Today I would like to tell you all about the worst “stock” you could have owned for the past 6 years. It has fallen from $6400 to $26 today. I will also tell you how you can take advantage of an unusual current market condition and make an options trade which should make a profit of 66% in the next 6 months. That works out to an annualized gain of 132%. Not bad by any standards.For the next few days, I am also offering you the lowest price ever to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and get a 14-day options tutorial which could forever change your future investment results. It is a half-price back-to-school offer – our complete package for only $39.95. Click here, enter Special Code BTS (or BTSP for Premium Service – $79.95).
This could be the best investment decision you ever make – an investment in yourself.
The Worst “Stock” You Could Have Owned for the Last 6 Years
I have put the word “stock” in quotations because it really isn’t a stock in the normal sense of the word. Rather, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) created by Barclay’s which involves buying and selling futures on VIX (the so-called “Fear Index” which measures option volatility on the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY). It is a derivative of a derivative of a derivative which almost no one fully understands, apparently even the Nobel Prize winners who carried out Long-Term Capital a few years back.
Even though it is pure gobbledygook for most of us, this ETP trades just like a stock. You can buy it and hope it goes up or sell it short and hope it goes down. Best of all, for options nuts like me, you can trade options on it.
Let’s check out the 6-year record for this ETP (that time period is its entire life):
- VXX Historical Chart 2015
It is a little difficult to see what this ETP was trading at when it opened for business on January 30, 2009, but its split-adjusted price seems to be over $6000. (Actually, it’s $6400, exactly what you get by starting at $100 and engineering 3 1-for-4 reverse splits). Friday, it closed at $26.04. That has to be the dog of all dog instruments that you could possible buy over that time period (if you know of a worse one, please let me know).
This ETP started trading on 1/30/09 at $100. Less than 2 years later, on 11/19/10, it had fallen to about $12.50, so Barclays engineered a reverse 1-for-4 split which pushed the price back up to about $50. It then steadily fell in value for another 2 years until it got to about $9 on 10/15/12 and Barclays did the same thing again, temporarily pushing the stock back up to $36. That lasted only 13 months when they had to do it again on 11/18/13 – this time, the stock had fallen to $12.50 once again, and after the reverse split, was trading about $50. Since then, it has done relatively better, only falling in about half over almost a two-year span.
Obviously, this “stock” would have been a great thing to sell short just about any time over the 6-year period (if you were willing to hang on for the long run). There are some problems with selling it short, however. Many brokers can’t find stock to borrow to cover it, so they can’t take the order. And if they do, they charge you some healthy interest for borrowing the stock (I don’t quite understand how they can charge you interest because you have the cash in your account, but they do anyway – I guess it’s a rental fee for borrowing the stock, not truly an interest charge).
Buying puts on it might have been a good idea in many of the months, but put prices are quite expensive because the market expects the “stock” to go down, and it will have to fall quite a way just to cover the cost of the put. I typically don’t like to buy puts or calls all by themselves (about 80% of options people buy are said to expire worthless). If you straight-out buy puts or calls, every day the underlying stock or ETP stays flat, you lose money. That doesn’t sound like a great deal to me. I do like to buy and sell both puts and calls as part of a spread, however. That is another story altogether.
So what else should you know about this ETP? First, it is called VXX. You can find a host of articles written about it (check out Seeking Alpha) which say it is the best thing to buy (for the short term) if you want protection against a market crash. While that might be true, are you really smart enough to find a spot on the 6-year chart when you could have bought it and then figured out the perfect time to sell as well? The great majority of times you would have made your purchase, you would have surely regretted it (unless you were extremely lucky in picking the right day both to buy and sell).
One of the rare times when it would have been a good idea to buy VXX was on August 10, 2015, just over a month ago. It closed at its all-time low on that day, $15.54. If you were smart enough to sell it on September 1st when it closed at $30.76, you could have almost doubled your money. But you have already missed out if you didn’t pull the trigger on that exact day. It has now fallen over 15% in the last two weeks, continuing its long-term trend.
While we can’t get into the precise specifics of how VXX is valued in the market, we can explain roughly how it is constructed. Each day, Barclays buys one-month-out futures on VIX in hopes that the market fears will grow and VIX will move higher. Every day, Barclays sells VIX futures it bought a month ago at the current spot price of VIX. If VIX had moved higher than the month-ago futures price, a profit is made.
The reason why VXX is destined to move lower over time is that over 90% of the time, the price of VIX futures is higher than the spot price of VIX. It is a condition called contango. The average level of contango for VIX is about 5%. That percentage is how much higher the one-month futures are than the current value of VIX, and is a rough approximation of how much VXX should fall each month.
However, every once in a while, the market gets very worried, and contango disappears. The last month has been one of those times. People seem to be concerned that China and the rest of the world is coming on hard times, and our stock markets will be rocked because the Fed is about to raise interest rates. The stock market has taken a big tumble and market volatility has soared. This has caused the current value of VIX to become about 23.8 while the one-month futures of VIX are 22.9. When the futures are less than the spot price of VIX, it is a condition called back-wardation. It only occurs about 10% of the time. Right now, backwardation is in effect, (-3.59%), and it has been for about 3 weeks. This is an exceptionally long time for backwardation to continue to exist.
At some point, investors will come to the realization that the financial world is not about to implode, and that things will pretty much chug along as they have in the past. When that happens, market volatility will fall back to historical levels. For most of the past two or three years, VIX has traded in the 12 – 14 range, about half of where it is right now. When fears subside, as they inevitably will, VIX will fall, the futures will be greater than the current price of VIX, and contango will return. Even more significant, when VIX falls to 12 or 14 and Barclays is selling (for VXX) at that price, VXX will lose out big-time because a month ago, it bought futures at 22.9. So VXX will inevitably continue its downward trend.
So how can you make money on VXX with options? To my way of thinking, today’s situation is a great buying opportunity. I think it is highly likely that volatility (VIX) will not remain at today’s high level much longer. When it falls, VXX will tumble, contango will return, and VXX will face new headwinds going forward once again.
Here is a trade I recommended to Terry’s Tips Insiders last Friday:
“If you believe (as I do) that the overwhelming odds are that VXX will be much lower in 6 months than it is now, you might consider buying a Mar-16 26 call (at the money – VXX closed at $26.04 yesteday) and sell a Mar-16 21 call. You could collect about $2 for this credit spread. In 6 months, if VXX is at any price below $21, both calls would expire worthless and you would enjoy a gain of 66% on your $3 at risk. It seems like a pretty good bet to me.”
This spread is called selling a bearish call credit vertical spread. For each spread you sell, $200 gets put in your account. Your broker will charge you a maintenance requirement of $500 to protect against your maximum loss if VXX closes above $26 on March 18, 2016. Since you collect $200 at the beginning, your actual maximum loss is $300 (this is also your net investment in this spread). There is no interest charged on a maintenance requirement; rather, it is just money in your account that you can’t use to buy other stocks or options.
This may all seem a little confusing if you aren’t up to speed on options trading. Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger – the great majority of investors know little or nothing about options. You can fix that by going back to school and taking the 14-day options tutorial that comes with buying the full Terry’s Tips’ package at the lowest price ever – only $39.95 if you buy before Friday, September 23, 2015.
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