from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

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Posts Tagged ‘Stocks vs. Stock Options’

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Today’s idea is a little complicated, but it involves an important part of any prudent investment strategy. Market crashes do come along every once in a while, and we are eight years away from the last one in 2008. What will happen to your nest egg if it happens again this year?

Options can be a good form of market crash insurance, and it is possible to set up a strategy that might even make a small gain if the crash doesn’t come along. That possibility sets it apart from most forms of insurance which cost you out-of-pocket money if the calamity you insure against doesn’t occur.

Terry

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

There are some strong indications that the old adage “Sell in May and Go Away” might be the appropriate move right now. Goldman Sachs has downgraded its outlook on equities to “neutral” over the next 12 months, saying there’s no particular reason to own them. “Until we see sustained signals of growth recovery, we do not feel comfortable taking equity risk, particularly as valuations are near peak levels,” the firm said in a research note.

For several months, Robert Shiller has been warning that the market is seriously overvalued by his unique method of measuring prices against long-term average p/e’s. George Soros is keeping the bears happy as well, doubling his wager against the S&P 500. The billionaire investor, who has been warning that the 2008 financial crisis could be repeated due to China’s economic slowdown, bought 2.1M-share “put” options in SPY during Q1. The magnitude of his bet against SPY is phenomenal, essentially 200 million shares short. Of course, he almost always deals in stratospheric numbers, but the size of this bet indicates that he feels pretty strongly about this one. He didn’t become a billionaire by being on the wrong side of market bets.

So what can you do to protect yourself against a big tumble in the market? We are setting up a bearish portfolio for Terry’s Tips subscribers, and this is what it will look like. It is based on the well-known fact that when the market crashes, volatility soars, and when volatility soars, the Exchange Traded Product (ETP) called VXX soars along with it.

Some people buy VXX as market crash insurance (or its steroid-like cousin, UVXY). Over the long run, VXX has been a horrible investment, however, possibly the worst thing you could have done with your money over the past six years. It has fallen from a split-adjusted $4000 to its present price of about $15. It has engineered 1-for-4 reverse splits three times to make the price worth bothering to trade. The split usually occurs when it gets down to about $12, so you can expect another reverse split soon.
An option strategy can be set up that allows you to own the equivalent of VXX while not subjecting you to the long-run inevitable downward trend. When volatility does pick up, VXX soars. In fact, it doubled once and went up 50% another time, both temporarily, in the last year alone. While it is a bad long-term investment, if your timing is right, you might pick up a windfall. Our options strategy is designed to achieve the potential upside windfall while avoiding the long-term prospects you face by merely buying the ETP.

Our new portfolio will buy VXX 20Jan17 15 calls and sell fewer contracts in short-term calls. Sufficient short-term premium will be collected from selling the short term calls to cover the decay on the long calls (and a little bit more).

This portfolio will start with $3000. The entire amount will not be used at the outset, but rather be held in cash in case it might be needed to cover a maintenance call in case the market moves higher.

These might be the starting positions:

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 17Jun16 15 calls (VXX160617C15) for a debit of $2.40 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 3 VXX 20Jan17 15 calls (VXX170120C15)
STO 3 VXX 24Jun16 16 calls (VXX160624C16) for a debit of $2.45 (buying a diagonal)

BTO 4 VXX 20Jan17 16 calls (VXX170120C16) for $3.30

Here is what the risk profile graph looks like with those positions as of June 18th after the short calls expire:
VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016

VXX Better Bear Risk Profile Graph May 2016
You can see that the portfolio will make gains no matter how high VXX might go. It will make a small gain (about 8% for the month) if the stock stays flat, and starts losing if VXX moves below $14.50. If it falls that far, we might sell call or two at the 14 strike and incur a maintenance requirement which would be partially offset by the amount we collected from selling the call(s). A trade like this would reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETP continues to fall, and it might have to be repeated if VXX continues even lower. At some point, some long calls might need to be rolled down to a lower strike to eliminate maintenance requirements that come along when you sell a call at a lower strike than the long call that covers it.

The above positions could be put on for about $2800. There would be about $200 in cash remaining for the possible maintenance requirement in case one might be necessary.

You probably should not attempt to set up and carry out this strategy unless you are familiar with options trading as it is admittedly a little complicated. A better idea might be to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and open an account at thinkorswim so that these trades could automatically be made for you through their Auto-Trade program.

Every investment portfolio should have a little downside insurance protection. We believe that options offer the best form for that kind of insurance because it might be possible to make a profit at the same time as providing market crash insurance.

As with all forms of investing, you should not be committing money that you truly cannot afford to lose.

How to Play the Facebook (FB) Earnings Announcement

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Facebook (FB) will announce earnings on April 27, and this presents an opportunity to make an investment similar to the one I suggested last week regarding Starbucks (SBUX). One of the SBUX trades has already resulted in a small profit and has a guaranteed additional profit which could be significant in two weeks when the post-announcement options expire. I hope you enjoy reading about the trades I made in FB this morning (and my reasoning behind them).

Terry

How to Play the Facebook (FB) Earnings Announcement

First of all, a quick update on the suggestion I made one week ago concerning the upcoming SBUX announcement on April 21st. At that time, with SBUX trading about $58.60, I suggested 3 different ways to play this announcement, all of which were based on the stock moving a bit higher in anticipation of that big day (a good deal of the time, stocks do move higher in advance of the earnings announcement day). All three trades have increased in value since last week because SBUX has indeed moved higher, and now trades about $60.50.

One of the suggestions involved legging into a May1-16 – Apr4-16 60 call calendar spread. This involved buying May1-16 60 calls outright with a plan to sell Apr4-16 60 calls if the stock moved higher or implied volatility (IV) of the Apr4-16 options rose (two things that frequently happen as the announcement date approaches).

I bought SBUX May1-16 calls for $1.12 ($112 per contract) plus $1.25 commission at the rate paid by Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim (if you are paying more than this as commission rate, you might consider opening an account at this brokerage – see the offer below).

