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Posts Tagged ‘Straddles’

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 Possible Great Option Trading Idea

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Just before the close on Friday, we made a strongly bullish trade on our favorite underlying stock in a portfolio at Terry’s Tips.  In my personal account, I bought weekly calls on this same underlying.  As I write this in the pre-market on Monday, it looks like that bet could triple in value this week.

I would like to share with you the thinking behind these trades so next time this opportunity comes up (and it surely will in the near future), you might decide to take advantage of it yourself.

Terry

A Possible Great Option Trading Idea: As we have discussed recently, option prices are almost ridiculously low.  The most popular measure of option prices is VIX, the so-called “fear index” which measures option prices on SPY (essentially what most people consider “the” market) is hanging out around 12.  The historical mean is over 20, so this is an unprecedented low value.

When we sell calendar or diagonal spreads at Terry’s Tips, we are essentially selling options to take advantage of the short-term faster-decaying options.  Rather than using stock as collateral for selling short-term options we use longer-term options because they tie up less cash.

With option prices currently so low, maybe it is a time to reverse this strategy and buy options rather than selling them.  One way of doing this would be to buy a straddle (both a put and a call at the same strike price, usually at the market, hoping that the stock will make a decent move in either direction.  In options lingo, you are hoping that actual volatility (IV) is greater than historical volatility.

The biggest problem with buying straddles is that you will lose on one of your purchases while you gain on the other.  It takes a fairly big move in the underlying to cover the loss on your losing position before you can make a profit on the straddle.

A potentially better trade might be to guess which way the market will move in the short term, and then buy just a put or call that will make you money if you are right. The big challenge would be to find a price pattern that could help you choose which direction to bet on?

One historically consistent pattern for most market changes (the law of cycles) is that the direction of the change from one period to the next is about twice as likely to be in the same direction as it was in the previous same time period.  In other words, if the stock went up last week (or month), it is more likely to go up again next week (or month).

We tested this pattern on SPY for several years, and sadly, found that it did not hold up.  The chances were almost 50-50 that it would move in the opposite direction in the second period.

Maybe the pattern would work for our most popular underling, an ETP called SVXY.  You might recall that we love this “stock” because it is extremely volatile and option prices are wonderfully high (great for selling).  In the first 22 weeks of 2014, SVXY fluctuated by at least $3 in one direction or the other in 19 of those weeks.  Maybe we could use the pattern and buy weekly either puts or calls, depending on which way the market had moved in the previous week.

Once again, the historical results did not support the law of cycles pattern.  The stock was almost just as likely to move in the opposite direction as it had in the previous week.  Another good idea dashed by reality.

In making this study, we discovered something interesting, however.  In the first half of 2014, SVXY fell more than $3 in a single week on 5 different occasions.  In 4 of the subsequent weeks, it made a significant move ($3 or more) to the upside.  Buying a slightly out-of-the-money weekly call for about a dollar and a half ($150 per contract) could result in a 100% gain (or more) in the next week in 4 out of 5 weeks.

If this pattern could be counted on to continue, it would be a fantastic trading opportunity.  Yes, you might lose your entire investment in the losing weeks, but if you doubled it in the winning weeks, and there were many more of them than losing weeks, you would do extremely well.

For  those reasons, I bought calls on SVXY on Friday.  The Jul-14 90.5 call that expires this Friday (July 18th) could have been bought for $1.30.  The stock closed at $88.86.  I plan to place an order to sell these calls, half at $2.60, and half at $3.90.  The pre-market prices indicate that one of these orders might exercise sometime today and I will have all my money back and still own half my calls.  It might be a fun week for me.  We’ll see.

On another subject, have you got your free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

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).

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

Monday, June 16th, 2014

The recent developments in Iraq have nudged options volatility higher, but for one underlying, SVXY, it has apparently pushed IV through the roof.  This development has brought about some potentially profitable option spread possibilities.Terry

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

In case you don’t know what SVXY is, you might check out the chart of its volatility-related inverse, VXX.  This is the ETP many investors use as a protection against a market crash.  If a crash comes along, options volatility skyrockets, taking VXX right along with it.  The only problem with VXX is that over time, it is just about the worst investment you could imagine making.  Three times in the last five years they have had to engineer 1 – for – 4  reverse splits to keep the price higher enough to bother with buying.  Over the past 7 years, VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted price over $2000 to its current $32.

Wouldn’t you like to buy the inverse of VXX?  You can.  It’s called SVXY  (XIV is also its inverse, but you can’t trade options on XIV).

Last week I talked about buying short-term (weekly) call options on SVXY because in exactly half the weeks so far in 2014, the stock had moved $4 higher at least once during the week.  I also advised waiting until option prices were lower before taking this action.  Now that option prices have escalated, the best thing seems to be selling option premium rather than buying it.

