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Posts Tagged ‘Stocks vs. Stock Options’

Calendar Spreads Tweak #4

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Today I would like to discuss how you can use calendar spreads for a short-term strategy based around the date when a stock goes ex-dividend. I will tell you exactly how I used this strategy a week ago when SPY paid its quarterly dividend.

Terry

Calendar Spreads Tweak #4

Four times a year, SPY pays a dividend to owners of record on the third Friday of March, June, September, and December. The current dividend is about $1.09. Each of these events presents a unique opportunity to make some money by buying calendar spreads using puts to take advantage of the huge time premium in the puts in the days leading up to the dividend day.

Since the stock goes down by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day, the option market prices the amount of the dividend into the option prices. Check out the situation for SPY on Wednesday, September 14, 2016, two days before an expected $1.09 dividend would be payable. At the time of these prices, SPY was trading just about $213.70.

Facebook Bid Ask Puts Calls Sept 2016

Facebook Bid Ask Puts Calls Sept 2016

Note that the close-to-the-money options at the 213.5 strike show a bid of $1.11 for calls and $1.84 for puts. The slightly out-of-the-money put options are trading for nearly double the prices for those same distance-out calls. The market has priced in the fact that the stock will fall by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day. In this case, that day is Friday.

SPY closed at $215.28 on Thursday. Friday’s closing price was $213.37, which is $1.91 lower. However, the change for the day was indicated as -$.82. The difference ($1.09) was the size of the dividend.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I decided to sell some of those puts that had such large premiums in them to see if there might be some opportunity there. While SPY was trading in the $213 to $216 range, I bought put calendar spreads at the 214.5, 214, 213.5, and 213 strikes, buying 21Oct16 puts at the even-strike numbers and 19Oct16 puts for the strikes ending in .5 (only even-number strikes are offered in the regular Friday 21Oct16 options). Obviously, I sold the 16Sep16 puts in each calendar spread.

Note: On August 30th, the CBOE offered a new series of SPY options that expire on Wednesday rather than Friday. The obvious reason for this offering involves the dividend situation. Investors who write calls against their SPY stock are in a real bind when they sell calls that expire on an ex-dividend Friday. First, there is very little time premium in those calls. Second, there is a serious risk that the call will be exercised by the holder to take the stock and capture the dividend. If the owner of SPY sold the series that expired on Wednesday rather than Friday, the potential problem would be avoided.

I paid an average of $2.49 including commissions for the four calendar spreads and sold them on Friday for an average of $2.88 after commissions. I sold every spread for more money that it cost (including commissions). My net gain for the two days of trading was just over 15% after commissions.

The stock fell $.82 (after accounting for the $1.09 dividend). If it had gone up by that amount, I expect that my 15% gain would also have been there. It is unclear if the gains would have been there if SPY had made a big move, say $2 or more in either direction on Friday. My rough calculations showed that there would still be a profit, but it would be less than 15%. Single-day moves of more than $2 are a little unusual, however, so it might not be much to be concerned about.

Bottom line, I am delighted with the 15% gain, and will probably try it again in three months (at the December expiration). In this world of near-zero interest rates, many investors would be happy with 15% for an entire year. I collected mine in just two days.

Trading SPY options is particularly easy because of the extreme liquidity of those options. In most cases, I was able to get an execution at the mid-point price of the calendar spread bid-ask range. I never paid $.01 more or received more than $.01 less than the mid-point price when trading these calendar spreads.

While liquidity is not as great in most options markets, it might be interesting to try this same strategy with other dividend-payers such as JNJ where the dividend is also over $1.00. I regularly share these kinds of trading opportunities with Terry’s Tips Insiders so that they can follow along in their own accounts if they wish.

Happy trading.

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

This week I would like start an ongoing discussion about one of my favorite option plays. It is called a calendar spread. It is also known as a time spread or a horizontal spread. But most people call it a calendar because that’s where you focus much of your attention while you hold this kind of a spread. On a specific date on the calendar, you discover whether you made or lost money since you first bought the calendar spread. In the next few blogs, I will discuss all sorts of variations and permutations you can make with calendar spreads, but today, we will focus on a bare bones explanation of the basic spread investment.

