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Posts Tagged ‘Stocks vs. Stock Options’

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Friday, November 28th, 2014

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

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

Terry

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little About Vertical Spreads

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Today we will discuss vertical spreads, and how you can use them when you have a strong feeling about which way a stock is headed.

But first, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/412276080/da-vinci-bodyboard

Terry

A Little About Vertical Spreads

Vertical spreads are known as directional spreads.  When you place such a spread, you are betting that the stock will move in a particular direction, either up or down.  If you are right, you can make a nice gain.  Even better, you can usually create a vertical spread that also makes money if the stock doesn’t move in the direction you hoped, but stays absolutely flat instead.

If you have a strong feeling that a particular stock will move higher in the near future, you might be inclined to either buy the stock or buy a call on it.  Both of these choices have disadvantages.  Buying the stock ties up a great deal of money, and even if you are right and the stock moves higher, your return on investment is likely to be quite small.

Buying calls gives you great leverage and a much higher return on investment if you are indeed right and the stock moves higher.  But much of the cost of a call is premium (the extra amount you pay out so that you don’t have to put up so much cash compared to buying the stock).  The stock needs to go up a certain amount just to cover the premium, and you don’t start making money until that premium is covered.  If the stock doesn’t go up (and no matter how great you are at picking winners, you will probably be disappointed many times), you could lose some or all of your investment.  Bottom line, buying calls is a losing proposition much of the time – you have to be really lucky to come out a winner.

Buying a vertical spread is a safer alternative than either buying stock or calls.  You give up some of the extraordinary gains for a great likelihood of making a more moderate gain, and if you play your cards right, you can also make a gain if the stock stays flat.

Let’s look at an example.  Last week, my favorite underlying, SVXY, had been beaten down because VIX had shot up over 25.  I felt very strongly that the market fears would eventually subside, VIX would fall back to the 15 level, and SVXY (which moves in the opposite direction of VIX) would move higher.

Late last week, when SVXY was trading right at $60, I bought November 55 calls and sold November 60 calls as a vertical spread.  It cost me $3 ($300 per contract).  When these calls expire in about a month, if the stock is any higher than $60, my spread will be worth exactly $5, and I will make about 60% on my investment.  The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to move any higher than was at the time for me to make that kind of a gain.

In reality, while I did make this vertical spread, I didn’t use calls.  Instead, I sold a vertical spread using puts, buying November 60 puts and selling November 55 puts. I collected $2, an amount which is the exact same risk that I would have taken if I had bought the vertical spread with calls.  The broker will charge a maintenance fee of $5 ($500) on each spread, but since I collected $200 at the outset, my risk, and the amount I had to put up, is only $300.

The risks and rewards are identical if you buy a vertical with calls or sell a vertical with puts (assuming the strike prices are the same), but there is a neat thing about using puts if you believe the stock is headed higher.  In this case, if the stock ends up at the November expiration at any price higher than $60, both the long and short puts will expire worthless (and I get to keep the $200 I got at the beginning).  There is no exit trade to make, and best of all, no commissions to pay.  For this reason, I almost always use puts when I buy a vertical spread betting on a higher stock price rather than calls (the only exceptions come when the spread can be bought for a lower price using calls, something which occurs on occasion).

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  (We own one Mar-15 65 put, and each week, we roll over a short put to the next weekly which is about $1 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 higher than the stock price).

This week, SVXY moved sharply higher, from about $57 to about $62.  Today I bought back the out-of-the-money Oct4-14 59 put for a few cents and sold an Oct5-14 64 put (about $2 in the money) for a credit of $3.65 ($365) on the diagonal spread.  The account value is at $1290, just a little higher than $1234 where we started out (we would have done much better if the stock had moved up by only $2 instead of $5).

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.  This week I sold the next weekly put at a strike which was $2 in the money because I think the stock is headed higher because VIX is still at an elevated level compared to where it has been for the past year or so.

How to Avoid an Option Assignment

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

This message is coming out a day early because the underlying stock we have been trading options on has fallen quite a bit once again, and the put we sold to someone else is in danger of being exercised, so we will trade a day earlier than usual to avoid that possibility.

I hope you find this ongoing demonstration of a simple options strategy designed to earn 3% a week to be a simple way to learn a whole lot about trading options.

