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5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

A subscriber wrote in and asked what he should do if he thought the market would be 6% lower by the end of September.  I thought about his question a little bit, and decided to share my thoughts with you, just in case you have similar feelings at some time along the way.Terry

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

We will use the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as a proxy for the market.  As I write this, SPY is trading just below $210.  If it were to fall by 6% by the end of September (3 months from now), it would be trading about $197 at that time.  The prices for the possible investments listed below are slightly more costly than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the options or the option spreads, and include the commission cost (calculated at $1.25 per contract, the price that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim).

#1.  Buy an at-the-money put.  One of the most common option purchases is the outright buy of a put option if you feel strongly that the market is crashing.  Today, with SPY trading at $210, a September 2015 put option at the 210 strike would cost you $550.  If SPY is trading at $197 (as the subscriber believed it would be at the end of September), your put would be worth $1300.  You would make a profit of $750, or 136% on your investment.

Buying a put involves an extremely high degree of risk, however. The stock must fall by $5 ½ (about 2.6%) before you make a nickel of profit.  If the market remains flat or goes higher by any amount, you would lose 100% of your investment.  Studies have shown that about 80% of all options eventually expire worthless, so by historical measures, there is a very high likelihood that you will lose everything.  That doesn’t sound like much of a good investment idea to me, even if you feel strongly about the market’s direction.  It is so easy to get it wrong (I know from frequent personal experience).

If you were to buy an out-of-the-money put (i.e., the strike price is below the stock price), the outlook is even worse.  A Sept-15 205 put would cost about $400 to buy.  While that is less than the $550 you would have to shell out for the at-the-money 210 put, the market still has to fall by a considerable amount, $9 (4.3%) before you make a nickel.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t even consider it.

#2.  Buy an in-the-money put.  You might consider buying a put which has a higher strike than the stock price.  While it will cost more (increasing your potential loss if the market goes up), the stock does not need to fall nearly as far before you get into a profit zone.  A Sept-15 215 put would cost you $800, and the stock would only have to fall by $3 (1.4%) before you could start counting some gains.  If the market remains flat, your loss would be $300 (38%).

If the stock does manage to fall to $197, your 215 put would be worth $1800 at expiration, and your gain would be $1000, or 125% on your investment.  In my opinion, buying an in-the-money put is not a good investment idea, either, although it is probably better than buying an at-the-money put, and should only be considered if you are strongly convinced that the stock is headed significantly lower.

#3.  Buy a vertical put spread.  The most popular directional option spread choice is probably a vertical spread.  If you believe the market is headed lower, you buy a put and at the same time, sell a lower-strike put as part of a spread.  You only have to come up with the difference between the cost of the put you buy and what you receive from selling a lower-strike put to someone else.  In our SPY example, you might buy a Sept-15 210 put and sell a Sept-15 200 put.  You would have to pay $300 for this spread.  The stock would only have to fall by $3 before you started collecting a profit.  If it closed at any price below $200, your spread would have an intrinsic value of $1000 and you would make a profit of $700 (230% on your investment), less commissions.

With this spread, however, if the stock remains flat or rises by any amount, you would lose your entire $300 investment.  That is a big cost for being wrong.  But if you believe that the market will fall by 6%, maybe a flat or higher price isn’t in your perceived realm of possible outcomes.

Another (more conservative) vertical put spread would be to buy an in-the-money put and sell an at-the-money put. If you bought a Sept-15 220 put and sold a Sept-15 210 put, your cost would be $600.  If the stock closed at any price below $210, your spread would be worth $1000 and your gain ($400) would work out to be about 64% after commissions. The neat thing about this spread is that if the stock remained flat at $210, you would still gain the 64%.  If there is an equal chance that a stock will go up, go down, or stay flat, you would have two out of the three possible outcomes covered.

You also might think about compromising between the above two vertical put spreads and buy a Sept-15 215 put and sell a Sept-15 205 put.  It would cost you about $420.  Your maximum gain, if the stock ended up at any price below $205, would be $580, or about 135% on your investment.  If the stock remains flat at $210, your spread would be worth $500 at expiration, and you would make a small gain over your cost of $420.  You would only lose money if the stock were to rise by more than $.80 over the time period.

#4.  Sell a call credit vertical spread.  People with a limited understanding of options (which includes a huge majority of American investors) don’t even think about calls when they believe that the market is headed lower.  However, you can gain all the advantages of the above put vertical spreads, and more, by trading calls instead of puts if you want to gain when the market falls.  When I want to make a directional bet on a lower market, I always use calls rather than puts.