Terry

All About, or at Least an Introduction to Calendar Spreads

A calendar spread consists of the simultaneous purchase of one option (either a put or a call) and the sale of another option (either a put or call), with both the purchase and the sale at the same strike price, and the life span of the option you bought is greater than the option you sold. You can trade either puts or calls in this kind of spread, but not both in the same spread. You have to choose to use either puts or calls, but as we will see at a later time, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which choice you make.

Some things that we all know about options: 1) they all have a limited life span, and 2) if the underlying stock does not change in price, all options fall in value every day. This is called decay. In option parlance, it is called theta. Theta is the amount that the option will decay in value in a single day if the underlying stock remains flat.

The basic appeal of a calendar spread is that the decay (or theta) of the option that has been sold is greater than the decay (or theta) of the stock that was bought. Every day that the stock remains flat, the value of the spread should become slightly greater. For this reason, most buyers of calendar spreads are hoping that the stock does not move in either direction very much (but we will see that is not always the case with all calendar spreads).

Here is a typical calendar spread purchase on Nike (NKE) on August 24, 2016 when NKE was trading just about $60:

Buy to Open 5 NKE 20Jan17 60 calls (NKE170120C60)
Sell to Open 5 NKE 23Sep16 60 calls (NKE160923C60) for a debit of $2.20 (buying a calendar)

The options that are being bought will expire on January 21, 2017 (about 5 months from now) and the options being sold will expire on September 23, 2016, one month from now. You don’t really care what the prices are for the calls you bought or the calls you sold, just as long as the difference between the two prices is $2.20 ($220 per spread, plus a commission of about $2.50 per spread). That’s how much money you will have to come up with to buy the spread. This spread order will cost $1100 plus $12.50 in commissions, or $1112.50.

The all-important date of this spread is September 23, 2016. That is the day on which the short options (the ones you sold) will expire. If the stock is trading on that day at any price below $60, the calls that you sold will expire worthless, and you will be the owner of 5 NKE 60 calls which have about 4 months of remaining life. If NKE is trading at exactly $60 on that day, those 20Jan17 60 calls will be worth about $3.05 and you could sell them for about $1525, netting yourself a profit of about $400 after commissions. That works out to a 35% gain for a single month, not a bad return at all, especially if you can manage to do it every month for the entire year (but now, we’re dreaming). That is, alas, the maximum you could make on the original spread, and that would come only if the stock were trading at exactly $60 on the day when the short calls expired.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain on the original spread at various prices where the stock might be trading on September 23rd:

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

2016 NKE Risk Profile Graph September Expiration

In the lower right-hand corner under P/L Day, the profit or loss on the spread is listed for each possible stock price between $58 and $62. Those numbers should be compared to the investment of just over $1100. The graph shows the maximum gain takes place if the stock ends up right about $60, and about half that gain would result if the stock has moved a dollar higher or lower from $60. If it rises or falls by $2, a loss would result, but this loss would be much lower than the potential gains if the stock fluctuated by less than $2. If the stock moves by a much greater amount than $2, even greater losses would occur.

One good thing about calendar spreads is that the value of the options you bought will always be greater than the ones you sold, so you can never lose the entire amount of money you invested when you bought the spread. If you just buy a call option with the hopes that the stock will rise, or buy a put option with hopes that the stock will fall, you risk losing 100% of your investment if you are wrong. Even worse, in most cases, you would lose the entire investment if the stock stays flat rather than moving in the direction you were hoping.

With calendar spreads, you should never lose everything that you invested and you don’t have to be exactly right about the direction the stock needs to move. There is a range of possible prices where your spread will be profitable, and if you enter your proposed spread in a software program like the (free) Analyze Tab at thinkorswim, you can tell in advance what the break-even range will be for your investment.

There are ways that you can expand the break-even range so that a greater stock price fluctuation could be tolerated, and that will be the subject of our next blog.

