from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

Posts Tagged ‘Market Crash Protection’

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Last Friday was the government’s monthly jobs report.  Historically, the market has been unusually volatile on those Fridays when the actual numbers either exceed expectations or are disappointing.  Last week we gave the results of a strangle trade we made a year ago which resulted in a gain of 67% for the day.

Last Thursday we made a similar bet, this time using a straddle.  Here is how it worked out for us.

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Near the close on Friday, the stock (SPY) was trading right around $137 and it was possible to buy both a Jul2-12 137 put and a 137 call which would expire one day later for $1.18 ($118 per spread plus $2.50 commissions).  We bought 7 spreads, paying $843.50 including commissions.  

This is called buying a straddle.  If at any point on Friday, SPY changed in value by more than $1.00 in either direction, we could sell those options at a profit.  (At any price above $138, the calls could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle, and at any price below $136, the puts could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle.)

The market expected that 100,000 new jobs would be created, but the actual results were lower – about 80,000.  When the market opened up just over a dollar lower, it seemed not to be going anywhere so we took a profit, selling the puts for $155 each, collecting $1076.25 after commissions (the calls expired worthless and no commission was involved).  Our net gain on the trade was $235, or 27.8% on the initial investment.

We were hoping that the stock would reverse itself after the early drop so that we could sell the calls later in the day and add to our gain, but that never happened.

If we had waited until later in the day the profit could have been more than double this amount but if we had waited until the end of the day it would have been less.  There is no easy answer as to when to sell a straddle, but we will probably continue our strategy of taking a moderate profit when it comes along.  Another way to play it would have been to sell enough of the spreads to break even and let the others ride in hopes of a windfall gain.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.  What they like best is a whip-saw market where the market moves sharply higher (and they sell their calls) and then down (when they unload their puts).   There are many ways to profit with options. Buying straddles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains.

The downside to buying straddles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment.  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  

However, straddle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.  Right now, VIX (the so-called “fear index” that measures how high option prices are for SPY options) is at 17.10 compared to its mean average of 20.54.  This means that option prices are relatively low right now.  Last December, for example, when VIX was about 25, the same straddle we bought last week for $118 would have cost over $200.

On Friday, a SPY 137 at-the-money straddle with one week of remaining life (expiring July 13, 2012) could have been bought for $1.99 ($199 each).  If at any time during the next week, if SPY fluctuated more than $2, the straddle should be trading for more than $2.  Over the past 13 weeks, SPY has moved in one direction or another by at least $2 in 11 of those weeks, and in one week it fell by $1.94 at one point.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.   There are many ways to profit with options. It is best to remain flexible, and use the option strategy that best matches current market conditions. Buying straddles or strangles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains, as we happily did last week.

The downside to buying straddles or strangles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment (although if you don’t wait too much longer than mid-day on the day options expire, even out-of-the-money options retain some value and should be able to be sold for something).  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  However, straddle- or strangle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Over the last two weeks, the market (SPY) has fallen about 3%, the first two down weeks of 2012.  At Terry’s Tips, we carry out a bearish portfolio called 10K Bear which subscribers mirror if they want some protection against these kinds of weeks.  They were rewarded this time, as usual, when the market turned south.  They gained 45% on their money while SPY fell 3%.

10K Bear is down slightly for all of 2012 because up until the last two weeks, the market has been quite strong.  If someone invested in all eight of our portfolios, however, their net gain so far in 2012 would be greater than 50%.  How many investments out there do you suppose are doing that well?

10K Bear predominantly uses calendar spreads (puts) at strike prices which are lower than the current price of the stock.  Today I would like to discuss a little about the choice of using puts or calls for calendar spreads.

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

It is important to understand that the risk profile of a calendar spread is identical regardless of whether puts or calls are used. The strike price (rather than the choice of puts or calls) determines whether a spread is bearish or bullish.  A calendar spread at a strike price below the stock price is a bearish because the maximum gain is made if the stock falls exactly to the strike price, and a calendar spread at a strike price above the stock price is bullish.

When people are generally optimistic about the market, call calendar spreads tend to cost more than put calendar spreads.  For most of 2012, in spite of a consistently rising market, option buyers have been particularly pessimistic.  They have traded many more puts than calls, and put calendar prices have been more expensive.

