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An Interesting Calendar Spread Trade Idea

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Today I would like to share with you an investment I made in my personal account just today.  It involves buying three calendar spreads and waiting about a month to see if you hit the jackpot.  See if you agree with me that it is a potentially great trade.Terry

An Interesting Calendar Spread Trade Idea 

The underlying company is Keurig Green Mountain Coffee (GMCR).  I have traded options on this company almost every week for the last few years.  I like it because the options carry an exceptionally high implied volatility (IV) because the stock has been so volatile.

A few months ago, when Coke signed an exclusive license with them and agreed to buy 10% of the company, the stock shot up by about 50%.  It has since retreated from those lofty levels, recently pushed lower because several competitors have brought a suit against them because their new Keurig machine won’t accept other companies’ single cup offerings.  That sounds like a good business idea to me, not something that they could be sued over.  But our legal system never ceases to surprise me.

In any event, the stock has settled down a bit, and since the lawsuits won’t get anywhere for several months, I only care what happens in the next month.  The stock closed at $98 Friday.  I think it won’t go much lower than that, and maybe will edge higher over the next month.

I am buying June options and selling May options as a calendar spread.  I bought June 105 calls and sold May 105 calls, June 100 calls and sold May 100 calls, June 95 puts and sold May 95 puts, all as calendar spreads.  The natural price for the call spreads was $2.00 and for the puts, $1.70 (you should be able to pay a little less than the natural prices).

In one month, when the May options expire (on the 16th), if any of those three strike prices are at the money (i.e., the stock price is very near one of the strike prices), the May option will expire nearly worthless and the June option should be worth $6.35 (based on the current value of an at-the-money option with four weeks of remaining life).  That means if I could get back more than I paid for all three spreads today by selling a single spread a month from now.  Whatever I got from selling the other two spreads would be pure profit.

If the stock ends up on May 16th being $5 away from one of my 3 strike prices, based on today’s values, the spread could be sold for $4.45, or more than double what I paid for any of the spreads I bought.  If the stock is $10 away from a strike price, it could be sold for $3.05 based on today’s prices.  That is 50% more than I paid for any of the spreads.

However, the company announces earnings on May 7th.  Because of the uncertainty surrounding that event, option prices are much higher now than they will be after the announcement.  IV for the June options is 55 right now, and it is only 44 for weekly options that expire before the announcement.  If we assume that IV for the June options will fall by 11 after the announcement, this is what the risk profile graph looks like:

GMCR Risk Profile Graph April 2014

GMCR Risk Profile Graph April 2014

This graph has numbers for 5 calendar spreads at each of the 3 strikes, with a total investment of about $4800.  If the stock ends up flat or up to $7 higher than it is right now, there would be about a 60% gain from the spreads.  If it falls by $10 (an unlikely event, in my opinion), a loss of about $400 would result.  Although the graph does not show it, the upside break-even is $15 higher than the current price.  It shows that above $113, losses would result.

Many stocks move higher in the few days before an announcement in anticipation of good results, a good reason I like to have a little more coverage on the upside (if you are more bullish, you would buy more spreads at higher strike prices, and if your were bearish on the company or the market, you would buy more spreads at lower strike prices).

One nice thing about calendar spreads is that the options you buy have a longer life span than those you are selling, so their value will always be higher, no matter how far from the stock price they might be.  You can never lose all of your money with a calendar spread, unlike who might happen in a vertical spread or short iron condor, two popular option spreads.

If the stock moves dramatically either way between now and announcement day, I would add another calendar in the direction the stock has moved (at the 115 strike if it moves higher, or the 90 strike if it moves lower).  That move would give me a wider break-even range than presently exists.

I will report back to you on how these spreads turn out in four weeks.

 

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I like to trade calendar spreads.  Right now my favorite underlying to use is SVXY, a volatility-related ETP which is essentially the inverse of VXX, another ETP which moves step-in-step with volatility (VIX).  Many people buy VXX as a hedge against a market crash when they are fearful (volatility, and VXX. skyrockets when a crash occurs), but when the market is stable or moves higher, VXX inevitably moves lower.  In fact, since it was created in 2009, VXX has been just about the biggest dog in the entire stock market world.  On three occasions they have had to make 1 – 4 reverse splits just to keep the stock price high enough to matter.

Since VXX is such a dog, I like SVXY which is its inverse.  I expect it will move higher most of the time (it enjoys substantial tailwinds because of something called contango, but that is a topic for another time).  I concentrate in buying calendar spreads on SVXY (buying Jun-14 options and selling weekly options) at strikes which are higher than the current stock price.  Most of these calendar spreads are in puts, and that seems a little weird because I expect that the stock will usually move higher, and puts are what you buy when you expect the stock will fall.  That is the topic of today’s idea of the week.

Terry

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 2013-14, 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 for most underlyings, including SVXY.  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).