Two weeks ago, a slightly out-of-the-money weekly SVXY option had a bid price of $1.05.  Friday, that same option had a bid price of $2.30, more than double that amount.

All other things being equal, SVXY should move higher each month at the current level of Contango (6.49%).  That works out to about $1.20 each week.  I would like to place a bet that SVXY moves higher by about that amount and sell a calendar spread at a strike price about that much above Friday’s close ($79.91).

Below I have displayed the risk profile graph  for a July-June 81 calendar put spread (I used puts rather than calls because if the stock does move higher, the June puts will expire worthless and I will save a commission by not buying them back.

This would be the risk profile graph if we were to buy 5 Jul-14 – Jun-14 put calendar spreads at the 81 strike price at a cost of $3.00 (or less).  You would have $1500 at risk and could make over 50% on your investment if the stock goes up by amount that contango would suggest.  Actually, as I write this Monday morning, it looks like SVXY will open up about a dollar lower, and the spread might better be placed at the 80 strike instead of the 81.

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014
SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014

A break-even range of $3 to the downside and about $5 on the upside looks quite comfortable.  If you had a little more money to invest, you might try buying September puts rather than July – this would allow more time for SVXY to recover if it does fall this week on scary developments in Iraq (or somewhere else in the world).

I have personally placed a large number of Sep-Jun calendar spreads on SVXY at strike prices both above and below the current stock price in an effort to take advantage of the unusually higher weekly option prices that exist  right now.

That’s enough about SVXY for today, but I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

Check Out the Volatility in SVXY

Monday, June 9th, 2014

This week is a further discussion of my favorite ETP (Exchange Traded Product), SVXY.  We have already discussed this unusual equity.  Because of contango, it is destined to move higher every week that there is not a market crash or correction.  It has doubled in value in each of the last two years.  If you have an idea of which way an underlying is headed, there are extremely attractive option strategies that you might use.  I will talk about one such strategy this week.Terry

Check Out the Volatility in SVXY

Every week for the past four weeks in my personal account, I have bought at least 200 out-of-the-money weekly call options on SVXY, paying $.20 ($20) for each option.  In every single instance, I was able to sell those options for at least $1.00 ($100), and sometimes much more.  That works out to 500% a week for 4 weeks in a row.  I could make that same bet every week for the next 16 weeks and lose every time and still be ahead.  (As we will see below, in half the weeks in 2014 so far, my bet would have been a winner, however).

Last week I was delighted to unload t hese calls because I figured that after moving higher for 6 consecutive weeks, it might be in for some weakness.  Not so.  The options I sold for $100 each could have been sold later in the week for $550.  I left a lot of money on the table.

I shared these trades with Terry’s Tips subscribers, by the way.  They were an insurance purchase as part of a larger portfolio of long and short options on SVXY.  Usually insurance costs money. I expected to lose money on it.  Over the past few weeks, it paid off nicely.

An interesting feature of SVXY price changes is the weekly volatility numbers.  This is an extremely volatile stock. The following table shows the biggest up and down changes in 2014 from the previous Friday’s close for SVXY.

This stock is unbelievably volatile.  In 19 of the 22 weeks, it either rose or fell by more than $3 (highlighted weeks). It rose over $3 in exactly half the weeks and if fell by more than $3 in 8 of the weeks.

SPXY Changes Newsletter June 2014

SPXY Changes Newsletter June 2014
With this kind of volatility, maybe buying a straddle each week at the close on Friday would be a good idea. The cheapest straddle last Friday would have been at the 84 strike (SVXY closed at $84.11) and would have cost about $3.35 (in most previous weeks, this straddle could have been bought for about $1 less – this week’s 10% rise in the stock price pushed IV much higher).

The biggest challenge with buying straddles is to figure out when to sell.  If you waited until the stock had moved by $4 to sell, you could have made a gain in 14 if the 22 weeks (64% of the time) but you would be only making about 20% at this week’s straddle cost and possibly losing almost everything in the remaining weeks. Not a good prospect, except maybe if you had bought at earlier-week prices.

A better idea would have been to buy a slightly out-of-the-money weekly call, paying about $.80 for it, and selling it when you have tripled your money.  You could have done that in half the weeks in 2014, insuring a great profit no matter what happened in the other half the weeks.

After SVXY rose $3 or more at some point in 7 of the last 8 weeks, however, call prices have moved higher this week (for the first time, surprisingly).  It would now cost about $1.20 to buy a weekly 85 call with the stock closing at $84.11.  A week ago, that same call would have cost about half as much.
This week I am not making an insurance purchase of out-of-the-money calls on SVXY.  The call option prices have become too rich for my taste. I suspect that a week from now, they might be back to a more reasonable level.

For several months, the call options have been much less expensive that the put options, but they are about the same right now.  In the past, traders were buying puts as a hedge against a market crash (when the market tanks, SVXY falls by a much greater percentage than the market).  This phenonemon will probably return soon, and make buying out-of-the-money calls a good strategy.