The Difference Between Buying Stock and Trading Options

Monday, August 15th, 2016

This week I would like discuss a little about the differences between buying stock and trading options. I would also like to tell you a little about a specific recommendation I made to paying Terry’s Tips subscribers this weekend in my weekly Saturday Report.

Terry

The Difference Between Buying Stock and Trading Options

If the truth be known, investing in stocks is pretty much like playing checkers. Any 12-year-old can do it. You really don’t need much experience or understanding. If you can read, you can buy stock. And you probably will do just about as well as anyone else because it’s basically a roulette wheel choice. Most people reject that idea, of course. Like the residents of Lake Wobegone, stock buyers believe that they are all above average – they can reliably pick the right ones just about every time.

Trading options is harder, and many people recognize that they probably aren’t above average in that arena. Buying and selling options is more like playing chess. It can be (and is, for anyone who is serious about it) a life-time learning experience.

You don’t see columns in the newspaper about interesting checker strategies, but you see a ton of pundits telling you why you should buy particular stocks. People with little understanding or experience buy stocks every day, and most of their transactions involve buying from professionals with far more resources and brains. Most stock buyers never figure out that when they make their purchase, about 90% of the time, they are buying from those professionals. Those smart guys with all the resources are the ones who are selling the stock while you are buying it at that price.

Option investing takes study and understanding and discipline that the purchase of stock does not require. Every investor must decide for himself or herself if they are willing to make the time and study commitment necessary to be successful at option trading. Most people are too lazy.

It is a whole lot easier to play a decent game of checkers than it is to play a decent game of chess. But for some of us, options investing is a whole lot more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding.

Last week I told you about three stock-based Terry’s Tips option portfolios which had doubled in value and a fourth portfolio that was almost there (and it is only 10 months old). I didn’t tell you about two other portfolios that we also carry out which are not available for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim but which are quite easy to trade on your own because they only involve one trade for an entire year (and with luck, options on both side of the spread will expire worthless so no closing trade is necessary).

We have two of these portfolios, and they are set up each January. So far in 2016, while the market (SPY) has gained 4.6%, these two option portfolios have gained 43.9%, and 56.2% without a single adjusting trade having been made. We could close either portfolio right now and take those gains off the table after paying a small commission on one or two spreads. If you buy stock rather than trading options, you will probably never see gains like this, even if you are lucky enough to pick one of the best stocks in the entire market.

This weekend, I recommended another similar spread trade that we are setting up in a new portfolio so we can watch it evolve over time. Like the above two portfolios, it cannot be Auto-Traded but is easy to set up yourself (you can call it in to your broker if you are not familiar with placing option spread trades). This spread will expire on January 20, 2017, about six months from now.

The underlying is a sort of weird derivative of a derivative of a derivative that doesn’t make much sense to anyone (even the Nobel Prize winning managers of Long Term Capital didn’t fully understand the implications of this kind of instrument). The long-term price action of this equity can be measured, however, and it showed that if this spread had been placed every month for the last 50 months, the spread would have made a profit 44 times and it would have lost money 6 times. The average gain for all the trades worked out to 38% for six months (including all the losses in those 6 losing instances). The annualized gain would rise to 90% if you re-invested your money and the average profit at the end of the first six months. Of course, historical price action doesn’t always repeat itself in future months, but if you see how this instrument is engineered, you can see that the pattern should be expected to continue.

This spread idea is so good that I feel I must restrict sharing it with only paying subscribers to the Terry’s Tips newsletter. If you come on board, you can see the full report where I show the profit from this trade for each of the last 50 months and the exact spread that should be placed. I bought more of the exact same spread in my personal account today at the same price I indicated it could be bought in the last Saturday Report.

Historical Performance of 10K Strategy Stock-Based Portfolios

Monday, August 8th, 2016

This week I would like to outline the basic stock option strategy we use at Terry’s Tips where we have created eight portfolios each of which is traded in an actual separate account and is available for Auto-Trade at TDAmeritrade/thinkorswim. Terry’s Tips subscribers can have every trade in these portfolios placed automatically for them in their own thinkorswim accounts through their free Auto-Trade service.