Terry

How to Avoid an Option Assignment

Owning options is a little more complicated than owning stock. When an expiration date of options you have sold to someone else approaches, you need to compare the stock price to the strike price of the option you sold.  If that option is in the money (i.e., if it is put, the stock is trading at a lower price than the strike price, and if it is a call, the stock is trading at a higher price than the strike price), in order to avoid an exercise, you will need to buy back that option.  Usually, you make that trade as part of a spread order when you are selling another option which has a longer life span.

If the new option you are selling is at the same strike price as the option you are buying back, it is called a calendar spread (also called a time spread), and if the strike prices are different, it is called a diagonal spread.

Usually, the owner of any expiring put or call is better off selling their option in the market rather than exercising the option.  The reason is that there is almost always some remaining premium over and above the intrinsic value of the option, and you can almost always do better selling the option rather than exercising your option.  Sometimes, however, on the day or so before an option expires, when the time premium becomes very small (especially for in-the-money options), the bid price may not be great enough for the owner to sell the option on the market and still get the intrinsic value that he could get through exercising.

To avoid that from happening to you when you are short the option, all you need to do is buy it back before it expires, and no harm will be done.  You won’t lose much money even if an exercise takes place, but sometimes commissions are a little greater when there is an exercise.  Not much to worry about, however.

SVXY fell to the $74 level this week after trading about $78 last week.  In our actual demonstration portfolio we had sold an Oct1-14 81 put (using our Jan-15 90 put as security).  When you are short an option (either a put or a call) and it becomes several dollars in the money at a time when expiration is approaching, there is a good chance that it might be exercised.  Although having a short option exercised is sort of a pain in the neck, it usually doesn’t have much of a financial impact on the bottom line.  But it is nice to avoid if possible.

We decided to roll over the 81 put that expires tomorrow to next week’s option series.  Our goal is to always collect a little cash when we roll over, and that meant this week we could only roll to the 80.5 strike and do the trade at a net credit.  Here is the trade we made today:

Buy To Close 1 SVXY Oct1-14 81 put (SVXY141003P81)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Oct2-14 80.5 put (SVXY141010P80.5) for a credit of $.20  (selling a diagonal)

Our account value is now $1620 from our starting value of $1500 six weeks ago, and we have $248 in cash as well as the Jan-15 90 put which is trading about $20 ($2000).  We have not quite made 3% a week so far, but we have betting that SVXY will move higher as it does most of the time, but it has fallen from $86 when we started this portfolio to $74 where it is today.  One of the best things about option trading is that you can still make gains when your outlook on the underlying stock is not correct.  It is harder to make gains when you guess wrong on the underlying’s direction, but it is possible as our experiment so far has demonstrated.

 

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Last week I reviewed the performance of the Terry’s Tips options portfolio for the first half of the year.  I should have waited a week because this week was a great one – our composite average gained another 6%, making the year-to-date record 22%, or about 3 times as great as the market (SPY) gain of about 7%.

Last week I also discussed a GOOG vertical put credit spread which is designed to gain 100% in the year if GOOG finished up 2014 at any price higher than where it started, something that it has done in 9 of its 10 years in business.  I want to congratulate those subscribers who read my numbers closely enough to recognize that I had made a mistake.  I reported that we had sold a (pre-split) 1120 – 1100 vertical put credit spread and collected $5.03 which was slightly more than the $500 per spread that I would have at risk. Actually, if the difference between the short and long sides was $20, and the maximum loss would be almost $15 (and the potential return on investment would be 33% rather than 100%).  We actually sold the spread for $10.06, not $5.03, and I mistakenly reported the post-split price.  We are now short 560 puts and long 550 puts, so the difference between the two strikes is $10 and we collected $5.03, or just about half that amount.  Bottom line, if GOOG finishes the year above $560, we will make 100% on our investment.  It closed at $585 Friday, so it can fall by $25 from here and we will still double our money.

Today we will discuss two other spreads we placed at the beginning of 2014 in one of the 10 portfolios we conduct for all to see at Terry’s Tips.

Terry

Vertical Put Credit Spreads Part 2:

We have a portfolio we call Better Odds Than Vegas.  In January, we picked three companies which we felt confident would be higher at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.  If we were right, we would make 100% on our money.  We believed our odds were better than plunking the money down on red or black at the roulette table.

