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Posts Tagged ‘profits’

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

This week I came to the conclusion that the market may be in for some trouble over the next few months (or longer).  I am not expecting a crash of any sort, but I think it is highly unlikely that we will see a large upward move anytime soon.

Today, I would like to share my thinking on the market’s direction, and talk a little about how you can use calendar spreads to benefit when the market (for most stocks) doesn’t do much of anything (or goes down moderately).

Terry

How to Make Gains in a Down Market With Calendar Spreads

For several reasons, the bull market we have enjoyed for the last few years seems to be petering out.  First, as Janet Yellen and Robert Shiller, and others, have recently pointed out, the S&P 500 average has a higher P/E, 20.7 now, compared to 19.5 a year ago, or compared to the 16.3 very-long-term average.  An elevated P/E can be expected in a world of zero interest rates, but we all know that world will soon change.  The question is not “if” rates will rise, but “when.”

Second, market tops and bottoms are usually marked by triple-digit moves in the averages, one day up and the next day down, exactly the pattern we have seen for the past few weeks.

Third, it is May.  “Sell in May” is almost a hackneyed mantra by now (and not always the right thing to do), but the advice is soundly supported by the historical patterns.

The market might not tank in the near future, but it seems to me that a big increase is unlikely during this period when we are waiting for the Fed to act.

At Terry’s Tips, we most always create positions that do best if the market is flat or rises moderately.  Based on the above thoughts, we plan to take a different tack for a while.  We will continue to do well if it remains flat, but we will do better with a moderate drop than we would a moderate rise.

As much as you would like to try, it is impossible to create option positions that make gains no matter what the underlying stock does.  The options market is too efficient for such a dream to be possible.  But you can stack the odds dramatically in your favor.

If you want to protect against a down market using calendar spreads, all you have to do is buy spreads which have a lower strike price than the underlying stock.  When the short-term options you have sold expire, the maximum gain comes when the stock is very close to the strike price.  If that strike price is lower than the current price of the stock, that big gain comes after the stock has fallen to that strike price.

If you bought a calendar spread at the market (strike price same as the stock price), you would do best if the underlying stock or ETF remained absolutely flat.  You can reduce your risk a bit by buying another spread or two at different strikes.  That gives you more than one spot where the big gain comes.

At Terry’s Tips, now that we believe the market is more likely to head lower than it is to rise in the near future, we will own at-the-money calendar spreads, and others which are at lower strike prices.  It is possible to create a selection of spreads which will make a gain if the market is flat, rises just a little bit, or falls by more than a little bit, but not a huge amount.  Fortunately, there is software that lets you see in advance the gains or losses that will come at various stock prices with the calendar spreads you select (it’s free at thinkorswim and available at other brokers as well, although I have never seen anything as good as thinkorswim offers).

Owning a well-constructed array of stock option positions, especially calendar spreads, allows you to take profits even when the underlying stock doesn’t move higher.  Just select some spreads which are at strikes below the current stock price.  (It doesn’t matter if you use puts or calls, as counter-intuitive as that seems – with calendar spreads, it is the strike price, not whether you use puts or calls, that determines your gains or losses.)

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

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

Terry

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

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

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

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

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

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

About a month ago I sent out a strategy we were using to capitalize on the price of oil falling further (as many analysts, including those at Goldman, Citi, and Barclays, were predicting).  We set up a small demonstration portfolio which had $2910 to start, and bought calendar spreads at the 18, 17, and 16 strikes when USO was trading at $18.45.When the price of oil did retreat further, USO fell to about $17, and we sold our calendar spreads at the 17 and 18 strikes and replaced them with calendar spreads at the 15 and 14 strikes.  Since the strike prices of calendar spreads is what determines whether you are bullish or bearish on the stock, when we had all our calendar spreads at strikes below the stock price, we were extremely bearish.

Then the stock turned around and headed higher, taking away the gains we had made, and we were right back to where we started.  Today we made a new start, and I would like to share our thinking at this time.