If you would like to replicate the risk-reward numbers of the above compromise vertical put spread, you would buy a Sept-15 215 call and sell a Sept-15 205 call. The higher-strike call that you are buying is much cheaper than the lower-strike call you are selling.  You could collect $600 for the spread.  The broker would place a $1000 maintenance agreement (no interest charge) on your account (this represents the maximum possible loss on the spread if you had not received any credit when placing it, but in our case, you collected $600 so the maximum possible loss is $400 – that is how much you will have to have in your account to sell this spread).  Usually, buying a vertical put spread or selling the same strikes with a credit call vertical spread cost about the same – in this case, the call spread happened to be a better price (an investment of $400 rather than $420).

There are two advantages to selling the call credit spread rather than buying the vertical put spread.  First, if you are successful and the stock ends up below $205 as you expect, both the long and short calls will expire worthless.  There will be no commission to pay on closing out the positions. You don’t have to do anything other than wait a day for the maintenance requirement to disappear and you get to keep the cash you collected when you sold the spread at the outset.

Second, when you try to sell the vertical put spread for $10 (the intrinsic value if the stock is $205 or lower), you will not be able to get the entire $10 because of the bid-ask price situation.  The best you could expect to get is about $9.95 ($995) as a limit order.  You could do nothing and let the broker close it out for you – in that case you would get exactly $1000, but most brokers charge a $35 or higher fee for an automatic closing spread transaction.  It is usually better to accept the $995 and pay the commission (although it is better to use calls and avoid the commissions altogether).

#5.  Buy a calendar spread.  My favorite spreads are calendar spreads so I feel compelled to include them as one of the possibilities. If you think the market is headed lower, all you need to do is buy a calendar spread at a strike price where you think the stock will end up when the short options expire. In our example, the subscriber believed that the stock would fall to $197 when the September options expired.  He could buy an Oct-15 – Sept-15 197 calendar spread (the risk-reward is identical whether you use puts or calls, but I prefer to use calls if you think the market is headed lower because you are closing out an out-of-the-money option which usually has a lower bid-ask range).  The cost of this spread would be about $60.  Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain from the spread at the various possible stock prices:

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

You can see that if you are exactly right and the stock ends up at $197, your gain would be about $320, or over 500% on your investment (by the way, I don’t expect the stock will fall this low, but I just went into the market to see if I could get the spread for $60 or better, and my order executed at $57).

What I like about the calendar spread is that the break-even range is a whopping $20.  You can be wrong about your price estimate by almost $10 in either direction and you would make a profit with the spread.  The closer you can guess to where the stock will end up, the greater your potential gain.  Now that I have actually bought a calendar spread at the 197 strike, I will buy another calendar spread at a higher strike so that I have more upside protection (and be more in line with my thinking as to the likely stock price come September).

There are indeed an infinite number of option investments you could make if you have a feeling for which way the market is headed.  We have listed 5 of the more popular strategies if someone believes the market is headed lower.  In future newsletters we will discuss more complicated alternatives such as butterfly spreads and iron condors.

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.)

Are Overbought-Oversold Indicators Reliable Predictors of Short-Term Market Performance – a 100-Week Backtest

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

This week I would like to report on a study I recently made for Terry’s Tips paying subscribers.  I checked out the validity of a popular way of predicting whether the short term market might be headed higher or lower.   I think you will find that the results are astonishing.Terry

Are Overbought-Oversold Indicators Reliable Predictors of Short-Term Market Performance – a 100-Week Backtest

One of the most popular indicators in many analysts’ toolbox is the overbought-oversold numbers generated by the current RSI.

I have never figured out how to get reliable information from reading charts, although many people apparently find them useful.  The same goes for the overbought-oversold indicators.  On the other hand, I know that many people believe in these numbers, and every Saturday for over ten years, I have published these indicators for SPY, DIA, IWM, and QQQ for subscribers to my options newsletter, Terry’s Tips.

Each week, we average the 2-day, 3-day, and 5-day RSI numbers for these popular ETFs and used the following ranges to determine where the ETF stood at the close on Friday:

Very overbought – an RSI reading of greater than or equal to 85.0
Overbought – greater than or equal to 75.0
Neutral – between 30.0 and 75.0
Oversold – less than or equal to 30.0
Very oversold – less than or equal to 20.0
Extremely oversold – less than or equal to 10.0

Last Friday, March 6, both SPY and DIA were “Very Oversold” and IWM and QQQ were “Oversold.”  This prompted me to wonder what that might mean for the market this week.  Were these numbers significant indicators or not, I wondered?