Late in 2013, the Wall Street Journal interviewed 13 prominent analysts and asked them what they expected the market would do in 2014.  The average projection was that it would gain slightly more than 5%.  The lowest guess was that it would fall by 2%.  We decided to make a trade that would make a nice gain if any one of the 13 analysts were correct.  In other words, if SPY did anything better than falling by 2%, our spread would make money.

In January, when SPY was trading about $184, we sold a vertical credit put spread for December, buying 177 puts and selling 182 puts.  We collected $2.00 at that time.  If the stock manages to close at any price higher than $182 on the third Friday in December, we will get to keep our entire $200 (per spread – we sold 8 spreads, collecting $1600).  The maintenance requirement would be $500 per spread less the $200 we collected, or $300 per spread ($2400, our maximum loss which would come if SPY closed below $177 in December).  Our potential profit would be about 66% on the investment, and this would come if the market was absolutely flat (or even fell a little bit) over the course of the year.  The stock closed Friday at $198.20, so it could fall by $16.20 between now and December and we would still make 66%.

The third company we bet on in this portfolio in January was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), now called Keurig Coffee Roasters.  This was a company with high option premiums that we have followed closely over the years (being in my home state of Vermont).  We have made some extraordinary gains with options on several occasions with GMCR.  Two directors (who were not billionaires) had bought a million dollars each of company stock, and we believed that something big might be coming their way.

With the stock trading about $75, we made an aggressive bet, both in our selection of strike prices and expiration month. Rather than giving the stock a whole year to move higher, we picked June, and gave it only 6 months to do something good.  We sold Jun-14 80 puts and bought Jun-14 70 puts, and collected $5.40.  If the stock stayed at $75, we would make only a small profit on the third Friday in June, but if it rose above $80 by that time, we would make $5.40 on an investment of $4.60, or 117%.

The good news that we anticipated came true – Coke came along and bought 10% of the company for $1 billion and signed a 10-year licensing agreement with GMCR.  The stock shot up to $120 overnight (giving Coke a $500 million windfall gain, by the way).  At that point, we picked up a little extra from the original spread.  We sold a vertical call credit spread for the June expiration month, buying the 160 calls and selling 150 calls, collecting an extra $1.45 per spread.  This did not increase our maintenance requirement because we had, in effect, legged into a short iron condor spread. It would be impossible for us to lose money on both our spreads, so the broker only charged the maintenance requirement on one of them.

Selling the call spread meant that our total gain for the six months would amount to almost 150% if GMCR ended up at any price between $80 and $150.  It ended up at about $122 and we enjoyed this entire gain.

We have since sold another GMCR vertical credit put spread for Jan-15, buying 90 puts and selling 100 puts for a credit of $3.45.  Our maximum loss is $6.55, and this would come if the stock closed below $90 on the third Friday in January.  The potential maximum gain would amount to 52% for the six months.  This amount was far less than the first spread because we selected strikes which were well below the then-current price of the stock (GMCR is now $125, well above our $100 target).  This makes our potential gain for this stock for the year a very nice 200%.

We advocate making these kinds of long-term options bet when you feel confident that a company will somehow be the same or higher than it is at the beginning. If you are right, extraordinary gains are possible. In our case, our portfolio has gained 41% for the year so far, and the three stocks can all fall by a fair amount and we will still make 100% on our starting investment when these options expire (hopefully worthless so we can keep all the cash we collected at the outset) on January 17, 2015.

Six-Month Review of Our Options Strategies – Part 1

Monday, June 30th, 2014

We have just finished the first half of 2014.  It has been a good year for the market.  It’s up about 6.7%.  Everyone should be fairly happy.  The composite portfolios conducted at Terry’s Tips have gained 16% over these months, almost 2 ½ times as much as the market rose.  Our subscribers are even happier than most investors.

Our results would have been even better except for our one big losing portfolio which has lost nearly 80% because we tried something which was exactly the opposite to the basic strategy used in all the other portfolios (we essentially bought options rather than selling short-term options as our basic strategy does).  In one month, we bought a 5-week straddle on Oracle because in was so cheap, and the stock did not fluctuate more than a dollar for the entire period. We lost about 80% of our investment.  If we had bought a calendar spread instead (like we usually do), it would have been a big winner.

Today I would like to discuss the six-month results of a special strategy that we set up in January which was designed to make 100% in one year with very little (actually none) trades after the first ones were placed.