How to Play War Rumors

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Last week, on Monday, there were rumors of a possible war with Russia.  The market opened down by a good margin and presented an excellent opportunity to make a short-term gain.  Today I would like to discuss how we did it at Terry’s Tips and how you can do it next time something like this comes along.

Terry

How to Play War Rumors

When the market opens up at a higher price than the previous day’s highest price or lower than the previous day’s lowest price, it is said to have a gap opening.  Gap openings unusually occur when unusually good (or bad) news has occurred.  Since there are two days over which such events might occur on weekends, most gap openings happen on Mondays.

A popular trading strategy is to bet that a gap opening will quickly reverse itself in the hour or two after the open, and day-trade the gap opening.  While this is usually a profitable play even if it doesn’t involve the possibility of a war, when rumors of a war prompted the lower opening price, it is a particularly good opportunity.

Over time, rumors of a new war (or some other economic calamity) have popped up on several occasions, and just about every time, there is a gap (down) opening. This time, the situation in Ukraine flared, even though any reasonable person would have figured out that we were highly unlikely to start a real war with Russia.

When war rumors hit the news wires, there is a consistent pattern of what happens in the market.  First, it gaps down, just like it did on Monday.  Invariably, it recovers after that big drop, usually within a few days.  Either the war possibilities are dismissed or the market comes to its senses and realizes that just about all wars are good for the economy and the market.  It is a pattern that I have encountered and bet on several times over the years and have never lost my bet.

On Monday, when the market gapped down at the open (SPY fell from $186.29 to $184.85, and later in the day, as low as $183.75), we took action in one of the 10 actual portfolios we carry out for Terry’s Tips paying subscribers (who either watch, mirror, or have trades automatically placed in their accounts for them through Auto-Trade).

One of these portfolios is called Terry’s Trades.  It usually is just sitting on cash.  When a short-term opportunity comes along that I would do in my personal account, I often place it in this portfolio as well.  On Monday, shortly after the open, we bought Mar2-14 weekly 184 calls on SPY (essentially “the market”), paying $1.88 ($1880 plus $12.50 commissions, or $1900.50) for 10 contracts.  When the market came to its senses on Tuesday, we sold those calls for $3.23 ($3230 less $12.50 commission, or $3217.50), for a gain of $1317, or about 70% on our investment.  We left a lot of money on the table when SPY rose even higher later in the week, but 70% seemed like a decent enough gain to take for the day.

War rumors are even more detrimental to volatility-related stocks.  Uncertainty soars, as does VXX (the only time this ETP goes up) while XIV and SVXY get crushed.  In my personal account, I bought SVXY and sold at-the-money weekly calls against it.  When the stock ticked higher on Friday, my stock was exercised away from me but I enjoyed wonderful gains from the call premium I had sold on Monday.

Whether you want to bet on the market reversing or volatility receding, when rumors of a war come along (accompanied by a gap opening), it might be time to act with the purchase of some short-term near-the-money calls.  Happy trading.

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Today I would like share with you the results of an actual trade recommendations I made for my paying subscribers on January 4th of this year and how subsequent price changes have opened up option possibilities that can further improve possibilities for a first investment.

Please don’t get turned off by what this new spread is called.

Terry

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

In my weekly Saturday Report that I send to paying subscribers, on January 4, 2014 I set up an actual demonstration portfolio in a separate trading account at thinkorswim in which I made long-term bets that three underlying stocks (GOOG, SPY, and GMCR) would be higher than they currently were at some distant point in the future.  The entire portfolio would make exactly 93% with the three spreads I chose if I were right about the stock prices.

Almost two months later, things are looking pretty good for all three spreads, but that is not as important as what we can learn about option possibilities.

If you recall, early this year I was quite bullish on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) which has recently changed their name to Keurig Green Mountain.  The major reason was that three insiders who had never bought shares before had recently made huge purchases (two of a million dollars each).  I Googled these men and learned that they were mid-level executives who were clearly not high rollers.  I figured that if they were committing this kind of money, they must have had some very good reason(s),  Also, for four solid months, not a single director had sold a single share, something that was an unusual pattern for the company.

My feelings about the company were also boosted when a company writing for Seeking Alpha published an article in which they had selected GMCR as the absolute best company from a fundamental standpoint in a database of some 6000 companies.

This is what I wrote in that Saturday Report – “The third spread, on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), is a stronger bullish bet than either of the first two, for two reasons.  The stock is trading about in the middle of the long and short put prices (70 and 80), and the time period is only six months (expiring in June 2014) rather than 11 or 12 months.  I paid $540 for the Jun-14 80 – Jun-14 70 vertical put credit spread.  My maximum loss is $460 per spread if the stock closes below $70, and I will make 115% after commissions in six months if it closes above $80.”