I went back and checked the results for the last 100 weeks from my Saturday Reports.  Here are the numbers for SPY, perhaps the best measure of “the market:”

Neutral – 47 weeks
Overbought – 16 weeks
Very Overbought – 22 weeks
Oversold – 5 weeks
Very Oversold – 8 weeks
Extremely Oversold – 2 weeks

A little less than half the time (47%), the reading was neutral.  In 38% of the weeks, SPY was overbought or very overbought, and in 15% of the weeks, it was in some sort of oversold condition.

I then checked out how SPY performed for the subsequent seven days. Here are the numbers showing what happened to SPY in the week following the condition reported in each Saturday Report:

overbought oversold chart march 2015

overbought oversold chart march 2015

When SPY is overbought, the technicians would expect that the market would be weaker in the next week, but just the opposite was true.  In fact, in 81% of the weeks when it was overbought, SPY rose in the subsequent week.  It also went up in 64% of the weeks when it was very overbought.

Clearly, being overbought or very overbought is an absolutely worthless indicator of a lower market.  In fact, in subsequent weeks, for the most part, the market outperformed.  If the market rose by the average percentage when it started out either overbought or very overbought every week of the year, it would go up by over 61% for the year.  In other words, being overbought or very overbought is an excellent chance to bet on a higher market for the next week (rather than the opposite).

The oversold condition is an entirely different story (based on the last 100 weeks).  Being oversold or extremely oversold is essentially a meaningless indicator – the market rose or fell in just about the same number of weeks following one of those conditions.  However, being very oversold seems to be an excellent indicator of a higher market.  In 83% of the weeks when it was very oversold, it rose in the subsequent week.  The average market gain in those weeks was 1.21% (62% annualized).

Another interesting result is that anytime SPY is anything except neutral, it is a decent indication that the market will move higher in the next week.  Being very oversold is the best positive indicator, but being overbought is almost as good a positive indicator (even though this is absolutely contrary to what many technicians would expect).

Last Friday, SPY was very oversold.  That occurs in only 8% of the weeks, and for the past 100 weeks, the market was higher 83% of the time in the subsequent week.  As I write this before the market opened on Thursday, so far, SPY has dropped by exactly $3 (1.45%).  This time around, it looks like even the historically most reliable indicator is not working as expected, either.

Bottom line, if you are trying to get a handle on the likely one-week performance of the market based on the overbought-oversold condition on Friday, you are bound to be disappointed. These indicators just don’t work, except possibly the very oversold indicator (and this week is a reminder that even this one is not always right, either).  Maybe the results would be different if you checked on the one-day or two-day changes rather than the one-week variations, but that is something for someone else to check out.

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.

Two Interesting Option Bets for 2014 – SPY and Google

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Today I would like to tell you about two actual option trades that I made just this morning and my reasoning behind them.  They are both long-term bets on what I expect the market to do in 2014.  One of these bets might make an average of 85% every year if the market behaves like it has in the past.

By the way, last week when I salted this newsletter (and my blog) with the keywords “option trading” and “trading options” to see if Google Alerts picked it up, I was not surprised to see that I did not make the cut.  Google seems to have switched what they think is important from keywords to social media traffic, and since Terry’s Tips does not have a Facebook or Twitter account, I am not considered worthy of inclusion in their searches.  Oh well, at least I learned where I stand, right up there with the chopped liver.

I hope you will find these two trades I made interesting enough to consider doing on your own (only with money you can afford to lose) if you agree with my assumptions.

Two Interesting Option Bets for 2014 – SPY and Google

While most stocks go up some months and down others, when you check out how they perform for a whole year, most of the time they manage to move higher between the beginning and end of the year.

The market (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY as the measure) has gone up or fallen by less than 2% in 33 out of 40 years.  A single stock I like, Google (GOOG), has gone up 9 out of the 10 years that it has been publicly traded.

I believe that a year from now, the market in general and GOOG in particular will be higher than it is today.  If I am right, the two trades I made today will make a gain of 53% on the market and 105% on GOOG.