I didn’t have to wait very long for the stock to move enough higher so that I could sell the Apr4-16 60 calls for more than I had paid for the May1-16 calls. On Tuesday, I completed the calendar spread at the 60 strike by selling Apr4-16 60 calls for $1.20 ($120 per contract less $1.25 commission). After commissions, I had gained $5.50 for each spread, and was guaranteed to make an additional gain once the Apr4-16 calls expired and I would presumably sell the calendar spread. Since the May1-16 calls have two weeks more of remaining life than the Apr4-16 calls, the spread will always have at least some value. The closer the stock is to $60, the greater the value of the spread. If I am lucky enough to see it end up at $60 on April 22, I could expect to collect about $80 for each spread (on top of the $5.50 I already have collected).

While there is something nice about holding something that already has a small gain locked in, and there is still hope for a decent gain in two weeks, in retrospect, I wish I had completed the calendar on only half my positions. The stock rose to $61 and at the end of the week I could have sold the Apr4 calls for $.20 more than I did. I expected the stock to move higher in the week going into the announcement but it moved higher earlier than that. It probably still has room to climb over the next two weeks, but now I am locked in to a smaller gain than I could have made by waiting.

We are faced with a similar situation with Facebook which announces on the 27th. The May2-16 options series which expires two weeks after this date carries an IV of 37 which compares to 40 for the Apr4 series which expires just after the announcement (it is always nice to sell options with a higher IV than those that you buy). As the 27th approaches, IV for the Apr5-16, May1-16, and May2-16 series may move even higher (i.e., the option prices will increase even if the stock price remains flat).

I like to buy calendar spreads at a strike which is a couple of dollars higher than the current stock price in anticipation of the stock moving higher in the weeks or days leading up to the announcement. Today, FB fell about $4 because Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler cautioned that its Q1 numbers may come in shy of high expectations, allowing investors to add to positions below current levels. There was also some disquieting news about the company’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Initial product reviews were tepid and there will be some delivery problems at first (possibly due to too many sets being ordered?). In any event, the stock traded down to about $112.25 when I placed the following orders this morning.

First, I bought May2-16 114 calls for $4.40 ($440 plus $1.25 per contract, or $441.25). I then placed a good-til-cancelled order to sell Apr5-16 114 calls for $4.50. If this order is executed sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will have all my money back plus a little (including commissions) and will wait until April 29 to see how big my profit will be (the closer to $114 that FB is, the greater will be my gain). It could be as high as $200 per contract (the expected value of a FB at-the-money call with two weeks of remaining life (and an IV of 27).

In addition to buying May2-16 calls with the intention of legging into a calendar spread, I made the following two trades this morning:

Buy To Open 10 FB May2-16 114 calls (FB160513C114)
Sell To Open 10 FB Apr5-16 114 calls (FN160429C114) for a debit of $.60 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 10 FB May2-16 114 puts (FB160513P114)
Sell To Open 10 FB Apr5-16 114 puts (FN160429P114) for a debit of $.55 (buying a calendar)

You might notice that these are identical calendar spreads except that one is with calls and the others with puts. One thing we have learned is that the strike price is what is important with calendar spreads, not whether puts or calls are used. The risk profile is identical with either puts or calls (even though this does not make much intuitive sense).

These calendar spreads have sold the options which expire just after the announcement and these options carry the highest IV of any option series (i.e., they are the most expensive of all option series). I like these spreads because they are so cheap, and you can’t lose the entire investment no matter what. The value of your long options will always be higher than the value of the options you have sold because they have two weeks of additional remaining life.

Assuming IV of the May2-16 options will fall to about 27 (from the current 37), an at-the-money two-week option would carry a premium of at least $2.00 (the CBOE option calculator comes up with a $2.40 price). This would about triple your money if you sold the spread at this price. There is a good chance that IV might not fall that far. It is 31 for the Apr4-16 series that expires just before announcement week, for example. So it might be possible to sell the at-the-money spread for more than $2.00.

My best guess is that the call calendar spread could be sold at a profit on April 29th if FB is at any price within $4 of $114, and the put calendar spread could be sold at a profit if FB is at any price within $5 of $114.

If there is a big move in the price of FB in the next couple of weeks, I would probably buy more of these same calendar spreads at different strike prices. This would increase my chances of having at least some spreads at a strike which is close to the stock price and where the greatest profit potential lies. If FB moves up to $116, for example, I might buy some calendars at the 118 strike to expand the range of possible stock prices that would give me a net profit. I figure if I triple my money on one spread I could lose everything (an impossibility) on the other spread and still come out ahead.

I will report back to you on how these trades end up, or if I add any more spreads at different strike prices. Most companies report earnings each quarter, and there will be lots of opportunities to use these trading ideas on other companies you might like.

How to make 45% with a Safe Bet on GM

Friday, March 11th, 2016

Lots of people like GM. It is one of the most popular stocks in some of the largest mutual funds in America. Investors seem to like the 5.2% dividend it pays. Today I will show you how you could make 8 times that much with an options bet that will net 45% even if the stock doesn’t go up by a penny.

Terry

How to make 45% with a Safe Bet on GM

First, an update on my last 3 trade recommendations. Five weeks ago, I suggested a trade that would make 66% after commissions if Facebook (FB) closed at any price above $97.50 on March 18, 2016. FB is now trading above $106 and that looks like a sure winner when it closes out a week from today.

A little over 3 weeks ago I suggested a similar trade on Costco (COST) when it was trading at $147.20. This one would make 40% after commissions if COST finishes at any price above $145 next Friday (March 18th). It is now trading near $152. This one also looks like a sure winner.

The third suggestion was made two weeks ago, and it involved Nike (NKE) which according to both the Nasdaq and EarningsWhispers.com would announce earnings on March 17, just before the Mar-16 options expired. Now it appears that my sources were both wrong. The announcement (still unconfirmed) will probably not take place until the following week. We had expected that our long calls would benefit from rising expectations before the announcement, but we should have bought calls with a week of additional life to take advantage of that possibility. Even worse, the stock has fallen about $3 since we placed the spread, and it looks like it will end up being a loss unless the stock rallies strongly next week.