This vertical put credit spread involved selling the Jun-14 80 puts for $13.06 and buying the Jun-70 puts for $7.66, collecting $540 for each spread.  I sold 5 of these spreads, collecting a total of $2700.  There would be a maintenance requirement of $5000 for the spreads (not a margin loan which would have interest charged on it, but an amount that I couldn’t use to buy other stocks or options).  Subtracting what I received in cash from the maintenance requirement, my real cost (and maximum loss) would be $2300.  If GMCR closed at any price above $80 on June 21, 2014, both puts would expire worthless and I could keep my $2700 and make 115% after commissions (there would be no commissions to pay if both puts expired worthless).

An interesting side note to the $2700 cash I received in this transaction.  In the same account, I also owned shares of my favorite underlying stock.  I am so bullish on this other company (which is really not a company at all, but an Exchange Traded Product (ETP)) that I owned some on margin, paying 9% on a margin loan.  The cash I received from the credit spread was applied to my margin loan and reduced the total on which I was paying interest.  In other words, I was enjoying a 9% gain on the spread proceeds while I waited out the six months for the options to expire.

In case you hadn’t heard, GMCR announced on February 5th that they had executed a 10-year contract with Coke to sell individual cups on an exclusive basis.  The stock soared some 50%, from $80 to over $120.  In addition, Coke bought 10% of GMCR for $1.25 billion, and gained over $600 million on their purchase in a single day.  Obviously, those insiders knew what they were doing when they made their big investments last November.

Now I am in an interesting position with this spread.  It looks quite certain that I will make the 115% if I just sit and wait another 4 months.  The stock is highly unlikely to fall back below $80 at this point.  I could but back the spread today for $.64, ($320 for the 5 spreads) and be content with a $2380 gain now rather than $2700 in June.

But instead, I decided to wait it out, and add a twist to my investment.  Since the deal with Coke will not reach the market until at least 2015, it seems to me that we are in for a period of waiting until the chances of success for single servings of Coke are better known.  The stock is probably not going to move by a large amount in either direction between now and June.

With that in mind, I sold another vertical credit spread with June options, this time using calls.  I bought Jun-14 160 calls and sold Jun-14 150 calls and collected $1.45 ($725 less $12.50 commissions).  These options will expire worthless if GMCR is at any price below $150 on June 21, 2014, something that I believe is highly likely.  I think it has already taken the big upward move that it will take this year.

If the stock ends up at any price between $80 and $150, I will make money on both spreads that I sold.  Now the total I can gain is $3400 (after commissions) and my net investment has now been reduced to $1600 and my maximum gain is 212% on my money at risk.

This new spread will not have any maintenance requirement because the broker understands that I can’t lose money on both vertical spreads I have sold.  He will look at the two spreads and notice that the difference between the long and short strike prices is 10 for both spreads.  As long as he is setting aside $5000 in a maintenance requirement on the account, he knows that I can lose that maximum amount on only one of the two spreads.

What I have done is to leg into what is called a short iron condor spread (legging in means you buy one side of a spread to start, and then add the other side at a later time – the normal way to execute a spread is to execute both sides at the same time).  You don’t have to know any more about it than know its name at this time, but I invite you to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and learn all about short iron condors as well as many other interesting options strategies.

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Just over two months ago, shortly before Christmas, I suggested that you might consider making a bet that Google (GOOG) would be higher in one year than it was then.   I figured the chances were pretty good that it might move higher because it had done just that in 9 of its 10 years in existence.

I made this bet in my personal account and also in a real account for Insiders at Terry’s Tips to follow, or mirror in their own accounts.  The stock has moved up by about $90 since then and the bet is looking like it might pay off.

Today I would like to discuss either taking a profit early or doing something else with Google if you feel good about the company as I do.

Terry

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

In my January 4, 2014 Saturday Report sent to Terry’s Tips Insiders, I set up a new demonstration actual portfolio that made long-term bets on three underlying stocks that I believe would be higher well out in the future than they were then.  This is what I said about one of them – “The most interesting one, on Google, will make just over 100% on the money at risk if Google is trading at $1120 or higher on January 17, 2015, a full year and two weeks from now.  It was trading at $1118 when we placed the spread, buying Jan-15 1100 puts and selling Jan-15 1120 puts for a credit of $10.06.  The stock fell to $1105 after we bought the spreads, so you may be able to get a better price if you do this on your own next week.

GOOG has gained in 9 of the 10 years of its existence, only falling in the market-meltdown of 2007.  If you were to make 100% in 9 years and loss 100% in the tenth year, your average gain for the ten-year period would be 80%.  That’s what you would have made over the past 10 years.  If the next 10 years shows the same pattern, you would beat Las Vegas odds by quite a bit, surely better odds than plunking your money down on red or black at the roulette table.