Terry

Six-Month Review of Our Options Strategies:

We have a portfolio we call Better Odds Than Vegas.  In January, we picked three companies which we felt confident would be higher at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year.  If we were right, we would make 100% on our money.  We believed our odds were better than plunking the money down on red or black at the roulette table.

Today we will discuss the first company we chose – Google (GOOG).  This company had gone public 10 years earlier, and in 9 of those 10 years, it was higher at the end of the calendar year than it was at the outset.  Only in the market melt-down of 2007 did it fail to grow at least a little bit over the year.  Clearly, 9 out of 10 were much better odds than the 5 out of 10 at the roulette table (actually the odds are a little worse than this because of the two white or yellow possibilities on the wheel).

In January 2014 when we placed these trades, GOOG was trading just about $1120.  We put on what is called a vertical credit spread using puts.  We bought 5 January 2015 1100 puts and with the same trade sold 5 Jan-15 1120 puts for a credit spread of $5.03.  That put a little more than $2500 in our account after commissions.  The broker would charge us a maintenance requirement of $5000 on these spreads.  A maintenance requirement is not a loan, and no interest is charged on it – you just can’t spend that money buying other stocks or options.

If you subtract the $2500 we received in cash from the $5000 maintenance requirement you would end up with an investment of $2500 which represented the maximum loss you could get (and in this case, it was the maximum gain as well).  If GOOG ended up the year (actually on the third Friday in January 2015) at any price higher than where it started ($1120), both put options would expire worthless, the maintenance requirement would disappear, and we would get to keep the $2500 we got at the beginning.

Then GOOG declared a 2 – 1 stock split (first time ever) and we ended up with 10 put contracts at the 560 and 550 strike prices.  Usually, when a company announces that a split is coming, people buy the stock and the price moves higher.  Once the split has taken place, many people sell half their shares and the stock usually goes down a bit.  That is exactly what happened to GOOG.  Before the split, it rose to over $1228.  We were happy because it could then fall by over $100 and we would still double our money with our original put spreads.  But then, after the split, following the pattern that so many companies do, it fell back to a split-adjusted $1020, a level at which we would lose our entire investment.

Fortunately, today GOOG is trading at about $576, a number which is above our break-even post-split price of $560.  All it has to do now for the rest of the year is to go up by any amount or fall by less than $16 and we will double our money.  We still like our chances. If we were not so confident, we could buy the spread back today and pay only $4.25 for it and that would give us a profit of about 15% for the six months we have held it.

Next week we will discuss the two other vertical put spreads we sold in January.  After you read about all 3 of our plays, you will have a better idea on how to use these kinds of spreads on companies you like, and return a far greater percentage gain than the stock goes up (in fact, it doesn’t have to go up a penny to earn the maximum amount).

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Most of the time we talk about how wonderful it is to be trading options.  In the interests of fair play, today I will point out the downsides of options as an investment alternative.

Terry

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

1. Taxes.  Except in very rare circumstances, all gains are taxed as short-term capital gains.  This is essentially the same as ordinary income.  The rates are as high as your individual personal income tax rates. Because of this tax situation, we encourage subscribers to carry out option strategies in an IRA or other tax-deferred account, but this is not possible for everyone.  (Maybe you have some capital loss carry-forwards that you can use to offset the short-term capital gains made in your option trading).

2. Commissions.  Compared to stock investing, commission rates for options, particularly for the Weekly options that we trade in many of our portfolios, are horrendously high.  It is not uncommon for commissions for a year to exceed 30% of the amount you have invested.  Because of this huge cost, all of our published results include all commissions.  Be wary of any newsletter that does not include commissions in their results – they are misleading you big time.

Speaking of commissions, if you become a Terry’s Tips subscriber, you may be eligible to pay only $1.25 for a single option trade at thinkorswim.  This low rate applies to all your option trading at thinkorswim, not merely those trades made mirroring our portfolios (or Auto-Trading).

3. Wide Fluctuations in Portfolio Value.   Options are leveraged instruments.  Portfolio values typically experience wide swings in value in both directions.

Many people do not have the stomach for such volatility, just as some people are more concerned with the commissions they pay than they are with the bottom line results (both groups of people probably should not be trading options).

4. Uncertainty of Gains. In carrying out our option strategies, we depend on risk profile graphs which show the expected gains or losses at the next options expiration at the various possible prices for the underlying.  We publish these graphs for each portfolio every week for subscribers and consult them hourly during the week.