Terry

Update on Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

USO is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) which is highly correlated to the price of oil (West Texas Intermediate). But there is another component that is not as easy to contend with, and that is the speculative element.  Oil prices are less than half of what they were a year ago, and in spite of most of the big investment banks warning that even lower prices are coming, there seems to be some people out there who are betting that oil prices will eventually recover, and this may be a good time to get on board.  For example, Robert Shiller, Nobel laureate and Yale University economist  made a strong pitch to “buy oil” this week.  Consequently, over the past few days, USO has inched up a bit in spite of these recent developments:

• The supply of oil is at an 80-year high, and grew at more than 4 million barrels last week in spite of expectations far less than that.
• The rate of oil rigs closing down has fallen drastically (and it appears that the rigs that have been closed down so far were the lowest-producing ones so the supply of oil gets higher each week)
• There appears to be an accord with Iran which could flood the market with new oil from Iran if sanctions are removed.

We are siding with the investment banks’ predictions instead of Mr. Shiller’s (who is likely to be thinking longer-term). While we believe the short-term price of USO is headed lower (for the above reasons and the headwinds caused by contango), we hedged our bet a little, and established new positions in our demonstration portfolio.  We own puts expiring in Jan-16 and we have sold Apr-4 15 puts which expire in 3 weeks (on April 24th).  We have 8 calendar spreads at the 15 strike, 8 at the 16 strike, and 5 at the 17 strike at a time when the stock is trading at $17.45.  Our portfolio is worth $2910 today.

This is the risk profile graph for these calendar spread positions for April 24th:

USO Risk Profile Graph April 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph April 2015

The graph shows that if USO doesn’t change one cent in value for the next three weeks, we will make about 20% with our positions.  If it falls by about a dollar (or more) as we expect, we could make double that amount.  If we are wrong, and it goes higher by a dollar in three weeks, we will break even.

We like our chances with these positions, and they demonstrate how you can make extraordinary gains with options, even if you are not quite right in guessing which way a stock price is headed.  I always like the feeling that if the stock doesn’t change at all (which is so often the case), I will still make a nice gain when the short options expire.

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

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

Terry

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

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

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

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Yesterday I sent you a note describing an interesting way to make some serious money with options, betting that the price of oil will either stabilize or move higher from today’s low levels.  Thanks to subscriber Thomas, there is a better underlying out there.  Just in case you were planning to place the trades, I thought you should check this one out first.

Terry

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

This is a re-write of yesterday’s letter, except the underlying is USO (another ETF) rather than OIH.  The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

USO Historical Chart 2015

USO Historical Chart 2015

There is a distinct advantage to USO, however.  The options are far more liquid and bid-ask spreads are much smaller for USO.  In other words, you can get much better prices when you place orders or roll over your short positions to the next month.

USO closed at $19.60 Friday.  Here are the trades I plan to make today:

Buy 3 USO Jan-16 19 calls (USO160115C19)
Sell 3 USO Mar-15 19.5 calls (USO150320C19.5) for $1.45 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 USO Jan-16 19 call (USO160115C19) for $3.35
The spread order is priced at $.02 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask price for the spread, and the single call order is placed at $.05 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask.  You should be able to get those prices.

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $435 plus $335 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $775.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

USO Risk Profioe Graph 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of USO ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain at least $200, or about 25% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 25% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny (in fact, if it actually is flat, your gain should be $327, or over 40%).  If you just bought USO instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if USO falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 19 call gives you upside protection in case USO moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if USO drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $19.50) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire. It is conceivable that you could collect $300 every month and get all your mney back in 3 months, and further  sales would be clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.

 

How to Play Oil Prices With Options

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

If you are anything like me, I have enjoyed filling up my car lately.  It almost seems too good to be true. How long do you think gas prices will stay this low?    I figure that the price is more likely to move higher from here than it is to move lower, but I could be wrong.  It seems like a prudent bet would be that it won’t move much lower from here, and that the price of oil is more likely to stay the same or move higher over the next year.  If either scenario (flat or up) is true, you can easily double your money using options.  Today I will show you one way that might be accomplished.