Today, I am suggesting a play on General Motors (GM). There is a lot to like about GM. For the second year in a row, Barron’s ranked it as one of its five favorite stocks for the coming year. Their 2015 prognosis was not a good one as the stock fell from about $35 to $30 in 2015 in spite of 5% higher sales and earnings. Barron’s second try seems to be more likely to work out.

In its January earnings announcement, GM exceeded expectations all around, authorized a new $5.5 billion buyback, and raised guidance. The market hardly budged, apparently worried about GM’s Chinese sales (which had gained 12% in 2015) and some concerns about price cutting from rivals.

The company sells at a P/E ratio of only 5.2 and pays a well-covered dividend of 5.2%. There are very few other companies out there selling so low with such a dividend.

Kevin O’Leary, “Mr. Wonderful” of Shark Tank, in a recent AARP interview, said that his mother told him never to buy a stock that didn’t pay a dividend, and that over the past 40 years, 71% of the returns on the S&P came from dividends, not capital appreciation. Dividends are clearly important these days, mostly because they usually provide a solid floor for the stock price. When the overall market fell in the first few weeks of 2015, GM edged briefly down to the $28 level, and quickly recovered back above $30 where it stands now.

A recent Seeking Alpha article makes a compelling case that GM could double in value over the next 4 years – General Motors: Multiple Catalysts Should Double Your Money By 2020. One the biggest reasons the author cited was GM’s fast-growing finance arm which has so far not contributed anything to its parent’s coffers, but which could be soon passing on $1 billion a year or so.

I am not convinced that GM is destined to move significantly higher over the next few years, but I am comfortable believing that the combination of a high dividend rate, low P/E, a large buyback program, stable sales, and the finance arm possibility suggest that the stock is quite unlikely to fall very much from its current level.

I am suggesting a bet that GM will be at least $28 when the Jan-17 options expire on January 20, 2017. If that is true, this spread would make 45% on your money after commissions. That means it could fall about 8% from where it is now ($30.50), and the same 40% gain would result.

In the same AARP article, the Sharks recommended that you should expect to make 4% to 6% on your money each year over time. It seems to me that it makes sense to put some of your money, at least a small portion, in something that could make many times that much if the risk level is reasonable.

I made this trade in my personal account yesterday to confirm that this price was available:

Buy To Open 10 GM Jan-17 25 puts (GM170120P25)
Sell To Open 10 GM Jan-17 28 puts (GM170120P28) for a credit of $.98 (selling a vertical)

I collected $980 less the $25 commission, or $955 (of course, you could sell a single spread and take only 1/10th the risk). My maximum loss and net investment is $2145. This works out to be a 45% gain if the stock closes at any price above $28. I will make a gain at any price above $27.05. When the Jan-17 expiration date comes along, I will not have to do anything. If the stock is at any price above $28, both the long and short put will expire worthless and I will be able to keep the $955 I collected at the beginning. It feels like a safe investment to me, and a whole lot better than the 5.2% dividend they are paying.

 

How to Own 100 Shares of Google (Worth $71,600) for $15,000 or Make 12% a Month With Options

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Way back when Google (GOOGL) went public at $80 a share, I decided that I would like to own 100 shares and hang on to it for the long run. Obviously, that was a good idea as the stock is trading today at $716. My $8000 investment would now be worth $144,000 (the stock had a 2-for-1 split in November 2014) if I had been able to keep my original shares. Unfortunately, over the years, an options opportunity inevitably came along that looked more attractive to me than my 100 shares of GOOGL, and I sold my shares to take advantage of the opportunity.

Many times my investment account had compiled a little spare cash, and I went back into the market and bought more shares of GOOGL, always paying a little more to buy it back. At some point it felt like I just had too much money tied up in it. An $8000 commitment is one thing, but $144,000 is a major commitment.

Today I would like to share how I own the equivalent of 100 shares of GOOGL for an investment of less than $15,000, and the neat thing about my investment is that I get expect to get a “dividend” in the next month of about $1700 if the stock just sits there and doesn’t go anywhere.

I own options, of course. Here are two ways you can play it if you like Google.

Terry

How to Own 100 Shares of Google (Worth $71,600) for $15,000 or Make 12% a Month With Options:

You would have to shell out about $71,600 today to buy 100 shares of GOOGL stock. If you bought it on margin, you might have to come up with about half that amount, $35,800, but you have to shell out interest on the margin loan each month. I like money coming in, not going out.

Last week we talked about the Greek measure delta. This is simple the equivalent number of shares of stock that an option has. I own GOOGL 700 calls that expire on the third Friday of January 2017. You could buy one today for $8360. I own 2 of them for a cost of about $16,800

The delta for these Jan-17 700 calls is 60. That means if the stock goes up by a dollar, the value of each of my options will go up by $60. With these 2 options I own the equivalent of 120 shares of stock.

Since all options decline a little bit every day that the stock stays flat (it is called decay), simply owning options is just about as bad as paying margin interest on a stock loan. As I said earlier, I like money coming in rather than going out.

Over the course of the next ten months, the 700 call option will fall in value and end up being worth $1,600 if GOOGL is flat (trading at $716). That works out to an average monthly decay of $666 for each call I own.

One of the things I could do with these calls would be to cover this decay amount by selling two Apr2-16 750 calls for $700 each. The delta on these calls is 26. That means I would own the equivalent of 68 shares of stock worth $48,688 yet I only would have shelled out $16,800 less $1400, or $15,400. In other words, my option investment would cost less than 1/3 of what buying the stock would cost and I would not be paying any interest. Of course, it would take a little work on my part. In one month, if the stock were selling at less than $750, the calls I had sold would expire worthless and I would have to sell more one-month-out calls for at least $666 to cover the average monthly decay of the Jan-17 700 calls I had purchased. It will probably be at a different strike than 750, depending on what the new stock price was at the time.