I have told many friends about this bet on Google, and most of them said they would not do it, even if they had faith in the company.  The fear of losing 100% of their investment seemed to be greater than the joy of possibly making an average of 80% a year.  I told them that the trick would be to make the bet every year with the same amount, and not to double down if you won in the first year.  But that did not seem to sway their thinking.  I find their attitude most interesting.  I am looking forward to 10 years of fun with the spread.  It is a shame that it will take so long for the wheel to stop spinning, however.

It is now almost two months later and Google’s latest earnings announcement has suggested that the company has continued to be able to monetize its Internet traffic better than anyone else, especially the social media companies who are drawing most of the market’s attention.  GOOG (at $1204) is trading almost $100 higher than it was when I wrote that report and sold that vertical put credit spread.

In the demonstration portfolio account, I had sold 5 of those vertical put spreads, collecting $10.06 ($5030 for 5 spreads) and there was a $10,000 maintenance requirement charged (no interest like a margin loan, just a claim on cash that can’t be used to buy other stocks or options).  My net investment (and maximum loss would be the maintenance requirement less the amount I received in cash, or $4970).

With the stock trading so much higher, I could now buy the spread back for $7.20 and pick up a gain of $1430.  It is tempting to take a 28% profit after only two months, but I like the idea of hanging on for another 10 months and making the full 100% that is possible.  Now I am in the comfortable position of knowing I can make that 100% even if the stock falls by $84 over that time.

Rather than taking the gain at this time, I am more tempted to buy more of these spreads.  If I could sell them for $7.20 my net investment would be $12.80 and I could make 39% on my money as long as GOOG doesn’t fall by more than $84 in 10 months.  This kind of return is astronomical compared to most investments out there, especially when your stock can fall by so much and you still make that high percentage gain.

Even better, since I continue to like the company, I am planning to sell another vertical put credit spread for the Jan-15 option series.  Today, I will buy Jan-15 1110 puts and sell Jan-15 1140 puts, expecting to receive about $11 ($1100) per spread.  My maximum loss and net investment will be $1900 and if GOOG manages to close above $1140 ($64 below its current level) on January 21, 2015, I will make 57% on my investment after commissions.

I like my odds here, just as I did when I made the earlier investment on Google.  I believe that many investors should put a small amount of their portfolio in an option investment like this, just so they can enjoy an extraordinary percentage gain on some of their money.  And it is sort of fun to own such an investment, especially when it seems to be going your way, or if not exactly going your way, at least not too much in the other direction.

An Interesting Calendar Spread Play

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Today after the close, one of my favorite stocks, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMRC) , announces earnings.  I am taking quite a chance telling you about another option spread investment that I made this week because if the stock tanks after today’s announcement, I won’t be looking so good.The idea I am suggesting can be used for any stock you might have an opinion about, and it could easily double your money in about six weeks if you are approximately right about where the stock might be at that time.

Terry

An Interesting Calendar Spread Play

As you probably know, I love calendar spreads.  These spreads involve buying a longer-out option and selling a shorter-length option at the same strike price.  You only have to come up with the difference between the two option prices when you place the order.

When the short options expire, if the stock is very close to the strike price of your spread, you can expect to sell the spread for a great deal more than you paid for it.The further away from the strike price the stock is when the short options expire, the less valuable the original spread will be.

The trick is guessing where the stock might end up when the short options expire. This takes a little luck since no one really knows what any stock is likely to do in the short run.  But if it’s a stock you have followed closely, you might have an idea of where it is headed.

I happen to like GMCR.  I like knowing that insiders have bought millions of dollars worth of stock in the past few months and 30% of the stock has been sold short (a short squeeze could push the stock way up).  So I am guessing that the stock will be closer to $85 in six weeks compared to $80 where it closed yesterday (as I write this Wednesday morning it has moved up to about $81.50).

I bought a calendar spread on GMCR at the 85 strike, buying Apr-14 calls and selling Mar-14 calls.  I paid $.85 ($85) per spread for 10 spreads, shelling out $850 plus $25 in commissions.  Here is the risk profile graph for March 22 when the short options expire:

GMCR calendar risk profile graph feb 2014

GMCR calendar risk profile graph feb 2014

The graph shows that the stock can fall by as much as $5 and I will make a gain, or it can go up by more than $10 and I should expect a gain.  This seems to be a pretty large break-even range to me.  If I am lucky enough to see the stock end up near my $85 target, it is possible to triple my money in six weeks.

One nice thing about calendar spreads is that you can’t lose all of your investment.   No matter where the stock goes, the value of the April options will always be greater than the price of the March options at the same strike price.  When you are only risking $85 per spread, you can be quite wrong about where the stock ends up and still expect to make a gain.

 

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 “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013

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

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

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

Terry

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

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

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

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

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

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25th, 2013

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

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

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

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

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

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

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

Terry
 
Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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