Right now, at-the-money put calendar spreads cost more than at-the-money call calendar spreads.  As long as the underlying pessimism continues, they extra cost of the put spreads might be worth the money because when the about-to-expire short options are bought back and rolled over to the next short-term time period, a larger premium can be collected on that sale.  This assumes, of course, that the current pessimism will continue into the future.

If you have a portfolio of exclusively calendar spreads (you don’t anticipate moving to diagonal spreads), it is best to use puts at strikes below the stock price and calls for spreads at strikes which are higher than the stock price.  If you do the reverse, you will own a bunch of well in-the-money short options, and rolling them over to the next week or month is expensive (in-the-money bid-asked spreads are greater than out-of-the-money bid asked spreads so you can collect more cash when rolling over out-of-the-money short options).

The choice of using puts or calls for a calendar spread is most relevant when considering at-the-money spreads.  When buying at-the-money calendar spreads, the least expensive choice (puts or calls) should usually be made. An exception to this rule comes when one of the quarterly SPY dividends is about to come due.  On the day the dividend is payable (always on expiration Friday), the stock is expected to fall by the amount of the dividend (usually about $.60).  Since the market anticipates this drop in the stock (and knowing the specific day that the stock will fall), put prices are generally bid higher in the weeks before that dividend date.

This bottom line is that put calendar spreads are preferable to call calendar spreads for at-the-money strikes (or even at strikes slightly higher than the stock price) coming into a SPY dividend date. Even though the put spreads cost more, the Weekly options that can be sold for enough extra to cover the higher cost.  You do not want to own SPY call calendar spreads which might become in the money on the third Friday of March, June, September, or December because you will have to buy them back on Thursday to avoid paying the dividend, and you may not want to make that purchase to keep your entire portfolio balanced.

A Smart Way to Hedge Your Investments (With Options)

Monday, November 28th, 2011

For the last month or so, the European debt crisis has crushed the U.S. stock market.  Will fears of a global melt-down continue to depress our markets, or will we enjoy a Santa Claus rally next month?

The answer is that no one really knows.  We can all wager a bet as to which way the market will go, but it really is no more than a guess.  We all know the market moves both ways, but we never know which way it will move next.

I believe that some of everyone’s investment portfolio should be in a hedge that protects against the market moving down.  Most people are quite eager to buy stocks or mutual funds, but very few set up a hedge in case they are wrong.  Today I would like to discuss exactly how that hedge might be set up.

A Smart Way to Hedge Your Investments (With Options)

Let’s say you have accumulated a nest egg of $25,000 which you have wisely placed most of it in an index fund (I say wise because index funds, over time, consistently outperform every other kind of mutual fund investment).

Now let’s assume that you are super-smart, and have decided to take $5000 (20% of your total investment portfolio) and placed it in an investment which will prosper if the market should fall.  In my opinion, that hedge should be an options portfolio much like an actual portfolio we carry out for Terry’s Tips subscribers.  We call it the 10K Bear.

Four weeks ago, the market (the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY) was at $128.60.  Last Friday, SPY closed at $116.34, a drop of $12.26, or 9.5%.  Presumably, your index fund lost exactly that amount.  On your $20,000 investment, you have lost $1900 over those 4 weeks.

Now let’s check out how well your 10K Bear portfolio has held up.  Our actual portfolio (which many subscribers mirror on their own or have thinkorswim make the trades for them through their Auto-Trade program) gained 80% after commissions.  If you had invested $5000 (20% of your total investment portfolio) in the 10K Bear, you would have gained $4000 over those 4 weeks while the market tanked.

Bottom line, if you had invested 20% of your money in the 10K Bear and 80% of your money in an index fund, you would have a net gain of over 20% for the period rather than a loss of 9.5%.  In fact, if you had only put 10% of your funds in our bearish options portfolio, you would have broken even for the period rather than losing 9.5%.

Here is how the 10K Bear should perform this week (ending Friday, December 2).  The portfolio is currently worth $6730 but we will withdraw money again next week so that subscribers can mirror the portfolio with close to $5000:

The P/L Day column in the lower right-hand corner shows the expected gain if the stock closes as the Stk Price (left-hand corner column).  You can see that an average gain of about 13% will come if the stock stays flat or falls by as much as $3.  It can go $2 higher and a profit will still be made.  Only if the stock goes up by more than $2 ½ should a loss result (assuming no adjustments are made).

If the stock fluctuates more than $2 in either direction early in the week, we would probably make an adjustment which would shift the above curve in the direction that the stock has moved.  This adjustment would usually reduce the maximum possible gain for the week but would increase the chances that a good gain would result.  Above all, we do our best to avoid a loss of any amount.