Terry

How to Play Oil Prices With Options

If you want to bet on higher oil prices, you might consider buying the ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) OIL.  This is simply a measure of the price of crude oil.  I don’t like to trade OIL, however, because the price is too low (under $12) to have meaningful option prices (and the options market is not very efficient which means it is hard to get decent prices because bid-ask ranges are too high).

An alternative ETF is OIH.  This covers the oil service companies, like drillers and transporters.  There is an extremely high correlation between the prices of OIL and OIH, and OIH has the advantage of having a higher absolute price ($35.50 at Friday’s close) and a more efficient options market (including weekly options and LEAPS).

Check out the chart for OIH for the last year:

OIH Historical Chart Feb 2015

OIH Historical Chart Feb 2015

If you had been smart (or lucky) enough to buy OIH when it rose above its 30-day moving average a year ago, you might have owned it while it rose from about $46 to about $55 when it fell below its 30-day moving average and then if you sold it short, you might make gains all the way down to $36 (you would have had to resist buying it back when it briefly moved above the moving average a few months ago).

Now OIH is well above this moving average and this might be a good time to make a bet that it will move higher going forward.  If you wanted to bet that the price of oil (and OIH) will remain flat or move higher, you might consider these trades (with OIH trading at $35.50):

Buy 3 OIH Jan-16 35 calls (OIH160115C35)
Sell 3 OIH Mar-15 36 calls (OIH150320C36) for $3.05 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 OIH Jan-16 35 call (OIH160115C35) for $4.45

These prices are at $.05 more than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the option or the spread.  You should be able to get those prices – be sure to enter it as a limit order because bid-ask ranges are a little high (although narrower than they are for OIL).

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $915 plus $445 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $1365.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

OIH Risk Profile Graph 2015

OIH Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of OIH ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain about $300, or about 20% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 20% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny.  If you just bought OIH instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if OIH falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 35 call gives you upside protection in case OIH moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if OIH drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $37) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire.  Once you have collected $100 for each of 3 monthly calls you sell, you will have all your original investment back, and further  sales are clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Last week we outlined an options play based on the historical fluctuation pattern for our favorite ETP called SVXY.  This week we will compare those fluctuations to the market in general (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as the market definition). We proposed buying a vertical call spread for a one-month-out expiration date with the lower strike about 6% above the starting stock price.

The results were a little unbelievable, possibly gaining an average of 65% a month (assuming the fluctuation pattern continued into the future). If you used an outside indicator to determine which months were more likely to end up with a winning result, you would invest in just under half the months, but when you did invest, your average gain might be in the neighborhood of 152%.  Your average monthly gain would be approximately the same if you only invested half the time or all the time, but some people like to increase the percentage of months when they make gains (the pain of losing always seems to be worse than the pleasure of winning).

This week we will offer a second way to bet that the stock will rise by 12.5% in about 38% of the months (as it has in the past).  It involves buying a calendar spread rather than a vertical call spread (and sort of legging into a long call position as an alternative to the simple purchase of a call).

Terry

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First. Let’s compare the monthly price fluctuations of SPY and SVXY.  You will see that they are totally different.

Here is a graph showing how much SPY has fluctuated each month over the past 38 months:

Over the 38 months of the time period, SPY rose in 28 months and fell in 10 months.  By far, the most popular monthly change was in the zero to +2.5% range.  Note that in less than 8% of the months (3 out of 38) SPY fluctuated by more than 5%, while in over 92% of the months, the fluctuation was less than 5%.

Compare the monthly fluctuations of SPY with those for SVXY over the same time period:

SVXY rose in 28 of the 38 months, exactly the same number as SPY. However, the absolute percentage price changes are far higher for SVXY.  In nearly half the months, SVXY fluctuated by more than 10% either way (18 of 38 months).  In 24 of the 38 months (63%), SVXY changed by more than 5% in either direction compared to less than 8% of the months for SPY.  In 21 of the 38 months (55%)  SVXY gained over 5%.

