 in weeks after a 50% gain was not possible, your net gains would be much higher.  This is the most promising part of the strategy.

Another way of playing this strategy would be to invest only in those weeks when a 50% gain would have been possible in the previous week, and sit on the sidelines for the other weeks.  Of course, since the average gain for all weeks was positive (but small), you would be giving up a little by not investing each week.

In this world of low option prices (VIX is at historical lows) and relatively high volatility, this might be an exceptionally profitable strategy to follow.  We plan to carry it out in one of the portfolios we run at Terry’s Tips.

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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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