I suspect that SVXY might take a breather here for a week or two, so I will be sitting on the sidelines.  When call prices retreat a bit, I plan to start buying cheap out-of-the-money weekly calls once again.

That’s enough about SVXY for today, but I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t). This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013

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

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

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

Terry

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

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

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

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

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

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

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

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

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

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

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

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

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

Terry
 
Interesting SPY Straddle Purchase Strategy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Strategy of Buying Weekly SPY Straddles

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

I performed a back-test of weekly SPY volatility for the past year and discovered that in just about half the weeks, the stock fluctuated at some point during the week by $3 either up or down (actual number 27 of 52 weeks).  That means if you could have bought an at-the-money straddle for $2 (both an at-the-money call and put), about half the time you could sell it for a 50% gain if you placed a limit order to sell the straddle for $3.  As long as the stock moves at least $3 either up or down at some point during the week you can be assured that the straddle can be sold for $3.

Here are the numbers for SPY for the past six months:

 

SPY Straddle Chart

SPY Straddle Chart

The weekly changes (highlighted in yellow) are the ones where SPY fluctuated more than $3 so that a 50% gain was possible (by the way this week is not over yet, and the stock fell over $3 at one point yesterday).

An interesting strategy for these months would be to buy 10 at-the-money SPY straddles on Friday (or whatever your budget is – each straddle will cost about $200). With today’s low VIX, an at-the-money straddle last Friday cost $1.92 to buy (one week of remaining life),  In the weeks when VIX was higher, this spread cost in the neighborhood of $2.35  (but actual volatility was higher, and almost all of the weeks showed a $3.50 change at some point during the week).

Over the past year, in the half of the weeks when the stock moved by at least $3, your gain on 10 straddles would be $1000 on the original straddle cost $2.  If the change took place early in the week, there would be time premium remaining and the stock would not have to fluctuate by quite $3 for the straddle to be sold for that amount.

The average loss in the other weeks would be about $700, maybe less.  On Friday morning, the worst-case scenario would be that you could sell the 70 straddles for $700 (causing a loss of $1300). This would occur if the stock were trading exactly at the strike price of the straddle – on Friday morning it could be sold for about $.70 because there would be some time premium remaining for both the puts and calls.  The maximum loss that occurred in about a third of the losing weeks was about $.70 but another third of the weeks when the 50% gain was not triggered, you could have broken even (on average) by selling the straddle at the close on Friday.  I calculated that the average loss for all of the last 12 months would be about $700 in those weeks when the 50% gain was not triggered.

This means an average investment of $2000 (10 straddles) would make an average gain of $150 per week. While that might be considered to be a decent gain by most standards, it could be dramatically improved if you varied the amount that you invested each week by following the volatility patterns.

There was a remarkable tendency for high-volatility weeks to occur together.  In the above table you can see that at one point there was a string of 14 weeks when 12 times a 50% gain was possible (high-lighted in yellow) and two weeks (high-lighted in red) when a small gain was possible because the closing price was greater than $2 away from the starting price.  Only one week out of the 14, 5/28/13 would a loss have occurred, and that would have been negligible because the stock closed $1.86 lower, almost covering the $2 initial cost of the straddle.

The same went for low-volatility weeks – there were strings of them as well. At one point early in 2013 the strategy would have incurred a string of seven consecutive weeks when no 50% was possible, and in the last six months pictured above, there were two four-week strings when SPY fluctuated by less than $3 in either direction.

If you invested $4000 in weeks after you made a gain and $2000 in weeks after a 50% gain was not possible, your net gains would be much higher.  This is the most promising part of the strategy.

Another way of playing this strategy would be to invest only in those weeks when a 50% gain would have been possible in the previous week, and sit on the sidelines for the other weeks.  Of course, since the average gain for all weeks was positive (but small), you would be giving up a little by not investing each week.

In this world of low option prices (VIX is at historical lows) and relatively high volatility, this might be an exceptionally profitable strategy to follow.  We plan to carry it out in one of the portfolios we run at Terry’s Tips.

Updates on Costco and Joy Global Earnings Plays

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Last week I wrote two Seeking Alpha articles on earnings plays – How To Play The Costco Earnings Announcement and How To Play Joy Global’s Earnings Announcement.  I expected that Costco would fall after earnings because expectations were unusually high and that JOY would move higher because expectations were quite low.

I was right on with the COST call and our positions gained 16.6% after commissions for the week.  JOY fell marginally, less than $.50 and we gained 7.8%.

Update on the Costco trade (submitted as a comment after the Costco article). Today before the open, Costco announced earnings of $1.04 which beat estimates of $1.02 but fell short of the $1.06 whisper number. The stock is now trading just under $113 compared to just under $115 when I wrote this article so any potential buyer of the stock would have done well to heed my advice and wait until after the announcement to buy shares (Note: a day later fell to below $110).