Bottom line, monthly fluctuations for SVXY are considerably greater than they are for SPY.  In most months, the price change for SPY is relatively insignificant and for SVXY, the price is rarely anywhere near where it started out each expiration month.

Buying Vertical Spreads:

If you were to buy a one-month vertical spread on SPY, buying the at-the-money strike price and selling at a strike $5 higher, the spread would cost about $1.65 ($165) and you could sell it for $5.00 ($500) if the stock rose about 2 1/2% or more.  However, if the historical pattern persisted, you would make the maximum gain in only 13 of 38 months, or 34% of the time.

The same 5-point spread in SVXY would cost far more ($2.50) but you could look forward to making the maximum gain in 21 of 38 months (55% of the time).  While buying this spread would give you a statistical edge, it probably is not the best spread to purchase.  A more profitable spread would be at higher strike prices – betting that the stock would increase by 12.5% or more (which it has 38% of the time).  Since this higher-strike price would cost far less, your statistical edge would be much greater as would your gains in those months when a big increase took place.

A second alternative would be to simply buy a call which was about 6% above the purchase price.  Last week, in a demonstration portfolio at Terry’s Tips, with SVXY trading at $75, we bought a one-month-out 80 call.  It cost $1.40.  If the stock rose by 12.5% from $75, it would be trading around $84 ½ and you could sell the call for about 3 times what you paid for it.

We also bought some SVXY Dec4-14 – Dec2-14 80 calendar call spreads for $1.14.  This is a way of buying a 5-week call at the 80 strike, paying less than a 4-week call which cost $1.40.  When the Dec2-14 short calls expire in two weeks, we would not replace them, and stick with uncovered long calls that expires a week later than the Dec-14 call.  The only extra risk we are taking here is that the stock skyrockets 12.5% in the very first two weeks so that the Dec2-14 80 call finishes in the money (something that seems unlikely to happen his month since VIX is so low so that most of the increase in SVXY should come from the contango component).  This spread seems to be a better alternative than just buying the Dec-14 80 call, but we will see how it works out. Of course, I’ll report back to you.

So far, the stock has edged up to close today about 5% higher than it started out last week (after recovering from a big drop on Monday).  Contango is above 10%, unusually high, but not so unusual for the month of December because of the “holiday effect” (December is often characterized by low volume and higher stock prices, and VIX futures for this month are typically lower than any other month).  The contango number is a rough approximation of how much SVXY should increase in one month from the daily adjustment which is made (selling the one-month-out futures and buying at the spot price of VIX).  Of course, if VIX fluctuates, SVXY will move in the opposite direction.  If VIX moves higher, SVXY might move lower even if it is helped by the contango tailwinds.

 

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Friday, November 28th, 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and/or loved ones, and are ready for some exciting new information.  Admittedly, the title of this week’s Idea of the Week is a little bizarre.  Surely, such a preposterous claim can’t possibly have a chance of succeeding.  Yet, that is about what your average monthly gain would have been if you had used this strategy for the past 37 months that the underlying ETP (SVXY) has been in existence.  In other words, if the pattern of monthly price changes continues going forward, a 40% average monthly gain should result (actually, it would be quite a bit more than this, but I prefer to underpromise and over-deliver).  Please read on.

We will discuss some exact trades which might result in 40%+ monthly gains over the next four weeks.  I hope you will study every article carefully.  Your beliefs about options trading may be changed forever.

Terry

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First of all, we need to say a few words about our favorite underlying, SVXY.  It is not a stock.  There are no quarterly earnings reports to push it higher or lower, depending on how well or poorly it performs.  Instead, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) which is a derivative of several other derivatives, essentially impossible to predict which way it will move in the next week or month.  The only reliable predictor might be to look how it has performed in the past, and see if there is a way to make extraordinary gains if the historical pattern of price changes manages to extend into the future.  This price change pattern is the basis of the 40% monthly gain potential that we have discovered.

