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Posts Tagged ‘intrinsic value’

Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Today I would like to talk a little about an important measure in the options world – volatility, and how it affects how much you pay for an option (either put or call).


Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Volatility is the sole variable that can only be measured after the option prices are known.  All the other variables have precise mathematical measurements, but volatility has an essentially emotional component that defies easy understanding.  If option trading were a poker game, volatility would be the wild card.

Volatility is the most exciting measure of stock options.  Quite simply, option volatility means how much you expect the stock to vary in price. The term “volatility” is a little confusing because it may refer to historical volatility (how much the company stock actually fluctuated in the past) or implied volatility (how much the market expects the stock will fluctuate in the future).

When an options trader says “IBM’s at 20” he is referring to the implied volatility of the front-month at-the-money puts and calls.  Some people use the term “projected volatility” rather than “implied volatility.”  They mean the same thing.

A staid old stock like Procter & Gamble would not be expected to vary in price much over the course of a year, and its options would carry a low volatility number.  For P & G, this number currently is 12%.  That is how much the market expects the stock might vary in price, either up or down, over the course of a year.

Here are some volatility numbers for other popular companies:

IBM  – 16%
Apple Computer – 23%
GE – 14%
Johnson and Johnson – 14%
Goldman Sachs – 21%
Amazon – 47%
eBay – 51%
SVXY – 41% (our current favorite underlying)

You can see that the degree of stability of the company is reflected in its volatility number.  IBM has been around forever and is a large company that is not expected to fluctuate in price very much, while Apple Computer has exciting new products that might be great successes (or flops) which cause might wide swings in the stock price as news reports or rumors are circulated.

Volatility numbers are typically much lower for Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) than for individual stocks.  Since ETFs are made up of many companies, good (or bad) news about a single company will usually not significantly affect the entire batch of companies in the index.  An ETF such as OIH which is influenced by changes in the price of oil would logically carry a higher volatility number.

Here are some volatility numbers for the options of some popular ETFs:

Dow Jones Industrial (Tracking Stock – DIA) – 13%
S&P 500 (Tracking Stock – SPY) –14%
Nasdaq (Tracking Stock – QQQ) – 21%
Russell 2000 (Small Cap – IWM) – 26%

Since all the input variables that determine an option price in the Black-Scholes model (strike price, stock price, time to expiration, interest and dividend rates) can be measured precisely, only volatility is the wild card.   It is the most important variable of all.

If implied volatility is high, the option prices are high.  If expectations of fluctuation in the company stock are low, implied volatility and option prices are low.  For example, a one-month at-the-money option on Johnson & Johnson would cost about $1.30 (stock price $100) vs. $2.00 for eBay (stock price $53).  On a per-dollar basis, the eBay option trades for about three times as much as the JNJ option.

Of course, since only historical volatility can be measured with certainty, and no one knows for sure what the stock will do in the future, implied volatility is where all the fun starts and ends in the option trading game.

How Option Prices are Determined

Monday, April 21st, 2014

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

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


How Option Prices are Determined

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

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

1. The price of the underlying stock

2. The strike price of the option

3. The time until the option expires

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

5. The volatility of the underlying stock

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

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

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

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

An Earnings Play on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Today I would like to tell you about an actual trade I made today in my personal account  as well as two Terry’s Tips portfolios.  The underlying is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) which is located in my home state of Vermont and is one of my favorite companies.This trade will make a nice gain if the stock stays flat or moves higher by any amount between now and 17 days from now, just after earnings are announced.

If the company disappoints in any way and the stock falls, I will have plenty of time to recover by selling new calls against my long positions over the next five months.

I believe this spread has an excellent chance of making a nice gain and there seems to be almost no chance that I will lose money on it even though it might take a little time to at least break even.

An Earnings Play on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

GMCR announces earnings after the close on February 5, 2013.  The weekly options that expire a couple of days later, on February 7 are trading at extremely high valuations (implied volatility (IV) is 65).  I would like to sell some of that premium.

I am bullish on this company.  Two insider directors recently bought over a million dollars each of the stock (and they aren’t billionaires).  The company is buying back shares every quarter, so they must believe it is a good purchase.

One company wrote a Seeking Alpha article in which they picked GMCR as the absolute best company out of their database of over 7000 companies. Only a handful of other companies have met this criterion in the past, and on average, their stock has outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of three. Check it out – Green Mountain Coffee Roasters: The Fundamental King.