The diagonal option spread that I suggested was sold in our Terry’s Tips portfolio for a credit of $.84. That meant for anyone buying 5 spreads, your investment would have been the $2500 maintenance requirement less $420 received from the sale, or $2080. Today we sold the spread for a debit of $.10, making $.74 per spread. After paying commissions of $25, the net gain on 5 spreads was $345, or 16.6% on the investment. This was the 11th consecutive successful earnings trade we have made using our Expectation Model.

Note: In the actual Terry’s Tips portfolio where the Costco trade was made, we also placed a calendar spread to reduce our risk (in case we were wrong about Costco falling after the announcement).  This spread lost money and reduced our gain to 9.6% after commissions.

In JOY there were 4 July-13 – May5-13 calendar spreads. In our actual account at thinkorswim, here are the numbers for what we paid for these spreads and what we sold them for: 52.5 strike (cost $1.35 sold for $1.20), 55 strike (cost $1.55 sold for $2.38), 57.5 strike (cost $1.50 sold for $1.61), and 60 strike (cost $1.19 sold for $1.00). We lost money on 2 spreads but gained on 2 others, and enjoyed one big gain. The total cost of our investment was $2236 and our net gain after paying $65 in commissions was $175, or 7.8% on our investment.

While this was quite a bit lower than the returns we made on the earlier 11 investments that resulted in gains averaging about 19% (without a single loss), most people would be happy with 7.8% for a single week after commissions. 

These two profitable earnings trades made it 12 consecutive gainers for this portfolio.
The odds of making 12 successful profitable trades without a single loss is comparable to flipping a coin and getting heads 12 times in a row. The odds of that happening are one out of 4096 times. Either I have been incredibly lucky or maybe there is some merit in the Expectations Model I have developed. The future will tell. 

We are not making any earnings-related trades this week because only one company we are following (they must have weekly options and be trading over $20) reports this week, and our expectations model could not determine whether expectations were unusually high or low.

Eight Consecutive Successful Earnings Plays and What We Learned

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Note: There is a lot of valuable information in this report for anyone who trades stock options.  It will take you about 15 minutes to read, but that investment in your time could be worth thousands of dollars to you down the line.  I hope you will read it thoroughly all the way to the end.

On April’s Fools Day in 2013, we opened a new $5000 portfolio at Terry’s Tips.  We thought that might be a lucky day to start.  For several months we had been studying what happens just before and after a company announces their quarterly earnings, and this portfolio was designed to put our observations to work.

The biggest thing we discovered in our analysis was that the post-announcement change in the stock price was determined more by market expectations prior to the announcement than the actual earnings themselves.  If you have played in the stock market for any length of time, you surely have lived through an earnings announcement when your favorite company exceeded estimates on all scores, and the stock fell on the news.  That really hurts, and I’m sure we all have felt it.

We have concluded that it is all due to what the market was expecting vs. its experience of the actual earnings.

Most of the time, we measured expectations by what the stock had done in the weeks leading up to the announcement and the difference between what analysts predicted earnings would be and the whisper numbers (we also check out RSI numbers to see if the stock is particularly over-sold or over-bought, and recent company performance at earnings time related to results vs. estimates). 

When the stock has had a big run-up before the announcement and whisper numbers were greater than analyst expectations, we concluded that expectations were uncomfortably high, and the least disappointment in the announcement (concerning earnings, revenues, margins, or guidance) might result in the stock trading lower even if the company surpassed earnings by a comfortable margin.

We called it the PEA Picker portfolio (PEA stands for Pre-Earnings Announcement).  We restricted the companies that we would consider to those which traded Weeklys approximately 160).  We eliminated companies trading for less than $20 because option prices were typically not attractive enough for our purposes. We ended up with about 100 companies which are the most actively-traded and have the most liquid option markets (i.e., small bid – ask spreads and the assurance that decent spread prices could be executed). 

Even more important, we could trade out of them on the Friday following the announcement, just a few days after placing our trades.  This eliminated being concerned about the long-run prospects for the company and put us in cash at the end of the week so we could invest in another company in the following week.  We like near-instant gratification on our trades, bad or good, and we like to sleep over the weekend with no positions in place (most of the time).

In addition to checking recent stock price action and whisper numbers, we looked carefully at the last four earnings reports to see what happened, and to the most recent RSI numbers to learn if the stock were unusually over-bought or over-sold.  Some companies consistently exceeded expectations and their stock fell after the announcement while others merely met expectations and the stock moved higher. 

Many times we were able to detect patterns that helped us decide which option spreads we would use.  One pattern was that big moves after announcements tended to be reversed at the next announcement (or more often, big moves were rarely followed by big moves in the same direction at the next announcement).