Enjoy the full report.

Terry

Historical Performance of 10K Strategy Stock-Based Portfolios: At Terry’s Tips, we call our options strategy the 10K Strategy. We like to think of it as shorter than a marathon but longer than a sprint. Most people who trade options seem to prefer sprints, i.e., short-term speedy wins (or losses). The basic underlying idea of our 10K Strategy is to do the opposite of what most options traders do. Instead of buying short-term calls in hopes of a quick windfall gain, we primarily sell those calls to option speculators. Since something like 80% of all options expire worthless, we like our odds of selling those options rather than buying them. We like to think that we are sort of in the business of selling lottery tickets.

We buy longer-term options to use as collateral for selling short-term options. All options go down in value every day that the underlying stock remains unchanged. This daily decay in value is called theta in options parlance. Theta for short-term options is much greater than theta for longer-term options at the same strike price, and this difference in decay rates is what makes our strategy a successful one (most of the time).

At Terry’s Tips, we currently have 4 stock-based portfolios. Other portfolios are based on Exchange Traded Products (ETPs). ETPs include Exchange Trade Funds (ETFs) such as the S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY or the Dow Jones Industrial Average tracking stock (DIA), and Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) such as volatility-based XIV, SVXY, VXX, and UVXY. We also have a portfolio based on options of USO where we are betting that the long term price of oil will be higher than it is today.

Three out of 4 of our stock-based portfolios have doubled in value at some point in their lifetime, and the 4th, Foxy Facebook is up 71% since we started it 10 months ago. The prospects look excellent for it to double before its first year has been completed. The record:

2016 HIstorical 10K Portfolios

2016 HIstorical 10K Portfolios

In a world of record low interest rates and anemic investment returns for most equities (even hedge funds lost money in 2015), these results offer a strong vindication of the 10K Strategy. Admittedly, NKE has tumbled steadily over the past 8 months and much of the gains have been eroded away, but a basic assumption of the strategy is that you select underlying stocks which you think will remain flat or rise over time. If you are wrong and the stock doesn’t do one of those things, you should expect to lose money on that investment. So far, we have been fortunate enough to pick winners.

I invite you to become a subscriber to Terry’s Tips so that you can learn the important details of carrying out the 10K Strategy on your favorite stock (assuming that options are available for it). If you are lucky enough to pick a winner, you would have an excellent chance to make many times as much as you would make just buying the stock. It doesn’t have to go up to be a winner – just remaining flat is almost always profitable with this strategy.

Many years ago, someone wrote a book that I bought – it was entitled “Happiness is a Stock That Doubles in a Year.” If you can find a stock that will stay flat or move higher, you might very well enjoy this kind of happiness once you learn how to execute the 10K Strategy.

As with all investments, you should only use money that you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments, and unless you totally understand the risks, you can easily and quickly lose more money than you could with the equivalent investment in the purchase of stock. I think it is worth a little work to educate yourself about the risks (and potential rewards) of trading options.

Update on Facebook Earnings Announcement Play

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Last week, Facebook (FB) announced earnings which were triple the year-earlier results and were 88% higher than analyst expectations, but the stock barely budged from where it was the day before the announcement. Option players could celebrate, however. The actual portfolio at Terry’s Tips where we trade FB options gained 45.8% for the week. We have a lot of happy subscribers who follow this portfolio either on their own or through the Auto-Trade service at thinkorswim.

As good as 45% for a single week might be, you could have done even better if you had followed a trade I told you about 2 ½ months ago. That is the story I would like to share with you today.

Happy trading.