If the stock were to rise above $750 in one month (I would be delighted because I would make a gain of about $2300 for the month – 68x$34), I would have to buy back the Apr2-16 750 calls just before they expired and sell May2-16 calls at a higher strike price, making sure I collected enough to cover the cost of buying back the Apr2-16 750 calls and the $666 each call will fall on average each month.

Instead of simply using options to own stock with only 1/3 of what it would cost to buy the stock, I chose a different way of trading. Most of the time, I would participate in the higher stock price, but I will make a nice gain every month even if the stock stays flat. Since I own 2 call options at a lower strike price than the market price I am entitled to use them as collateral to sell someone else the opportunity to buy shares of GOOGL. I sold one Apr2-16 725 call, collecting $15.40 ($1540) at today’s price. This option will expire in 30 days (April 8). If the stock is at any price less than $725, this call will expire worthless and I will get to keep the entire $1540.

This Apr2-16 725 call option that I sold carries a delta of 46, making my net option value (120-46) 74 deltas (the equivalent of 74 shares of stock). I also sold a second Apr2-16 call, this one at the 735 strike price, collecting $1150. This call has a delta of 39, giving me a 35 net delta value (60+60-46-39). I won’t own the equivalent of 120 shares of stock that I would have if I hadn’t sold calls against my Jan-17 calls, but I could possibly make even greater gains from option decay.

I now own the equivalent of 35 shares of GOOGL at a cost of $16,800 less the $2690 I collected from selling the two calls, or $14,110.

The neat thing about my option positions is that if the stock doesn’t go up (as I hope it will), my disappointment will be soothed a bit because I will gain about $1700 over the next month. Here is the risk profile graph for my positions:

GOOG Risk Profile Graph March 2016

GOOG Risk Profile Graph March 2016

 

The P/L Day column in the lower right-hand corner shows what the gain or loss will be at the price in the first column on the left. It shows that when the Apr2-16 calls expire on April 8, my positions will have a $1,742 gain in value (12% for the month on my investment of $14,110). If the stock were to gain just a little, I could make as much as $3000. If it went up 5% (about $35) I would make about the same amount as if it remained unchanged.

While a possible 12% gain every month sounds a little too good to be true, if you do it right, the actual gain would be greater. For the first few months, the Jan-17 700 calls I bought will decay less than the average $666 monthly amount. Theta (decay for a single day) is $12, or about $360 for the first month. For the last month just before it expires, the Jan-17 700 calls would decay about $1250. The best way to play this strategy would be to put some money back in (using cash you have taken out every month) when there is about 3 or 4 remaining months to the Jan-17 calls and sell those calls and replace them with calls expiring at a more distant-out month, such as July 2017 or January 2018.

There are disadvantages to owing the options I do rather than the stock. The biggest problem comes when the stock fluctuates by large numbers in either direction. If the stock falls 5% ($36), my options would lose about $2196. If I owned 68 shares of stock, I would lose $2448, about 11% more than the options loss. However, if the stock were to tumble significantly more than 5% in one month, the option loss would be considerably greater than the loss of share value. If the stock goes up by 5% in the next month, I would gain $2448 if I owned 68 shares of stock, and only $1884 with the options, or about $564 (23%) less than the stock would have gained. Using options rather than stock, I give up a little potential gain if the stock picks up 5% in one month but make a much greater gain if the stock is flat or moves moderately higher.

The major advantage to my options positions comes when the stock fluctuates well less than 5% in a month. As we showed earlier, an absolutely flat stock will result in a 12% gain while owning the stock would not make a penny.

I have just outlined two possible ways that you can invest in a company you like with options rather than buying the stock. One strategy allows you to have the equivalent of owning stock while having to come up with only one-third of the cash. A second strategy is designed to make about 12% in every month when the stock is flat or rises moderately. Either way seems smarter to me than just buying the stock.

 

Make 40% in One Month With This Costco Trade

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Make 40% in One Month With This Costco Trade

Two weeks ago, LinkedIn (LNKD) issued poor guidance while at the same time announced higher than expected earnings. Investors clobbered the stock, focusing on the guidance rather than the earnings. At the same time, as is often the case, another company in the same industry, Facebook (FB) was also traded down. With FB falling to $98, I reported to you on a trade that would make 66% after commissions if the company closed at any price above $97.50 on March 18, 2016. FB has now recovered and is well over $104 and this spread looks like it will be a winner. All we have to do is wait out the remaining 4 weeks (no closing trade will be necessary as long as the stock is at any price above $97.50).

Today, a similar thing took place. Walmart (WMT) announced earnings which narrowly beat estimates, but missed top line revenue by a bit. However, they projected that next quarterly earnings (starting now) would be flat. This announcement was a big disappointment because they had earlier projected growth of 3% – 4%. The stock fell 4.5% on that news.

Costco (COST) is also a retailer, and many investors believe that as Walmart goes, so will Costco. They sold COST down on WMT’s news by the same percentage, 4.5%. This how the lemmings do it, time and time again.

That seemed to be an over-reaction to me. COST is a much different company than WMT. COST is adding on new stores every month while WMT is in the process of closing 200 stores, for example. WMT has a much greater international exposure than COST, and the strong dollar is hurting them far more.

I expect cooler heads will soon prevail and COST will recover. Today, with COST trading at $147.20, I made a bet that 4 weeks from now, COST will be at least $145. If it is, I will make 40% after commissions on this spread trade. The stock can fall by $2.20 by that time and I will still make 40%.

Here is what I did for each contract:

Buy to Open 1 COST Mar-16 140 put (COST160318P140)
Sell to Open 1 COST Mar-16 145 put (COST160318P145) for a credit of $1.45 (selling a vertical)

This is called selling a bull put credit spread. When the trade is made, your broker will deposit the proceeds ($145) in your account (less the commission of $2.50 which Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), or a net of $142.50). The broker will make a maintenance requirement of $500 (the difference between the two strike prices). There is no interest on this requirement (like a margin loan), but it just means that $500 in your account can’t be used to buy other stock or options.