The day after the PEA Picker portfolio was set up, we issued the following Trade Alert.  By the way, this portfolio is carried out in an actual TD Ameritrade/thinkorswim portfolio and all commissions are included at the special rate offered to Terry’s Tips Insiders.  All of the Trade Alerts in this report are actual emails that were sent to Terry’s Tips Insiders and to thinkorswim so they could execute trades through Auto-Trade.  Our account is set up through Auto-Trade so every trade reported here was exactly duplicated in the accounts of all our subscribers who set up through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim.

This first trade involved buying a straddle which we bought before the Weeklys which expired on the Friday after the announcement were available.  This not the usual way we set up PEA Plays but we do it sometimes, obviously.

We had decided that expectations were unusually low and the stock would head higher after the announcement, but the first trade was neutral (it would make money if the stock headed either way, just as long as it moved).

April 2, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

J.P. Morgan (JPM) announces earnings next week and the Weeklys that become available on Thursday will be the options with the escalated implied volatility (IV).  We will establish some long positions before that time.  The stock is trading very close to $48 right now so the straddle price is at its lowest.  The straddle might gain for two reasons – first, leading up to an announcement the stock quite often moves (usually higher), and second, implied volatility (IV) of the monthly options usually moves higher once the Weeklys become available:

BTO (Buy To Open) 20 JPM Apr-13 48 calls (JPM130420C48)
BTO 20 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for a debit of $1.88  (buying a straddle) 

Two days later, we issued the following:

April 4, 2013  Trade Alert #2 -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

There are many reasons to believe that the stock is headed higher after earnings and we are currently negative net delta.  This trade will make us long:

STO (Sell To Open) 15 JPM Apr2-13 47 puts (JPM130420P47) for $.58

We held these positions (which cost us a net $2041) until shortly before earnings were to be announced after the close on April 10.  The stock had moved about two dollars higher as we had anticipated.  We issued the following:

April 10, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

The stock moved up almost $2 and IV also moved up. We have a nice gain here so we might as well take it rather than waiting for more (or maybe less) once earnings are reported:

BTC 15 JPM APR2-13 47 puts (JPM130412P47)
STC 15 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for a credit of $.25  (selling a diagonal)

STC 5 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for $.30

STC 20 JPM Apr-13 48 calls (JPM130420C48) for $1.74

 
This first PEA Play was a little complicated (future ones will make more sense, I promise).  You can see that we sold the original straddle (which had cost us $1.88) for a total of $2.04 ($1.74 + $.30).  It is not so clear to see that the 15 Apr2-13 47 puts we had sold for $.58 were bought back for only $.05 (this was where most of our gain was).  After commissions, we made a profit of $789 on our $2061 investment, or about 38% of the money we had invested.  The portfolio as a whole had gained only 15.8% because we had invested only about 40% of the cash at our disposal.
The next week featured the Google (GOOG) announcement. We noticed that the GOOG options were expecting a move of 12.3% yet the average post-announcement move had historically been only 6.7%.  (You can calculate the percentage change that the options are predicting by adding up the time premium of the at-the-money Weekly put and call and dividing that total by the stock price.)  While we would have liked to sell the straddle short, that is not possible in an IRA account, and we do not make any trades for our subscribers which cannot be executed in an IRA.
Our choice was to buy diagonal spreads at strikes both comfortably above and below the stock price.  We issued the following:

April 15, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio
This is a small bet that Google will not deviate by more than $40 from its present level of $790 after this week’s announcement:

BTO 1 GOOG May-13 785 put (GOOG130518P785)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 765 put (GOOG130420P765) for a debit of $13.51  (buying a diagonal)

BTO 1 GOOG May-13 820 call (GOOG130518C820)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 830 call (GOOG130429C830) for a debit of $8.02  (buying a diagonal)

The total amount invested here was $2158 including commissions.

Again, these trades are a little unlike our usual PEA Plays, but the key point is that the stock would have to fall by $25 before the short 765 puts would have any value.  If the stock fell by that much, or more, the May-13 785 put would be worth at least $2000 more than the short put value (and there would still be some value in the May-13 820 call), so there would be a gain no matter how far the stock might fall.