Terry

Update on Facebook Earnings Announcement Play

On May 11, 2016, I told you about two trades I was making in my personal account. You can see the entire blog which explains my thinking on our blog page. Here they are:

Today, I bought these calendar spreads on FB when the stock was trading just about $120:

Buy To Open 2 FB 16Sep16 120 calls (FB160916C120)
Sell To Open 2 FB 15Jul16 120 calls (FB160715C120) for a debit of $3.26 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 2 FB 16Sep16 125 calls (FB160916C125)
Sell To Open 2 FB 15Jul16 125 calls (FB160715C125) for a debit of $3.11 (buying a calendar)

My total investment for these two spreads was $1274 plus $10 commission (at the rate charged to Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim), for a total of $1284.

When these short calls expired on July 15th, FB was trading at about $122.50, just about the perfect place for me since it was right in the middle of the two strike prices of my spreads. On that day, I bought back the expiring 120 calls and sold 29Jul16 120 calls and collected $2.50 (selling a calendar spread). I sold this series because it would expire just after the July 27 earnings announcement.

I also sold the same calendar spread at the 125 strike price and collected $2.35. The net effect of these two trades (I collected $960 after commissions) reduced my net investment from $1284 to $324.

After Wednesday’s announcement, FB soared to $130 in after-hours trading, but opened at $127.52, and by late Friday when my short options were about to expire, it had fallen to about $124. I then closed out my positions by buying back the 29Jul16 calls and selling the 16Sep16 calls I still owned, collecting $2.10 per contract for the 120 strike calls and $3.10 for the 125 strike calls. After commissions, this worked out to a total of $1030, so I netted a profit of $706 on an original investment of $1284. Bottom line, I made 55% on my original investment for the 10 weeks I traded FB options.

Over this same time period, investors who owned FB stock made $4 per share on their money. If they invested $1284 like I did, they could have bought only 10 shares for $120 per share. Their gains for the 10 weeks would have been $40. My option trading made 17 times more money than the stock buyers would have made. Once again, I don’t understand why people would waste their money buying stock when they could spend a little time studying how to trade options, and make a multiple of what they could make by the simple buying of stock.

As with all investments, you should only use money that you can truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments, and unless you totally understand the risks, you can easily and quickly lose more money than you could with the equivalent investment in the purchase of stock. I think it is worth a little work to educate yourself about the risks (and potential rewards) of trading options.

Lowest Subscription Price Ever

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

This month marks the 15th year in business for Terry’s Tips. We are celebrating this event by offering you our lowest subscription price ever. Read on.

Today I would also like to share with you a small bet I made today on Nike. It should make 60% in 8 months even if the stock does not go up a penny. It can actually fall a little and you would still make 60%. But the big news today is our 15th birthday celebration offer.

Lowest Subscription Price Ever

As our birthday present to you, 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 15Year (or 15YearP for Premium Service – $79.95). The premium service offers you real-time trade alerts so you can follow along with our trades if you wish, or participate in Auto-Trade at thinkorswim.

This is a time-limited offer. You must order by Wednesday, June 15, 2016. That’s when the half-price offer expires, and you will have to go back to the same old investment strategy that you have had limited success with for so long (if you are like most investors).

This is the perfect time to our 15th birthday with us, and give yourself and your family the perfect birthday gift that is designed to deliver higher financial returns for the rest of your investing life. It may take you a little homework on your part, but I am sure you will end up thinking it was well worth the investment.

A Conservative Nike Trade Which Should Gain 60% in 8 Months

Timing is everything. The price of Nike (NKE) was beaten down last week, apparently on the news that one of their largest retailers, Sports Authority, had declared bankruptcy and was conducting a going-out-of-business sale. I believe that this news has unfairly impacted the price of NKE. After all, people will continue to buy NKE shoes. It just won’t be at Sports Authority.

NKE has been doing very well lately. It has had 4 consecutive spectacular quarters, exceeding estimated earnings by a wide margin each time, yet it is trading very near the low for the year, down 20% from its high reached in December. In that month, there was a 2-for-1 stock split, and this often results in a lower stock price over the subsequent few months (apparently, a fair number of people sell off half their stock so they retain the same number of shares they had before the split, with most or all of their original investment back in their pocket). The same thing happened to Google when it split its stock a few years ago – it was lower at the end of the year than it was at the beginning, the only time in its first 9 years of existence that that happened.