How is this portfolio set up?  It consists of owning SPY puts which expire in January or February 2012 and selling Weekly puts (at lower strike prices) that expire this Friday, December 2nd.   If the stock holds steady, the decay rate of our Weekly puts is greater than our longer-term long puts, and the portfolio gains from the difference in decay rates.

If the stock falls, since the long puts are at higher strike prices, they increase in value at a greater rate than the short puts do, and even larger gains are possible.  If the stock falls too much, at some point the long and short put positions go up at essentially the same rate (and we would make an adjustment by rolling down some of our short puts to even lower strikes).

This may seem a little complicated to you right now, but it is a very simple strategy once you watch it unfold in the real world for a few weeks.  Many subscribers mirror our portfolio on their own until they have confidence that they understand it sufficiently to carry it out on their own (and we are delighted to have an ex-subscriber who is making big bucks and will say nice things about us).  

For an investment of only $79.95 (subscribe here), you can learn all the details of a hedge that could have turned the losses you incurred over the last month into gains which were twice as great as those losses. (This price includes weekly updates on the 10K Bear and 7 other portfolios for two months.)  Of course, that investment gets you a whole lot more than the details on this bearish hedge.  But even if there were nothing else, it is a huge bargain that you should be able to use for the rest of your life to increase your annual gains year after year (especially in those times when the market falls, as it will).

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Another crazy week in the market.  Investors vacillated from panic to manic and back to panic.  The net change for the week was not so significant, but the fluctuations were huge.  How can you cope with a market like this?

You might consider using options to hedge against market moves in both directions.  Check out how two of our portfolios are doing it.

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk   

Some Terry’s Tips subscribers choose to mirror in their own accounts one or more of our actual portfolios (or have trades executed automatically for them by their broker).  We recommend to that they select two portfolios, one of which does best in an up market and one that does best in a down market.

Almost all of our portfolios do best if not much of anything happens in the market, but that has not been the case in the last few weeks.  It is during times like this that both a bullish and bearish portfolio be carried out at the same time.

We have one bearish portfolio.  It is called the 10K Bear.  It is currently worth about $5000 (although we have withdrawn $2000 from it to keep it at the $5000 level for new subscribers – it had gone up in value by 54% over the last couple of months while the market was weak).

Here is the risk profile graph for the 10K Bear portfolio.  It shows how much the $5000 portfolio should gain or lose by the regular September options expiration this Friday at the various possible ending prices for SPY (currently trading just under $116): 

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk

  

Some Terry’s Tips subscribers choose to mirror in their own accounts one or more of our actual portfolios (or have trades executed automatically for them by their broker).  We recommend to that they select two portfolios, one of which does best in an up market and one that does best in a down market.

Almost all of our portfolios do best if not much of anything happens in the market, but that has not been the case in the last few weeks.  It is during times like this that both a bullish and bearish portfolio be carried out at the same time.

We have one bearish portfolio.  It is called the 10K Bear.  It is currently worth about $5000 (although we have withdrawn $2000 from it to keep it at the $5000 level for new subscribers – it had gone up in value by 54% over the last couple of months while the market was weak).

Here is the risk profile graph for the 10K Bear portfolio.  It shows how much the $5000 portfolio should gain or lose by the regular September options expiration this Friday at the various possible ending prices for SPY (currently trading just under $116):



Remember, this is an actual brokerage account at thinkorswim which any paying Terry’s Tips subscriber can duplicate if he or she wishes.  The graph shows that if the stock stays absolutely flat next week, there could be a gain of over $1000 for the week.  If the stock should fall by $2, an even higher gain should result.  (Once the stock falls by $2, we would likely make some downside adjustments so that further drops in the stock price would generate higher gains.  After all, this is our bearish bet.)

Where else could you expect a 20% gain if the market doesn’t move one bit?  In a single week?  Or even more if the market should fall?

Admittedly, today’s option prices are extremely high (in 92% of the weeks over the last 5 years, option prices have been lower than they are right now, so we are in truly unusual times).  The risk profile graphs for our portfolios usually do not look as promising as they do right now.