Oftentimes, when the options expire, the expected gains do not materialize.  The reason is usually because option prices (implied volatilities) fall.   (The risk profile graph software assumes that implied volatilities will remain unchanged.).   Of course, there are many weeks when VIX rises and we do better than the risk profile graph had projected.   But the bottom line is that there are times when the stock does exactly as you had hoped (usually, we like it best when it doesn’t do much of anything) and you still don’t make the gains you originally expected.

With all these negatives, is option investing worth the bother?  We think it is.  Where else is the chance of 50% or 100% annual gains a realistic possibility?  We believe that at least a small portion of many people’s investment portfolio should be in something that at least has the possibility of making extraordinary returns.

With CD’s and bonds yielding ridiculously low returns (and the stock market not really showing any gains for quite a while – adjusted for inflation, the market is 10% lower than it was in March,  2000,), the options alternative has become more attractive for many investors, in spite of all the problems we have outlined above.

How to Play War Rumors

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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

Terry

How to Play War Rumors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

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

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

Terry

Legging Into a Short Iron Condor Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

Monday, February 24th, 2014

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

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

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

Terry

Another Interesting Options Bet on Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow-Up on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Twice in the past three weeks I told everyone why I was bullish on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and how I was playing the options prior to their earnings announcement last week.

If anyone noticed, the stock is trading about 40% higher now after the company announced a 10-year deal with Coke for selling single portions of Coke.

This was one of those sad times where I was right but didn’t make very much money from the great news, however.  Such is sometimes the plight of owning options.  Almost anything can happen, depending on what kind of a spread you put on.

Enjoy the discussion of three kinds of option spreads.

Terry

Follow-Up on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

This is what I wrote two weeks ago – “I bought a diagonal call spread, buying GMCR Jun-14 70 calls and selling Feb1-14 80 calls.  The spread cost me $9.80 at a time when the stock was trading at just below $80.  If the stock moves higher, no matter how high it goes, this spread will be worth at least $10 plus the value of the time premium for the 70 call with about 5 months of remaining value, no matter how much IV might fall for the June options. The higher the stock might soar, the less I would make, but I expect I should make at least 20% on my money (if the stock moves higher) in 17 days.”

While the spread could not lose money no matter how high the stock might go, this was not a great investment to make if you were as bullish on the company as I was.  The more it rose above $80, the less it would make.  A 40% move on an earnings announcement is highly unusual, but that is what happened.

When the stock traded down a bit last Friday, I sold that spread for $11.00, making $1.20 less commissions of $.05, or $1.15 ($115 per spread).  That worked out to about 12%.  I will never complain about making a gain, but this was a major disappointment when I was so right about how the stock would move after the announcement.  It just moved a whole lot more than I expected.

Last week I told you about another spread I placed on GMCR before earnings.  This was a calendar spread (same strike, buy one further-out month and sell a shorter-term option).  The trick was to pick the strike price you believed the stock would end up after the announcement.  With the stock trading at $80 before the announcement, I suggested to pick the 85 strike (buying April calls and selling March calls for about $.80 per contract).

The further away from $85 the stock traded after the announcement, the less well the calendar spread would do.  On the other hand, if you correctly picked the price, you could make 200% or more on your money.  When the stock soared $30 and was trading around $110, this spread lost about half its value (I actually bought 100 of these spreads at the 90 strike instead of the 85 strike, but this spread did not do much better – I am hanging on to most of the contracts just in case it reverses direction over the next 6 weeks).

Another spread which I did not report to everyone (except my paying subscribers) was a vertical put credit spread, selling 85 puts and buying 75 puts in the same month.  I placed these trades for June, collecting a credit of $5.20, making my investment $480 per spread (this is the amount that would be my maximum loss if GMCR closes below $75 in June).  If the stock closes above $85 (which it looks highly likely to do), I will make 108% on my investment.  (I also sold similar vertical put credit spreads for both March and June at others strikes, and every spread appears that it will make 70% or better at expiration).

This time around, the calendar spreads didn’t fare well because the stock skyrocketed so high.  It is really necessary to guess where the stock will end up with that kind of spread.  I was too conservative in my bullishness. Who would have ever guessed that the stock would soar by 40%?  Certainly not me.  But I was happy that I also bought some other directional spreads that profited from the upward move (these spreads would have done just as well, or better, if the upward stock price move had been smaller).

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