NKE is trading about $54 today. If you believed that this was about as low as it might go, you might make a 5-month bet that it won’t be trading below $52.50 when the 21Oct16 options expire. You would make 50% on your money (after commissions) if you bought 21Oct16 50 puts and sold 21Oct16 52.5 puts, collecting $.86 and risking $1.64 if the stock falls below $50 by that time (using the commission rate charged to Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim – $1.25 per contract).

This trade, executed as a vertical put credit spread, would put $83.50 in your account. Your broker would assess a maintenance requirement of $250. Subtracting out the $83.50 you received, the net amount the trade would cost you would be $166.50. This is also the maximum loss you could possibly incur. It would come along only if NKE fell below $50 on October 16th. If NKE is at any price above $52.50 on that date, both put options would expire worthless and you would not have to make another trade to close out your positions (saving you commissions on that end of the trade).

An even safer bet could be made by trading those same strikes for the 20Jan17 series where you could collect $.96, risk $1.54, and make 60% on your investment (and maximum loss) if NKE closes above $52.50 in January. Not only is the gain greater, but you have an extra quarter (including the Christmas selling season) to watch NKE grow (or at least not fall).

I consider this to be a conservative investment because I believe NKE has had its price unfairly pushed lower because of the Sports Authority bankruptcy and is selling near the low for the year in spite of exceeding earnings estimates every quarter for the last year. The stock does not have to go up a penny to make 60% on this trade. All it has to do is not fall by more than $1.50 by January 20, 2017. I think it is highly likely to be trading safely higher than $52.50 at the time.

As always, you should only invest money in stock options if you can truly afford to lose it. Options are risky, and while potential gains can be far greater than conventional investments, they usually incur a greater degree of risk (although in the above case, I like the odds when a stock is unfairly downtrodden and doesn’t have to go up a penny to guarantee a gain on the trade).

Happy trading,

Terry

P.S. For this lowest-price-ever $39.95 offer for the complete Terry’s Tips package (including my White Paper for which over 10,000 people have paid our regular price $79.95), click here, enter Special Code 15Year (or 15YearP for Premium Service – $79.95). It could be the best investment decision you ever make.

List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Some time ago, I noticed that the value of some of our portfolios was changing after the market for the underlying stock had closed. Clearly, the value of the options was changing after the 4:00 EST close of trading. I did a Google search to find a list of options that traded after hours, and came up pretty empty. But now I have found the list, and will share it with you just in case you want to play for an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading each day.

Terry

List of Options Which Trade After Hours (Until 4:15)

Since option values are derived from the price of the underlying stock or ETP (Exchange Traded Product), once the underlying stops trading, there should be no reason for options to continue trading. However, more and more underlyings are now being traded in after-hours, and for a very few, the options continue trading as well, at least until 4:15 EST.

Options for the following symbols trade an extra 15 minutes after the close of trading – DBA, DBB, DBC, DBO, DIA, EFA, EEM, GAZ, IWM, IWN, IWO, IWV, JJC, KBE, KRE, MDY, MLPN, MOO, NDX, OEF, OIL, QQQ, SLX, SPY, SVXY, UNG, UUP, UVXY, VIIX, VIXY, VXX, VXZ, XHB, XLB, XLE, XLF, XLI, XLK, XLP, XLU, XLV, XLY, XME, XRT.

Most of these symbols are (often erroneously) called ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds). While many are ETFs, many are not – the popular volatility-related market-crash-protection vehicle – VXX is actually an ETN (Exchange Traded Note). A better way of referring to this list is to call them Exchange Traded Products (ETPs).

Caution should be used when trading in these options after 4:00. From my experience, many market makers exit the floor exactly at 4:00 (volume is generally low after that time and not always worth hanging around). Consequently, the bid-ask ranges of options tend to expand considerably. This means that you are less likely to be able to get decent prices when you trade after 4:00. Sometimes it might be necessary, however, if you feel you are more exposed to a gap opening the next day than you would like to be.

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.

 

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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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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