With SPY trading at $182.30 today, allowing for a possible 2% loss in 2014, I decided to sell a Dec-14 180 put and at the same time, buy a Dec-14 170 put.  If SPY is above $180 when these puts expire on the third Friday of December (the 20th) 2014, both of these puts will expire worthless and I will be able to keep any cash I collected when I sold the spread today.

I sold the SPY vertical spread for $3.57 ($354.50 after commissions).  The maximum loss I can have from the spread will come about if SPY closes below $170 when the options expire.  Subtracting the $$354.50 I received from selling the spread from the $1000 maximum loss means that I will have risked $645.50 to possibly collect a possible $354.50.  This works out to a 53% return on my maximum loss.

My broker will post a maintenance requirement on my account for $1000 while we wait for the options to expire.  This is not a loan like a margin loan and no interest is charged.  It is just money cash in my account that I can’t use of other purposes for the year.  The actual amount of cash I have tied up in the spread is only $645.50 , however, since I collected $354.50 in cash when I sold the spread today.

If I made $354.5 in each of the 33 years when the market rose or fell by less than 2% and lost the entire $645.50 at risk in the 7 years when the market fell over the last 40 years, my average gain for the 40 years would be $179.50 per year, or 27% per year.  That beats most investments today by a huge margin.  (The actual average gain would be higher than this because in some of those 7 losing years the loss would not be a total one).

My 2014 bet on Google is even more interesting, mostly because Google has moved higher over the course of the year 9 times out of 10.  Only in the market melt-down in 2007 did it end up lower than when it started out the year.

GOOG was trading at $1008 today, Monday, I sold a Jan-15 1020 put and bought a Jan-15 1010 put. (You could also trade the minis on GOOG which are one-tenth the value of the regular options).  I collected $10.30 ($1027.50 after paying $2.50 in commissions – the rate that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), from selling the vertical put spread and my maximum loss is $972.50. (Note: There is a big range between the bid and ask prices – it is important to place a limit order when trading these options rather than a market order.)  I will make over 105% on my investment for the year if the stock is at $1020 or any higher January 17, 2015 (it only needs to go up $12 over the course of a full year and a month).

If I made this same bet every year for 10 years and Google behaved like it did over the past 10 years, I would collect a total of $9247.50 in the 9 winning years and lose $972.50 once, for a gain of $8275 over the decade, or an average of 85% a year on my money.  Again, this is a pretty good return in today’s market.

Critical to the success with these trades is the assumption that markets in the future will behave like they have in the past.  While that is not always the case, the past is usually a pretty good indicator of what the future might be.  These trades are just an example of how you can make superior returns using options rather than buying stock if you play the odds wisely.

 

 

 

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.

Please continue reading down so you can see how you can come on board as a Terry’s Tips subscriber for no cost at all while enjoying all the benefits that thinkorswim by TD Ameritrade offers to anyone who opens an account with them.

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.

A Useful Way to Think About Delta

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This week we will start a discussion about the “Greeks” – the measures designed to predict how option prices will change when underlying stock prices change or time elapses. It is important to have a basic understanding of some of these measures before embarking on trading options.

I hope you enjoy this short discussion.

Terry 

A Useful Way to Think About Delta: The first “Greek” that most people learn about when they get involved in options is Delta. This important measure tells us how much the price of the option will change if the underlying stock or ETF changes by $1.00.

If you own a call option that carries a delta of 50, that means that if the stock goes up by $1.00, your option will increase in value by $.50 (if the stock falls by $1.00, your option will fall by a little less than $.50).

The useful way to think about delta is to consider it the probability of that option finishing up (on expiration day) in the money. If you own a call option at a strike price of 60 and the underlying stock is selling at $60, you have an at-the-money option, and the delta will likely be about 50. In other words, the market is saying that your option has a 50-50 chance of expiring in the money (i.e., the stock is above $60 so your option would have some intrinsic value).

If your option were at the 55 strike, it would have a much higher delta value because the likelihood of its finishing up in the money (i.e., higher than $55) would be much higher. The stock could fall by $4.90 or go up by any amount and it would end up being in the money, so the delta value would be quite high, maybe 70 or 75. The market would be saying that there is a 70% or 75% chance of the stock ending up above $55 at expiration.

On the other hand, if your call option were at the 65 strike while the stock was selling at $60, it would carry a much lower delta because there would be a much lower likelihood of the stock going up $5 so that your option would expire in the money.

Of course, the amount of remaining life also has an effect on the delta value of an option. We will talk about that phenomenon next week.

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