SVXY is the inverse of VXX, a popular hedge against a market crash.  VXX is positively correlated with VIX (implied volatility of SPY options), the so-called fear index.  When the market crashes or corrects, options volatility, VIX, and VXX all soar.  That is why VXX is such a good hedge against a market crash.  Some analysts have written that a $10,000 investment in VXX will protect against any loss on a $100,000 stock portfolio (I have calculated that you would really need to invest about $20,000 in VXX to protect against any loss in a $100,000 stock portfolio, but that is not a relevant discussion here.)

While VXX is a good hedge against a market crash, it is a horrible long-term holding.  In its 7 years of existence, it has fallen an average of 67% a year.  On three occasions, they have had to engineer 1-for-4 reverse splits to keep the stock price high enough to bother trading.  In seven years, it has fallen from a split-adjusted $2000+ price to today’s under-$30.

Over the long run, VXX is just about the worst-performing “stock” that you could possibly find.  That is why we are so enamored by its inverse, SVXY.

Deciding to buy a stock is a simple decision.  Compare that to SVXY, an infinitely more complicated choice.  First, you start with SPY, an ETP which derives its value from the weighted average stock price of 500 companies in the S&P 500 index.  Options trade on SPY, and VIX is derived from the implied volatility (IV) of those options.  Then there are futures which are derived from the future expectations of what VIX will be in future months. SVXY is derived from the value of short-term futures on VIX.  Each day, SVXY sells these short-term futures and buys at the spot price (today’s value) of VIX.  Since about 90% of the time, short-term futures are higher than the spot price of VIX (a condition called contango), SVXY is destined to move higher over the long run – an average of about 67% a year, the inverse of what VXX has done.  Simple, right?

While SVXY is anything but a simple entity to understand or predict, its price-change pattern is indeed quite simple.  In most months, it moves higher.  Every once in a while, however, market fears erupt and SVXY plummets.  In October, for example, SVXY fell from over $90 to $50, losing almost half its value in a single month.  While owning SVXY might be a good idea for the long run, in the short run, it can be an awful thing to own.

Note on terminology: While SVXY is an ETP and not literally a stock, when we are using it as an underlying entity for options trading, it behaves exactly like a stock, and we refer to it as a stock rather than an ETP.

We have performed an exhaustive study of monthly price fluctuations (using expiration month numbers rather than calendar month figures).  Our major finding was that in half the months, SVXY ended up more than 12% higher or lower than where it started out.  It was extremely unusual for it to be trading at the end of an expiration month anyway near where it started out.  This would suggest that buying a straddle (both a put and a call) at the beginning of the month might be a good idea.  However, such a straddle would cost about 10% of the value of the stock, a cost that does not leave much room for gains since the stock would have to move by 10% before your profits would start, and that occurs only about half the time.

A second significant finding of our backtest study of SVXY price fluctuations was that in 38% of the months, the stock ended up at least 12.5% higher than it started the expiration month.  If this pattern persisted into the future, the purchase of an at-the-money call (costing about 5% of the stock price) might be a profitable bet.  There are other strategies which we believe are better, however.

One possible strategy would be to buy a one-month out vertical call spread with the lower strike about 6% above the current price of the stock.  Last week, with SVXY trading about $75, we bought a Dec-14 80 call and sold a Dec-14 85 call.  The spread cost us $1.11 ($111 per spread, plus $2.50 in commissions at the special thinkorswim rate for paying Terry’s Tips subscribers).  This means that if the stock ends up at any price above $85 (which it has historically done 38% of the time), we could sell the spread for $497.50 after commissions, making a profit of $384 on an investment of $113.50.  That works out to a 338% gain on the original investment.
If you bought a vertical call spread like this for $113.50 each month and earned a $384 gain in the 14 months (out of 37 historical total) when SVXY ended up the expiration month having gained at least 12.5%, you would end up with $5376 in gains in those months.  If you lost your entire $113.50 investment in the other 23 months, you would have losses of $2610, and this works out to a net gain of $2766 for the total 37 months, or an average of $74 per month on a monthly investment of $113.50, or an average of 65% a month.  Actually, it would be better than this because wouldn’t lose the entire investment in many months when the maximum gain did not come your way.