Since you received $142.50 when you sold the spread, your net investment is $357.50 (the difference between $500 and $142.50). This is your maximum loss if COST were to end up at any price lower than $140 when the puts expire. The break-even price is $143.57. Any ending price above this will be profitable and any ending price below this will result in a loss. (If the stock ends up at any price between $140 and $145, you will have to repurchase the 145 put that you originally sold, and the 140 put you bought will expire worthless.)

Since I expect the stock will recover, I don’t expect to incur a loss. It is comforting to know that the stock can fall by $2.20 and I will still make my 40%.

If you wanted to be more aggressive and bet the stock will move higher, back above the $150 where it was before today’s sell-off, you could buy March puts at the 145 strike and sell them at the 150 strike. You could collect at least $2.00 for that spread, and you would gain 65% if COST ended up above $150. Higher risk and higher reward. The stock needs to move a bit higher for you to make the maximum gain. I feel more comfortable knowing it can fall a little and still give me a seriously nice gain for a single month.

By the way, these trades can be made in an IRA (if you have a broker like thinkorswim which allows options spread trading in an IRA).

If you make either of these trades, please be sure you do it with money you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged instruments and often have high-percentage gains and losses. With spreads like the above, at least you know precisely what the maximum loss could be. You can’t lose more than you risk.

If the market knocks you down, try laughing instead of crying – Some Market Definitions

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

First, an update on the Facebook (FB) trade I told you about a week ago – it was trading about $98 and the spread I suggested would make 66% if the stock was any higher than $97.50 in one month. FB is now at almost $105 and that is looking like a sure winner. It’s a good feeling to make 66% while lots of people are anguishing over recent losses. Now for a few chuckles today…

Terry

If the market knocks you down, try laughing instead of crying –  Some Market Definitions:

CEO –Chief Embezzlement Officer.

CFO– Corporate Fraud Officer.

BULL MARKET — A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.

BEAR MARKET — A 6 to 18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewellery, and the husband gets no sex.

VALUE INVESTING — The art of buying low and selling lower.

P/E RATIO — The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.

STANDARD & POOR — Your life in a nutshell.

STOCK ANALYST — Idiot who just downgraded your stock.

STOCK SPLIT — When your ex-wife and her lawyer split your assets equally between themselves.

FINANCIAL PLANNER — A guy whose phone has been disconnected.

MARKET CORRECTION — The day after you buy stocks.

OUT OF THE MONEY — When your checking account’s overdraft hits bottom.

CASH FLOW– The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.

YAHOO — What you yell after selling it to some poor sucker for $240 per share.

WINDOWS — What you jump out of when you’re the sucker who bought Yahoo @ $240 per share.

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR — Past year investor who’s now locked up in a nuthouse.

PROFIT — An archaic word no longer in use.

 

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

 

The market is closed for the Marin Luther King holiday today, and maybe you have a little time to see how we plan to make some exceptional returns by playing what might happen with oil prices.

I would like to share with you details on a new portfolio we have set up at Terry’s Tips. It is a long-term bet that the price of oil will eventually recover from its recent 12-year lows, but maybe it will get even worse in the short run before an eventual recovery takes place. In the wonderful world of stock options, you can bet on both possibilities at once, and possibly make double-digit monthly gains while you wait for the future to unfold.

I hope you enjoy my thinking about an option strategy based on the future of oil prices. Maybe you might like to emulate these positions in your own account or become a Terry’s Tips Insider and watch them evolve over time.

Terry

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Nobel Laureate Yale University professor Robert Shiller was interviewed by Alex Rosenberg of CNBC on July 6, 2015. He delivered his oft-repeated message that he believed that both stocks and bonds were overvalued and likely to fall. The last couple of weeks in the market makes his forecast seem pretty accurate. And then he continued on to say that he thought that oil would be a good investment, and that he was putting some of his own money on a bet that oil prices would move higher in the long run.
“One should have a wide variety of assets in one’s portfolio. And oil, by the way, is a particularly important asset to have in one’s portfolio, because we need it, and the economy thrives on it,” he said.

“So yeah, prices have come down a lot, partly because of the invention of fracking,” which has increased supply levels. “Will that reverse and go up smartly? I don’t know. But I’m just thinking—historically, commodities have been a good part of a portfolio, and they’re not pricey, so why not?”

So how has his advice turned out? On the day that Shiller suggested buying oil, USO (the most popular ETP that tracks the price of oil) was trading at $19. It is almost exactly half of that amount today.

We might wonder how Mr. Shiller feels about losing half his money in six months. If he hasn’t sold it yet, he really hasn’t lost it of course, but his account value is surely a whole lot less than it was.

I like the idea of getting into oil at a price which is half of what this apparently brilliant man bought it for, and also would like to benefit if the steady drop in the price of oil might continue a bit longer in the short run. Iran is scheduled to start dumping lots of its oil on the world market as the sanctions are removed, and OPEC has shown no inclination to reduce production (in its effort to discourage American frackers who have a higher cost of production). If the supply of oil continues to grow at a faster rate than demand, lower prices will probably continue to be the dominant trend, at least until a major war or terrorist action breaks out, or OPEC changes its tune and cuts back on production. If oil costs more to produce than it can be sold for (as OPEC asserts), then eventually supply must shrink to such a point that oil prices will improve.

Intuition would tell us that lower gas prices in the U.S. should help our economy (except for oil producers). Instead of paying $4 per gallon of gas, American drivers can pay about half that amount and have lots of money left over to buy other things. One would think that this would stimulate the economy and be good for the stock market. Apparently, it has not worked out that way. The recent drop in the stock market was supposedly due to fears of weakness in international economies. Many of them are dependent on oil revenues, and they are in bad shape with oil so cheap. Sometimes what seems intuitively true doesn’t work out in the real world.