I bought a diagonal call spread, buying GMCR Jun-14 70 calls and selling Feb1-14 80 calls.  The spread cost me $9.80 at a time when the stock was trading at just below $80.  If the stock moves higher, no matter how high it goes, this spread will be worth at least $10 plus the value of the time premium for the 70 call with about 5 months of remaining value, no matter how much IV might fall for the June options. The higher the stock might soar, the less I would make, but I expect I should make at least 20% on my money (if the stock moves a lot higher) in 17 days.

This is what the risk profile graph looked like at the end of the day today.  (In this portfolio, one of the 10 we conduct for Terry’s Tips subscribers to  follow), I bought 6 spreads which just under $6000.  Commissions were $15.  It shows the expected loss or gain on the investment on February 7th when the short calls expire:

gmcr risk profile graph jan 2014

gmcr risk profile graph jan 2014

If it stays flat I should make about 40% (the graph shows more, but IV for the June calls will most likely fall).  If it falls more than $5, I will be looking at a paper loss, but will still own 70 calls with 5 months of remaining life.  I should be able to sell weekly calls against these June 70 calls and recoup any paper losses that might come my way if the company disappoints on announcement day.

I believe this is a very safe bet that is highly unlikely to result in a loss, although I may have some money tied up for a while if the stock does tank after announcing.   But as usual, I hope that no one will take the risk with money that they can’t afford to lose.





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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

Barron’s Article Creates Great Buying Opportunity For Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

Monday, August 5th, 2013

This morning Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) fell more than $2, apparently because of a negative article about the company published by Barron’s on Saturday.  I submitted an article to Seeking Alpha in which I argued that Barron’s had inappropriately used some statistics and made some faulty comparisons of GMCR’s p/e ratios and their competitors.

I’m not sure if my article really turned the market around, but in the first two hours after it was published, the stock went from being down $2 to being up $2.50, a swing of over $4.50  or well over 5%.

In this article I recommended buying a diagonal call spread which I will discuss today.

Read to the bottom of this letter to learn how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider for absolutely no cost.


Barron’s Article Creates Great Buying Opportunity For Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

In this article I made a case that GMCR would move higher and that the Barron’s article had temporarily unfairly pushed the stock lower.   In a Terry’s Tips portfolio, we purchased the spread I recommended in the article for $10.93.  The natural price is now $12.15 so we have a paper profit of about 10% for the day.

I recommended making a fairly conservative options investment, buying Dec-13 well in-the-money calls at the 67.5 strike when the stock was trading about $78 and selling Aug2-13 weekly calls at the 77.5 strike.  I selected the Dec-13 series because implied volatility of those options (55) was lower than any other weekly or monthly series, and since the December expiration comes well after the next earnings announcement in late October or early November, IV is not likely to plummet after Wednesday’s announcement like the August, September, and October options will probably do.

IV of the Aug2-13 weeklies is a whopping 137, just the kind of options that we like to sell.

This diagonal spread should make an average of about 25% this week if the stock stays flat or goes up by any reasonable amount, and should only lose money if the stock falls by more than 7%.  This seems like a pretty good bet to me, and I have bought a large number of these spreads in my personal account.

Update on the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) Trade

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Update on the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) Trade


On Monday, I wrote to my free newsletter subscribers and recommended the following trade in advance of the company’s earnings announcement after the close on Wednesday:


Buy To Open 10 GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls (GMCR130622C52.5)

Sell To Open 10 GMCR May2-13 57 calls (GMCR130510C57) for a debit of $3.70 (buying a diagonal) 


This spread would make a gain for the week if the stock managed to fall by less than 10%, stay flat, or go up by any amount.  The maximum gain would come if the stock fell by about $2 (to $57) after the announcement.


I also wrote a Seeking Alpha article explaining why I believed that the company would exceed expectations but the stock would fall slightly after the announcement for a couple or reasons (primarily because expectations were so high) – How To Play The Green Mountain Coffee Roaster…


My analysis on the earnings announcement was right on the money, but the company also disclosed that they had signed a 5-year deal with Starbucks (SBUX) that caused the stock to shoot higher by about 25%.  In my defense, there was no way I could have known about this wonderful news for GMCR stockholders.