But as good as 65% a month seems (surely better than the 40% a month I talked about at the beginning), it could get better.  Again using the historical pattern, we identified another variable which could tell us whether or not we should buy the vertical spread at the beginning of the month. If you followed this measure, you would only buy the spread in 17 of the 37 months.  However, you would make the maximum gain in 10 of those months. Your win rate would be 58% rather than 38%, and your average monthly gain would be 152%.  This variable is only available for paying subscribers to Terry’s Tips, although maybe if you’re really smart and can afford to spend a few dozen hours of searching, you can figure it out for yourself.

Starting in a couple of weeks, we are offering a portfolio that will execute spreads like this every month, and this portfolio will be available for Auto-Trading at thinkorswim (so you don’t have to place any of the orders yourself).  Each month, we will start out with $1000 in the portfolio and buy as many spreads as we can at that time.  We expect it will be a very popular portfolio for our subscribers.  With potential numbers like this, I’m sure you can agree with our prognosis.

Of course, this entire strategy is based on the expectation that future monthly price fluctuations of SVXY will be similar to the historical pattern of price changes.  This may or may not be true in the real world, but we think our chances are pretty good.  For example, for the November expiration that ended just one week ago, the stock had risen a whopping 34%.  In the preceding October expiration month, it had fallen by almost that same amount, but at the beginning of the month, our outside variable measure would have told us not to buy the spread for that month, so we would have made the 338% in November and avoided any loss at all in October.

There are other possible spreads that could be placed to take advantage of the unusual price behavior of SVXY, and we will discuss some of them in future reports.  I invite you to check them out carefully, and to look forward for a year-end special price designed to entice you to come on board for the lowest price we have ever offered. It could be the best investment decision you make in 2014.

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  This sample demonstration portfolio holds a SVXY Mar-15 75 put, and each week, (almost always on Friday), we buy back an expiring weekly put and sell a one-week-out put in its place, trying to sell at a strike which is $1 – $2 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 or $2 above the stock price).  Our goal in this portfolio is to make 3% a week.

Last week, SVXY rose to just less than $75 and we bought back the expiring Nov-14 73 put  and sold a Dec1-14 75 put (selling a calendar), collecting a credit of $1.75 ($172.50 after commissions).

The account value was then $1570, up $70 for the week, and $336 from the starting value of $1234 on October 17th, 5 weeks ago.  This works out to $67 a week, well more than the $37 weekly gain we need to achieve our 3% weekly goal.  In fact, we have gained 5.4% a week for the 5 weeks we have carried out this portfolio.

At this point, we closed out this portfolio so that we could replace the positions with new options plays designed to take advantage of the SVXY price fluctuation pattern we spoke about today.  It seems like very few people were following our strategy of selling weekly puts against a long Mar-15 put, but we clearly showed how 3% a week was not only possible, but fairly easy to ring up.  Where else but with stock options can you achieve these kinds of investment returns?

An Interesting Way to Invest in China Using Options

Monday, November 17th, 2014

A week ago, I reported on a spread I placed in advance of Keurig’s (GMCR) announcement which comes after the market close on Wednesday.  I bought Dec-14 140 puts and sold Nov-14 150 puts for a credit of $1.80 when the stock was trading just under $153.  The spread should make a gain if it ends up Friday at any price higher than $145.  You can still place this trade, but you would only receive about $1.15 at today’s prices.  It still might be a good bet if you are at all bullish on GMCR.Today I would like to discuss a way to invest in China using options.  One of our basic premises at Terry’s Tips is that if you find a company you like, you can make several times as much trading options on that company than you can just buying the stock (and we have proved this premise a number of times with a large number of companies over the years).  If you would like to add an international equity to your investment portfolio, you might enjoy today’s discussion.