It makes sense to me that at some point, supply and demand must even out, and a price achieved that is at least as high as the average cost of getting oil out of the ground. On a 60 Minutes episode on the subject of oil drilling in Saudi Arabia, the minister cited $60 per barrel as that number. This is more than double the current selling price of oil. It seems logical to believe that sometime in the future, this number will once again be reached. If that is the case, USO should be double what it is now.

The portfolio we created at Terry’s Tips (aptly called Black Gold) involves buying call LEAPS on USO which expire in 2018 so we have two years to wait for a rebound in oil.

Here are the two spreads we placed in this portfolio which was set up with $3500 (the actual cost of these spreads, including commissions, was $3186)

Buy To Open 7 USO Jan-18 8 calls (USO180119C8)
Sell To Open 7 USO Mar-16 10.5 calls (USO160318C10.5) for a debit of $2.32 (buying a diagonal)

Buy To Open 10 USO Jan-18 8 calls (USO180119C8)
Sell To Open 10 USO Feb-16 8 calls (USO160229C8) for a debit of $1.52 (buying a calendar)

The first spread (the diagonal) is set up to provide upside protection. The intrinsic value of this spread is $2.50 (the difference between the strike prices of the long and short sides). No matter how high the stock moves, this spread can never trade for less than $2.50. Actually, since there are 22 more months of life to the long Jan-18 calls, they will always have an additional time premium value that will keep the spread value well over $2.50. Since we paid only $2.32 for the spread, we can never lose money on it if the stock were to move higher.

The second spread, the calendar which is slightly in the money (at the 8 strike while the stock is trading about $8.75) is designed to provide downside protection in case the price of oil moves lower. Ideally, we would like the stock to fall about $.75 to end up exactly at $8 in 5 weeks when the Feb-16 calls expire. If that happens, those calls we sold will expire worthless and we will be in a position to sell new calls that expire a month later at the same strike. We should be able to collect about $500 from that sale, well over 10% of the initial cost of all the positions). No matter where the stock ends up, we will sell new calls at the February expiration, most likely in the March-16 series at the 8 strike price. If that is near the money, we should be able to collect about $.50 for each option, and it won’t take too many monthly sales at that level to completely cover our initial $1.52 cost of the spread. We will have 21 opportunities to sell new monthly premium to cover the original cost.

The long side of the calendar spread (the Jan-18 calls) will always have a value which is greater than the short-term calls that we sell at the 8 strike price. It is not always certain that they will be worth $1.32 more than the short-term calls like they are at the beginning, however. If the stock stays within a few dollars of $8, the long side should be worth at least $1.32 higher than the short side. If the stock makes a very large move in either direction, the long side might not be worth $1.32 more than the short side. Hopefully, we will collect new premium each month early on so that the original $1.32 cost has been returned to us and we are then playing with the house’s money for all the remaining months.

When the Mar-16 10.5 calls expire, we will sell new calls with about a month or two of life, choosing strike prices that are appropriate at the time, being careful not to choose a strike which is too low to insure we have at least some spreads which will not lose money no matter how high the stock price moves over the next two years. Presumably, we will be selling short term (one or two month) calls at increasingly higher strike prices as the stock moves higher in the long run, collecting new premium and watching the value of our long Jan-18 8 calls increase substantially in value as they become more and more in the money.

This is the risk profile graph which shows what we should make or lose at various possible stock prices in 5 weeks when the Feb-16 calls expire:

USO Risk Profile Graph Jan 2016
USO Risk Profile Graph Jan 2016

The stock can fall about 9% in 5 weeks before a loss occurs on the downside, or it can go up by any reasonable amount and a double-digit gain should be made on the original cost of the spreads. Each month, we plan to sell enough short-term premium to give us a 10% gain as long as the stock does not fluctuate outside a range of about 10% in either direction. Most months, this should be possible.

This explanation may be a little confusing to anyone who is not familiar with stock options. It would all make total sense if you became a Terry’s Tips Insider and read our 14-day tutorial. It takes a little effort, but it could change your investment returns for the rest of your life.

A $350 Investment on Apple Could Double in 2 Months

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

On January 27, 2016, at 4:30 EST, Apple (AAPL) will announce earnings for 2015. This has always been an exciting time for investors, and this year should not be any different from years past.

Today, I made a $350 bet on AAPL’s earnings. I feel confident that I will double my money in 2 months on this wager, even if the stock does not do much between now and then. I would like to share my thinking with you, and maybe you will like to do something similar yourself.

Terry

A $350 Investment on Apple Could Double in 2 Months

AAPL is trading today about $116, only $5 higher than it was a year ago at this time.
Over that year, earnings have grown about 30% and sales have increased 20%, and the stock has gone up less than 5%. The world’s most valuable company sells at only 11 times earnings while it is growing nearly double that percentage, and even the 11 number should be adjusted to a lower figure because of the large stash of cash they are sitting on.

By any fundamental valuation standards, AAPL is a screaming bargain. Yet it has been in this same position for years, often held down because of tepid guidance it invariably puts out while announcing sales and earnings which are considerably above the guidance they gave last time around. The company seems to enjoy setting a low expectation bar and then crushing it with stellar earnings.

While Black Friday was a disappointment for most retailers, AAPL apparently had its best day ever. One analyst reported “the iPhone and Apple Watch were the most popular, with the Watch likely the number seller online. IPads are emerging as the first computing device for kids, with the iPad Air 2 the hottest gift item for kids eight and older, the Mini for those younger.” It sounds like it might be a good Christmas selling season for the company.

Two things almost always occur in the week or weeks leading up to AAPL’s January earnings announcement. First, the stock usually moves up $5 or so in anticipation of a positive announcement. Second, option prices skyrocket because there is often a big move in the stock after the announcement, either up or down.