If the stock were to move $40 higher, the 830 call would have some value, but the May-13 820 call will always be worth at least $1000 more than the 830 short call (and actually, quite a bit more because the option would be very close to the money and there would be a full month of time remaining in that option).  In short, it appeared that a gain would come no matter how high the stock might go.  However, while these spreads gave us excellent protection if there was a large move in either direction, if the stock didn’t move much there was the possibility of a loss.  We corrected that three days later when we issued the following Trade Alert:

April 18, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

The stock has fallen more than $20 since we placed the first spreads.  This is an indication that expectations have dwindled, and the stock might move higher.  These trades will give us a little more upside protection in case it rallies and also protects the mid-range from the extremes of the diagonal spreads we placed earlier:

BTO 1 GOOG May-13 780 call (GOOG130518C780)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 780 call (GOOG130429C780) for a debit of $4.60  (buying a calendar)

BTO 1 GOOG May-13 790 call (GOOG130518C790)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 790 call (GOOG130429C790) for a debit of $4.75  (buying a calendar)

The stock ended up trading between $780 and $790, just where these calendar spreads would do best.  We sold them for $11.52 and $11.80, well more than doubling our money on those spreads.  We lost a little money on the original diagonal spreads, closing out the puts for $15.92 and the calls for $3.90 (for a total of $19.82 compared to our cost of $21.53).

We lost $176 on the diagonal spreads and gained $1392 on the calendar spreads, making the total gain after commissions for the week a healthy $1216 on an investment of $3,098, or 39%.  We plan to make similar investments with Google options in July when the next earnings announcement is scheduled.

Next up was the eBay earnings announcement.  This occurred during the same week as the Google play, and we had spare cash we could put to use:

April 16, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

eBay is flirting with a new high and whisper numbers exceed estimates.  This level of expectation usually results in a flat or lower stock price after the announcement, and this spread should make gains if the stock rises moderately or falls by any amount:

BTO 10 EBAY May-13 60 calls (EBAY130518C60)
STO 10 EBAY Apr-13 57.5 calls (EBAY130420C57.5) for a credit of $.16  (buying a diagonal)

This spread required a maintenance requirement of $2500 (less the $160 received).

The stock did manage to fall, and by quite a bit, the Apr-13 57.5 calls expired worthless and we were only able to sell the May-13 60 calls for $.07 ($70) so we managed to make a small gain of $230 less $75 commissions on our eBay play (7%).

The portfolio value had soared to $7,187 in its first two weeks of trading.  We withdrew $2000 from the portfolio so that Terry’s Tips subscribers could follow PEA Picker trades for about $5000 (either through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim where they don’t have to place any trades themselves, or on their own if they preferred another broker).

Next up was Apple (trading at about $405):

April 22, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit orders

Expectations for Apple seem to be unusually low and when earnings are announced after the close tomorrow there is a good chance that it will trade higher:

BTO 5 AAPL May-13 410 calls (AAPL130518C410)
STO 5 AAPL Apr4-13 410 calls (AAPL130426C410) for a debit limit of $3.85  (buying a calendar)

BTO 5 AAPL May-13 420 calls (AAPL130518C410)
STO 5 AAPL Apr4-13 420 calls (AAPL130426C410) for a debit limit of $3.65  (buying a calendar) 

The stock did move higher and the next day we issued the following:

April 23, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

The stock has moved up $15 since we bought our spreads.  We should use our remaining cash to add on another calendar at a higher strike:

BTO 4 AAPL May-13 430 calls (AAPL130518C430)
STO 4 AAPL Apr4-13 430 calls (AAPL130426C430) for a debit limit of $3.16  (buying a calendar) 

The stock closed at $417.20 on Friday.  We sold the 430 spread for $3.14 (incurring a loss of $28 after commissions), the 420 spread for $6.86 and the 410 spread for $4.66, both at nice gains totaling $1960 after commissions.  Net gain for the trades was $1982 on an investment of $5049, or 39%. 

The portfolio value had climbed to $7062 and it was time to withdraw another $2000 from the portfolio to allow new Terry’s Tips subscribers to follow it for about the starting value of $5000.

Next up was Storage Technology (STX):

May 1, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

There are a lot of reasons to believe that Seagate (STX) will move higher after today’s announcement following the close.  The company has exceeded expectations every quarter for the last year and sells at a trailing p/e of only 6.4 in spite of consistent growth and a 4.2% dividend.  The company is aggressively buying back shares – in the last six months of 2012, it reduced the outstanding shares by 9.5% and has plans to continue buying back shares.  Whisper numbers are higher than analyst expectations ($1.31 vs. $1.19) but the shares are trading lower than they were three weeks ago which suggests that expectations are not unusually high.  These positions should make gains if the stock falls only a small amount or goes up by any reasonable amount:

BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37)
STO 4 STX May1-13 36.5 calls (STX130503C36.5) for a debit of $.44  (buying a diagonal)

BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for $1.66

BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37)
STO 4 STX May1-13 37 calls (STX130503C37) for a debit of $.68  (buying a calendar)
 
BTO 8 STX Jun-13 38 calls (STX130622C38)
STO 8 STX May1-13 38 calls (STX130503C38) for a debit of $.66  (buying a calendar)

BTO 8 STX Jun-13 34 puts (STX130622P34)
STO 8 STX May1-13 34 puts (STX130503P34) for a debit of $.78  (buying a calendar)

The next day the stock moved up over a dollar and we wanted to get a little longer so we placed these trades:

May 2, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit orders

This trade will pick up a little premium and make us neutral net delta:

BTC 4 STX May1-13 36.5 calls (STX130503C36.5)
STO 4 STX May1-13 39.5 calls (STX130503C39.5) for a debit limit of $2.45  (buying a vertical)

We will take these spreads off:

BTC 4 STX May1-13 37 calls (STX130503C37)
STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for a credit limit of $.50  (selling a calendar)

BTC 8 STX May1-13 34 puts (STX130503P34) for a limit of $.01 (no commission)

STC 8 STX Jun-13 34 puts (STX130622P34) for a limit of $.31

Note: thinkorswim does not charge a commission when you buy back short options for $.05 or less.