Terry

An Interesting Way to Invest in China Using Options:

My favorite print publication these days is Bloomberg BusinessWeek which also includes a monthly edition called Bloomberg Markets.  There are times when I find myself at least skimming nearly every article in both publications.  I used to read the Wall Street Journal every day, but it got to be just too much.  Now I only read the Saturday edition along with Barron’s.  This week’s cover story in Bloomberg Markets is entitled “Jack Ma Wants it All.”  It discusses the fascinating story of Ali Baba (BABA) and Ma’s business philosophy which treats customers first, employees second, and stockholders third.  This is precisely Costco’s philosophy, and it has worked wonders for COST, even for stockholders.

Last week was 11/11, a sort of anti-Valentines Day in China called Singles Day (BABA owns the name as well) when unattached people buy something for themselves.  BABA reported online sales of $9 billion on that day.  For comparison, online spending on Black Friday, the hectic U.S. shopping day after Thanksgiving, totaled $1.2 billion in 2013. On Cyber Monday, the top online spending day, sales totaled $1.84 billion, according to research firm comScore.

The only part about Ma’s strategy I didn’t like was his international investments in apparently unrelated businesses.  I generally prefer companies which “stick to their own knitting.”  But BABA might be an interesting way to invest in China, and the option prices are attractive (high IV, relatively small bid-asked ranges, lots of volume, and weekly options are traded).

I tried to get a link to the Bloomberg Markets article, but there doesn’t appear to be one.  It is fascinating, however, and worth a trip to the library or newsstand to read the December issue.

Proposed New Terry’s Tips Portfolio: One of the most successful strategies we have carried out over the years has been using calendar and diagonal spreads on individual companies we like.  If the stock price moves higher (as we expect), we have often gained several times the percentage increase in the stock.  For example, in the 15 months since we started the Vista Valley portfolio which trades NKE call options, the stock has increased by 51% and our portfolio has gained 141%.

BABA would be an interesting company to start a new portfolio to trade.  An at-the-money July-Dec2 calendar spread would cost about $12.  There would be 7 opportunities to sell a one-month-out at-the-money call, and the going price is about $5. If we could do that 3 times we would have all our money back with 4 more chances to take some pure profits.

If we set up a $5000 portfolio using this strategy (owning Jul-15 calls to start, and selling one weekly at each of 4 weeks, from at-the-money to just out-of-the-money, this is what the risk profile graph would look like for the first full month of waiting:

BABA Risk Profile Graph November 2014

BABA Risk Profile Graph November 2014

The break-even range would extend about $5 on the downside and $15 on the upside, a fairly wide range for a $115 stock for one month.  An at-the-money result would cause a better-than-15% return for the month.  It looks like an attractive way to add a little international coverage to our portfolio choices, and to enjoy gains if the stock falls as much as $5 in a month or does any better than that.  If you just bought the stock, it would have to move higher before you made any gains.  With options, you make the highest gain if it just manages to stay flat for the month.  At all times, you enjoy a wider break-even range than you ever could by merely buying a stock that you like.

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  This sample demonstration portfolio holds a SVXY Mar-15 75, and each week, (almost always on Friday), we buy back an expiring weekly put and sell a one-week put in its place, trying to sell at a strike which is $1 – $2 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 or $2 above the stock price)  Our goal in this portfolio is to make 3% a week.

Last week, SVXY edged up $.70 and we bought back the expiring Nov1-14 73 put  and sold a Nov-14 73 put (selling a calendar), collecting a credit of $1.45 ($143.50 after commissions).

The account value is now $1500, up $55 for the week, and $266 from the starting value of $1234 on October 17th, 4 weeks ago.  This works out to $66 a week, well more than the $37 weekly gain we need to achieve our 3% weekly goal.

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.  I will follow the guidelines already sent to you for rolling over as outlined above and earlier, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wish.

 

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.

 

Making 36%

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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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