One of the bullish portfolios that we recommend to be matched against the 10K Bear portfolio is called the Ultra Vixen.  This portfolio is based on the underlying “stock” (actually an ETN, an exchange traded note) called VXX.  This index is based on the short-term futures of VIX (the measure of SPY option prices, the so-called “fear index”).  When the market drops, VIX generally rises (as do the VIX futures prices), and VXX usually moves higher.  Over the last month while the market dropped over 10%, VXX has more than doubled in price.  For that reason, many people consider VXX to be an excellent hedge against market crashes.

We don’t like VXX as an investment possibility, however.  Over time, due to a mechanism called contango (futures prices become more expensive in further-out months), VXX is destined to fall over time.  It may be a good hedge as a short-term investment but is awful as a long-term holding.  It fell for 12 consecutive months last year, for example, even though VIX fluctuated in both directions.

Our Ultra Vixen portfolio is set up to benefit when VXX goes down (which it does when the market is flat or goes up).  We generally maintain a net short position on VXX with some call positions for protection in case the stock does go up.  However, our portfolio does best if the market stays flat or moves higher, so it is a good hedge against the 10K Bear portfolio.

Here is the risk profile graph for Ultra Vixen for next Friday’s expiration (September 16th).  It is a $10,000 portfolio and the underlying stock (VXX) is trading about $45.83:





The graph shows that a 10% gain for the week is possible if the stock falls as much as $3 or goes up by as much as $2.  (Historically, in about half the weeks, VXX fluctuates by less than a dollar in either direction.)  Where else besides options do you find opportunities like this?  In a single week?

Both the 10K Bear and Ultra Vixen portfolios should make excellent gains every week when the market is flat, and one or the other should make gains when the market moves more than moderately in either direction.  Theoretically, if the two portfolios together break even in the high-fluctuation weeks and they both make gains when the market doesn’t do much of anything, the long-run combined results should be extraordinary.

Using Options to Protect Against a Market Crash

Monday, August 8th, 2011

We carry out a Bearish portfolio for our subscribers to follow (either by mirroring our trades on their own or having trades made for them by thinkorswim through its Auto-Trade program). Subscribers who follow this portfolio are happy campers this week. They made 26% on their money last week while most everyone else was suffering.

Today I would like to tell you how this bearish portfolio works.

Terry

Using Options to Protect Against a Market Crash

Our bearish portfolio is made up of put LEAP options that we buy (at strike prices which are higher than the current stock price) and short-term put options that we sell (at strike prices which are lower than the current stock price).  We use options on SPY so we are betting that the market in general will fall rather than just one individual stock.

The neat thing about this strategy is that if the market doesn’t fall (but stays flat), it also returns a nice profit.  It can even go up a couple of dollars and a gain should result.  Here is what the risk profile graph looks like for a typical bearish option portfolio using our strategy:

This is a Bearish options portfolio with $7000 invested.  This risk profile graph shows what gains or losses might come in two weeks at the August 19, 2011 expiration.

You can see that if the stock ends up flat in two weeks ($120.08), this portfolio should gain almost $1100 (17%).  If it should fall a couple of dollars, the gain should be about $1600 (23%).  No matter how far the stock falls in the two-week period, a minimum gain of $1000 should result.  That is just what happened last week when this portfolio gained 26%.

If the stock goes up $2, this portfolio also makes money (about 4% for two weeks).  A loss situation only results if the stock were to go up by about $3.  

An important part of this strategy involves making adjustments if the stock starts moving significantly in either direction.  Last week, when it started going down, we had to buy back short puts we had sold that had become in the money (i.e., the stock price was higher than the strike price).  We replaced these short puts with lower-strike puts (at strikes which were lower than the stock price).  This kind of adjustment tends to shift the entire risk profile graph curve to the left.

How many bearish investments can you make and still expect a gain even if you are wrong? Shorting stock only makes money if you are right and the stock falls.  Buying puts is usually a bad idea because they become worth less every day that the stock fails to fall.

A properly-executed options strategy can make big gains if the stock remains flat, smaller gains if the stock moves slightly higher, and very large gains if the stock falls. Where else besides options can you find this kind of opportunity?  If you know of one, please send it along to me.

Making 36%

Making 36% — A Duffer's Guide to Breaking Par in the Market Every Year in Good Years and Bad

This book may not improve your golf game, but it might change your financial situation so that you will have more time for the greens and fairways (and sometimes the woods).

Learn why Dr. Allen believes that the 10K Strategy is less risky than owning stocks or mutual funds, and why it is especially appropriate for your IRA.

Order Now

Success Stories

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.

~ John Collins