These were our closing transactions:

May 3, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit orders

We need to close these out today:

BTC 8 STX May1-13 38 calls (STX130503C38)
STC 8 STX Jun-13 38 calls (STX130622C38) for a credit limit of $.37  (selling a calendar)

BTC 4 STX May1-13 39.5 calls (STX130503C39.5)
STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for a credit limit of $2.68  (selling a diagonal)

STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for $4.45

The stock had shot up 11% after announcing earnings.  While we correctly guessed the direction of the change, we didn’t quite expect it would be that large.  We lost money on all the spreads we had placed, but the four extra uncovered Jun-13 37 calls rose enough to cover all the losses.  It was our worst week so far.  We gained only $161 which worked out to be 6.4% on our investment and 3.2% on the portfolio value.

Next up was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), a company I have followed since its founding since I live in Vermont and have played tennis regularly with the founder (now ex-chairman) of the company (no, he never gives me any tips, darn it).  I have made a great deal of money betting on the company this year (while it has risen nearly four-fold from its low).  I wrote a Seeking Alpha article outlining why I believed that the company would exceed estimates on earnings but the stock might be flat or fall a little after the announcement – How To Play The Green Mountain Coffee Roaster…

This is the trade I recommended in that article:

May 6, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio

As we indicated in the Saturday Report, we will make this trade:

BTO 12 GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls (GMCR130622C52.5)
STO 12 GMCR May2-13 57 calls (GMCR130510C57) for a debit of $3.78 (buying a diagonal) 

Two days later, my prognosis of the earnings was right on the money, but the company unexpectedly announced a new five-year deal with Starbucks which removed much of the uncertainty about the company.  The stock soared by 25%!

If this announcement had not been made I feel certain that our spread would have gained about 50%, but with such a huge gain in the stock, we had to settle for less:

May 9, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit order

The stock has gone up so far that we can expect to collect little more than the intrinsic value of this spread:

BTC 12 GMCR May2-13 57 calls (GMCR130510C57)
STC 12 GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls (GMCR130622C52.5) for a credit limit of $4.53  (selling a diagonal)

We “only” made 18.5% after commissions for the trades.  The wonderful thing about options is that you can be wrong and still make a gain much of the time, as we managed to do this time around.

The PEA Picker portfolio was now all in cash and was worth $6,065.  It was time to withdraw another $1000.  Subscribers who followed our trades or participated in Auto-Trade now had all $5000 they originally invested back, and the portfolio was still worth over $5000, It had only been 38 days since our first trade.

Next week we made two PEA Plays, one on Deere & Company and the other on Sina Corporation (SINA).  I wrote Seeking Alpha articles in advance of both plays -How To Play The Deere & Company Earnings Anno… and How To Play The Sina Corporation Earnings Ann…

May 14, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit orders

We will invest about half our cash in this play as described in the Saturday Report:

BTO 8 DE Jun-13 95 puts (DE130622P95)
STO 8 DE May-13 92.5 puts (DE130518P92.5) for a debit limit of $2.35  (buying a diagonal)

BTO 4 DE Jun-13 90 puts (DE130622P90)
STO 4 DE May-13 90 puts (DE130518P90) for a debit limit of $.93  (buying a calendar)

We thought expectations were running high (whisper numbers well above analyst expectations and the stock had traded higher going into the announcement) so we were betting on a flat or down market after the announcement.  In addition, for the prior four quarters, Deere had traded lower (by about 4%) after earnings, even though they exceeded estimates most of the time.

We were not disappointed.  Even though the company announced earnings that were above estimates, their guidance was tepid.  The stock fell about $4 after the announcement.  We took off our diagonal spread the same day:

May 15, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – LIMIT ORDER

We will take off this spread if can get this price:

BTC 8 DE May-13 92.5 puts (DE130518P92.5)
STC 8 DE Jun-13 95 puts (DE130622P95) for a credit limit of $2.72  (selling a diagonal)

We closed out the calendar spread on Friday, selling it for $1.42.  Our gain on the trades was $176 for each spread after commissions, or $352 total on an investment of $2282, or 15%.