With these thoughts in mind, I bought calendar spreads on AAPL today with the stock about $116. I chose the 120 strike price because I think at some point in the next few weeks, the stock will edge up to that price. I bought Feb-16 120 calls and sold Dec-16 120 calls as a calendar spread, paying $347 plus $2.50 commission per spread (the commission rate paid by Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim).
Just before the Dec-16 calls expire, I will buy them back and sell a further-out weekly option at a strike price which will hopefully net me at least $100. I expect to repeat this once or twice in the subsequent weeks, hopefully reducing my initial $350 cost to about $150 when I can sell the calls I am most looking forward to.

Those calls will be the Jan5-16 calls which will expire on January 29, just after the earnings announcement. They are not yet available for sale, but will be offered in a couple of weeks. These are the calls which will be juiced up by the uncertainty of the coming announcement. Looking back to January 2015 when there were two weeks to the post-announcement, these are thebif prices for those calls:

At-the-money – $4.00
$1 away-from-the-money – $3.50
$1 away-from-the-money – $3.05
$1 away-from-the-money – $2.66
$1 away-from-the-money – $2.28

If I am successful in getting my cost down to $150 by that time, I should be able to sell Jan5-16 calls for more than my net investment, therefore guaranteeing me a profit no matter what the stock price does after the announcement. Of course, the closer to $120 it is, the more profitable it will be for me when I close out the Feb-16 – Jan5-16 spread on Friday, January 29, 2016.

As with most option investments, this obviously will take a little work to carry out. But I sort of like that kind of work when it might result in my doubling my money in a two-month time period. It seems like a low-risk, high potential gain to me, and I look forward to having a little fun with it.

Of course, you should only make option investments with money you can truly afford to lose. Profits are not guaranteed, no matter how promising they might appear when you first set up your positions.

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short video which explains why I like calendar spreads.  This week I have followed it up with a second video entitled How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

I hope you will enjoy both videos.  I also hope you will sign up for a Terry’s Tips insider subscription and start enjoying exceptional investment returns along with us (through the Auto-Trade program at thinkorswim).

Terry

Making Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads

When we set up a portfolio using calendar spreads, we create a risk profile graph using the Analyze Tab on the free thinkorswim trading platform.  The most important part of this graph is the break-even range for the stock price for the day when the shortest option series expires.  If the actual stock price fluctuates dangerously close to either end of the break-even range, action is usually required.

The simple explanation of what adjustments need to be made is that if the stock has risen and is threatening to move beyond the upside limit of the break-even range, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a higher strike price.  If the stock falls so that the lower end of the break-even range is threatened to be breached, we need to replace the short calls with calls at a lower strike.

There are several ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably higher:

1. Sell the lowest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a higher strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Buy a vertical call spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the lowest-strike short call and selling a higher-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than buying a vertical spread.
4. If you have a fixed amount of money to work with, as we do in the Terry’s Tips portfolios, you may have to reduce the number of calendar spreads you own in order to come up with the necessary cash to make the required investment to maintain a satisfactory risk profile graph.

There are similar ways in which you can make these adjustments if the stock has moved uncomfortably lower.  However, the adjustment choices are more complicated because if you try to sell calls at a lower strike price than the long positions you hold, a maintenance requirement comes into play.  Here are the options you might consider when the stock has fallen:

1. Sell the highest-strike calendar spread and buy a new calendar spread at a lower strike price, again checking with the risk profile graph to see if you are comfortable with the new break-even range that will be created.  The calendar spread you are buying will most likely cost more than the calendar spread you are selling, so a small amount of new capital will be required to make this adjustment.
2. Sell a vertical call spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call in the same options series (weekly or monthly).  This will require a much greater additional investment.  Since the long call is at a higher strike price than the new lower-strike call you sell, there will be a $100 maintenance requirement per contract per dollar of difference between the strike price of the long and short calls.  This requirement is reduced by the amount of cash you collect from selling the vertical spread.
3. Sell a diagonal spread, buying the highest-strike short call and selling a lower-strike call at a further-out option series.  This will require putting in much less new money than selling a vertical spread.

The Worst “Stock” You Could Have Owned for the Last 6 Years

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Today I would like to tell you all about the worst “stock” you could have owned for the past 6 years.  It has fallen from $6400 to $26 today.  I will also tell you how you can take advantage of an unusual current market condition and make an options trade which should make a profit of 66% in the next 6 months.  That works out to an annualized gain of 132%.  Not bad by any standards.For the next few days, I am also offering you the lowest price ever to become a Terry’s Tips Insider and get a 14-day options tutorial which could forever change your future investment results.  It is a half-price back-to-school offer – our complete package for only $39.95. Click here, enter Special Code BTS (or BTSP for Premium Service – $79.95).

This could be the best investment decision you ever make – an investment in yourself.

Happy trading.

Terry

The Worst “Stock” You Could Have Owned for the Last 6 Years

I have put the word “stock” in quotations because it really isn’t a stock in the normal sense of the word.  Rather, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) created by Barclay’s which involves buying and selling futures on VIX (the so-called “Fear Index” which measures option volatility on the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY).  It is a derivative of a derivative of a derivative which almost no one fully understands, apparently even the Nobel Prize winners who carried out Long-Term Capital a few years back.

Even though it is pure gobbledygook for most of us, this ETP trades just like a stock.  You can buy it and hope it goes up or sell it short and hope it goes down.  Best of all, for options nuts like me, you can trade options on it.

Let’s check out the 6-year record for this ETP (that time period is its entire life):

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

It is a little difficult to see what this ETP was trading at when it opened for business on January 30, 2009, but its split-adjusted price seems to be over $6000. (Actually, it’s $6400, exactly what you get by starting at $100 and engineering 3 1-for-4 reverse splits).  Friday, it closed at $26.04.  That has to be the dog of all dog instruments that you could possible buy over that time period (if you know of a worse one, please let me know).