I was able to sell the spread for only its intrinsic value ($4.50) because the stock had moved so much higher.  That resulted in a gain of 20% after commissions for the trade.


In most investments, a 20% gain in three days would be considered a fantastic return.  Actually, I was a little disappointed. I could have made double that amount if the
Starbucks news had come along at some other time than today.


Over a million dollars was invested in the GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls on Monday after I made my recommendations, double or triple near-by option volume.  Clearly, lots of people heeded my advice.  I hope they are satisfied with a 20% return for the week.  I guess I am, reluctantly.

A Remarkably Safe Way To Play The Apple Earnings Announcement

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Apple announces earnings Wednesday after the close and I have come up with a strategy that looks like it can make a decent gain for the week (ranging from 5% to 15%) with almost no chance of incurring a loss. 

The big downside of the strategy is that it requires an investment of about $16,000.  I understand that many subscribers are looking for less costly option investments.

 However, if you can afford an investment of this size, check out the Seeking Alpha article I wrote just yesterday. 


Here is the link – A Remarkably Safe Way To Play The Apple Earnings Announcement 

This is the third week in a row that I have offered a strategy centering on the unusually-high option prices in the series that expires just after an earnings announcement. 

The first play was for Wells Fargo – How to Play the Wells Fargo Earnings Announcement for Tomorrow.  This one gained 44% after commissions. 

The second play involved eBay – How to Play the EBAY Earnings Announcement.  I waited too long to close out my spreads this time around (many subscribers gained 24% or more).  But I did manage to make 11.6% after commissions, still not a bad week. 

I think this week’s earnings-announcement play is the safest one yet in spite of the high cost  requirement.  I am also sharing with paid subscribers a most promising play in Starbucks (SBUX).

How to Play the Wells Fargo earnings announcement for tomorrow

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

How to Play the Wells Fargo earnings announcement for tomorrow

Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) will announce earnings tomorrow.  What is interesting to me is that Implied Volatility of the Weeklys that expire tomorrow is 52 while the IV of the February options is only 21.

As is often the case going into earnings, there is a huge IV advantage to buying calendar spreads, buying the “cheaper” February options and selling the “costlier” Weeklys with only one day of remaining life.

The important thing, as always when trading calendar spreads, is to pick the right strike price.  I like to make the assumption that I really don’t know which way the stock will move after the announcement but to buy calendar spreads at at least two strike prices so I have a range within which I will make money (maximum gains come when the stock closes on Friday at exactly a strike price of the calendar spreads you have bought).
The whisper number for WFC is $0.92, three cents ahead of the analysts’ estimate. WFC has a 42% positive surprise history (having topped the whisper in 14 of the 33 earnings reports for which we have data).
The average price movement (starting at next market open) within ten trading days of all earnings reports is +2.1%.  That is the important number for me.  That represents a move of about $.74 for a stock trading right at $35 today.
Today I bought in my personal account 30 Feb-13 – Jan2-13 35 call calendar spreads for $.34, shelling out $1020 plus $75 in commissions at thinkorswim.  I also bought 30 Feb-13 – Jan2-13 diagonal call spreads (buying 36 calls and selling 35.5) for a debit of $.16. (There is a small maintenance requirement here for one day.)  These cost me $480 plus $75 in commissions.  My total money at risk is $1500 plus $150 in commissions, or $1650.
At the end of the day tomorrow, I will buy back any in-the-money short calls I have and will probably unload the February calls as well.  The risk profile graph shows that I will make a gain if the stock moves less than $1 in either direction:  

Wells Fargo Positions

If the stock moves less than a dollar either way I should make a profit.  If I am lucky enough for it to close between $35 and about $35.70, I could double my money.  It is sort of fun to have a little investment like this that could double in a single day.  Worst case scenario, I will have 60 calls which have a five weeks of remaining life.  It seems to me that it is unlikely that they will be worth less than an average of $.28 which would be a break-even number for me.

We all know that market makers have an incentive to push the stock price (through using their essentially unlimited market power) to manipulate the stock price to exactly a strike price on expiration Friday (after all, they are usually the sellers when the public buys puts and calls).  If the stock ends up exactly at a strike  price, all those puts and calls they have sold will expire worthless.

If they pick $35 as their price target, I will celebrate with a big night on the town this weekend.

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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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