This ETP started trading on 1/30/09 at $100.  Less than 2 years later, on 11/19/10, it had fallen to about $12.50, so Barclays engineered a reverse 1-for-4 split which pushed the price back up to about $50.  It then steadily fell in value for another 2 years until it got to about $9 on 10/15/12 and Barclays did the same thing again, temporarily pushing the stock back up to $36.  That lasted only 13 months when they had to do it again on 11/18/13 – this time, the stock had fallen to $12.50 once again, and after the reverse split, was trading about $50.  Since then, it has done relatively better, only falling in about half over almost a two-year span.

Obviously, this “stock” would have been a great thing to sell short just about any time over the 6-year period (if you were willing to hang on for the long run).  There are some problems with selling it short, however.  Many brokers can’t find stock to borrow to cover it, so they can’t take the order.  And if they do, they charge you some healthy interest for borrowing the stock (I don’t quite understand how they can charge you interest because you have the cash in your account, but they do anyway – I guess it’s a rental fee for borrowing the stock, not truly an interest charge).

Buying puts on it might have been a good idea in many of the months, but put prices are quite expensive because the market expects the “stock” to go down, and it will have to fall quite a way just to cover the cost of the put.  I typically don’t like to buy puts or calls all by themselves (about 80% of options people buy are said to expire worthless).  If you straight-out buy puts or calls, every day the underlying stock or ETP stays flat, you lose money. That doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.  I do like to buy and sell both puts and calls as part of a spread, however.  That is another story altogether.

So what else should you know about this ETP? First, it is called VXX.  You can find a host of articles written about it (check out Seeking Alpha) which say it is the best thing to buy (for the short term) if you want protection against a market crash.  While that might be true, are you really smart enough to find a spot on the 6-year chart when you could have bought it and then figured out the perfect time to sell as well?  The great majority of times you would have made your purchase, you would have surely regretted it (unless you were extremely lucky in picking the right day both to buy and sell).

One of the rare times when it would have been a good idea to buy VXX was on August 10, 2015, just over a month ago.  It closed at its all-time low on that day, $15.54.  If you were smart enough to sell it on September 1st when it closed at $30.76, you could have almost doubled your money.  But you have already missed out if you didn’t pull the trigger on that exact day. It has now fallen over 15% in the last two weeks, continuing its long-term trend.

While we can’t get into the precise specifics of how VXX is valued in the market, we can explain roughly how it is constructed.  Each day, Barclays buys one-month-out futures on VIX in hopes that the market fears will grow and VIX will move higher.  Every day, Barclays sells VIX futures it bought a month ago at the current spot price of VIX.  If VIX had moved higher than the month-ago futures price, a profit is made.

The reason why VXX is destined to move lower over time is that over 90% of the time, the price of VIX futures is higher than the spot price of VIX.  It is a condition called contango.  The average level of contango for VIX is about 5%.  That percentage is how much higher the one-month futures are than the current value of VIX, and is a rough approximation of how much VXX should fall each month.

However, every once in a while, the market gets very worried, and contango disappears.  The last month has been one of those times.  People seem to be concerned that China and the rest of the world is coming on hard times, and our stock markets will be rocked because the Fed is about to raise interest rates.  The stock market has taken a big tumble and market volatility has soared.  This has caused the current value of VIX to become about 23.8 while the one-month futures of VIX are 22.9.  When the futures are less than the spot price of VIX, it is a condition called back-wardation.  It only occurs about 10% of the time.  Right now, backwardation is in effect, (-3.59%), and it has been for about 3 weeks.  This is an exceptionally long time for backwardation to continue to exist.

At some point, investors will come to the realization that the financial world is not about to implode, and that things will pretty much chug along as they have in the past.  When that happens, market volatility will fall back to historical levels.  For most of the past two or three years, VIX has traded in the 12 – 14 range, about half of where it is right now.  When fears subside, as they inevitably will, VIX will fall, the futures will be greater than the current price of VIX, and contango will return.  Even more significant, when VIX falls to 12 or 14 and Barclays is selling (for VXX) at that price, VXX will lose out big-time because a month ago, it bought futures at 22.9.  So VXX will inevitably continue its downward trend.

So how can you make money on VXX with options?  To my way of thinking, today’s situation is a great buying opportunity.  I think it is highly likely that volatility (VIX) will not remain at today’s high level much longer.  When it falls, VXX will tumble, contango will return, and VXX will face new headwinds going forward once again.

Here is a trade I recommended to Terry’s Tips Insiders last Friday:

“If you believe (as I do) that the overwhelming odds are that VXX will be much lower in 6 months than it is now, you might consider buying a Mar-16 26 call (at the money – VXX closed at $26.04 yesteday) and sell a Mar-16 21 call.  You could collect about $2 for this credit spread.  In 6 months, if VXX is at any price below $21, both calls would expire worthless and you would enjoy a gain of 66% on your $3 at risk.  It seems like a pretty good bet to me.”

This spread is called selling a bearish call credit vertical spread.  For each spread you sell, $200 gets put in your account.  Your broker will charge you a maintenance requirement of $500 to protect against your maximum loss if VXX closes above $26 on March 18, 2016.  Since you collect $200 at the beginning, your actual maximum loss is $300 (this is also your net investment in this spread).  There is no interest charged on a maintenance requirement; rather, it is just money in your account that you can’t use to buy other stocks or options.

This may all seem a little confusing if you aren’t up to speed on options trading.  Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger – the great majority of investors know little or nothing about options.  You can fix that by going back to school and taking the 14-day options tutorial that comes with buying the full Terry’s Tips’ package at the lowest price ever – only $39.95 if you buy before Friday, September 23, 2015.

Lowest Subscription Price Ever:  As a back-to-school special, we are offering the lowest subscription price than we have ever offered – our full package, including all the free reports, my White Paper, which explains my favorite option strategies in detail, and shows you exactly how to carry them out on your own, a 14-day options tutorial program which will give you a solid background on option trading, and two months of our weekly newsletter full of tradable option ideas.  All this for a one-time fee of $39.95, less than half the cost of the White Paper alone ($79.95).

For this lowest-price-ever $39.95 offer, click here, enter Special Code BTS (or BTSP for Premium Service – $79.95).

Making 36%

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

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

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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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