In the same week we made a second PEA Play, this one on Sina:
 
May 14, 2013  Trade Alert  #2 -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit orders

We will invest about half our cash in this play:

BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 55 puts (SINA130622P55)
STO 7 SINA May-13 55 puts (SINA130518P55) for a debit limit of $1.17  (buying a calendar)

BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 57.5 puts (SINA130622P57.5)
STO 7 SINA May-13 57.5 puts (SINA130518P57.5) for a debit limit of $1.28  (buying a calendar)

BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 60 calls (SINA130622C60)
STO 7 SINA May-13 60 calls (SINA130518C60) for a debit limit of $1.30  (buying a calendar)

On the day before earnings were announced, we added another spread:

May 16, 2013  Trade Alert -  PEA Picker  Portfolio – limit order

If Sina stock rallies more than 5% we will lose money on our spreads.  This trade will expand our upside protection a little and still give us coverage for almost a 10% drop on the downside:

BTO 4 SINA Jun-13 57.5 puts (SINA130622P57.5)
STO 4 SINA May-13 60 puts (SINA130518P60) for a debit of $.10  (buying a diagonal)

We had expected Sina to fall after the earnings announcement because expectations were so high, but we left ourselves with a little room for the stock to move higher in case we were wrong.  The extra trade ended up being a good one because the stock opened up almost $2 higher but then fell back over a dollar mid-day.  We sold the 4 diagonal put spread for $.93, making $352 after commissions.  The 55 put calendar spread was sold for a loss ($.70), the 57.5 put calendar spread for a small gain ($1.35), and the 60 call calendar was sold for a nice gain ($2.05).  After commissions, the Sina options were closed out for a $525 gain, or 19% on our $2727 investment (we had a $1250 maintenance requirement for one day because of the put diagonal, but since we had closed out the Deere positions we had plenty of spare cash in the account).

So there we are.  Eight consecutive profitable option spreads on earnings announcements.  The original $5000 investment had been entirely withdrawn in cash and the account was worth $5862 and sitting in cash awaiting the next week’s trades.

Here are the net results:
JPM  38%
GOOG  39%
EBAY   7%
AAPL  39%
STX   6%
GMCR 18%
DE  15%
SINA  19%

The average gain for the eight successful plays was 22.6%.  Most of the time we only put about half our money at risk so the portfolio increased in value by less than 8 x 22.6%.

What We Have Learned:   We have identified the following characteristics of earnings-announcement-related price action based on our experience over the past several months:

1. It is possible to construct a combination of option spreads which creates a profit if the stock moves less than 10% in one direction or 5% in the other.  Most of the time, the level of pre-announcement expectation determines the direction you want to establish the 10% coverage.

2. It is possible to create unlimited coverage in one direction or the other with diagonal spreads but the potential gains are diminished.

3. Big (over 10%) price moves are almost always in the opposite direction of these last 10% earnings-related move.

4. Downside 10% moves are about twice as likely as upside 10% moves.

5. Big downside price moves are much more likely when expectations are high (some small part of the announcement often disappoints).  High expectations can be measured by a strong upward move in the stock price in the month or two prior to the announcement, a high RSI, and whisper numbers exceeding analyst expectations – all three numbers should be checked prior to making PEA Play).  Low expectations (and a possible 10%+ upward post-earnings move) have the opposite numbers.

6. When risk profile graphs are created prior to making a PEA Play, it is important to change the Implied Volatility (IV) of the long options to account for the expected implosion of all option prices after the announcement has been made.  Check back to see what IV of the one-month options fell to after the last earnings announcement as a guide. If the month of the long options is greater than three months more than the short-term options which are being sold (usually Weeklys), IV will not fall as much as shorter-term long options (because a second earnings-announcement day will occur before they expire).

7. It is usually possible to create a risk profile graph which shows a break-even range which extends about 10% in one direction (usually on the downside) and 5% in the other (usually the upside) by selecting the strike prices of the calendar spreads.

8. When selecting the best month for the long side of the calendar spreads, check out the bid-ask ranges of the options to learn if decent executions are likely.  The further out you go, the more conservative your positions will be (more of the option’s value is due to its long life than its IV) but the greater the bid-ask range might be.

9. Restrict PEA Play companies to those which have Weekly options available.  These are the most actively-traded option markets and decent executions are generally available (which is often not the case with companies which trade only monthly options).  Selling Weeklys also means that you can exit the positions in just a few days rather than waiting until the month expires before the short-term options fall to their intrinsic value.

10. In about a third of the weeks, there will not be a viable PEA Play available, especially if Weekly options are to be sold.  Earnings announcements tend to lump together in a distinct season starting about the middle of January and extending for about six weeks (and then moving 90 days forward to the next quarterly reports).

11. While losses are possible with PEA Plays, the entire amount of the investment can never be lost because there will always be more value to the long side of the calendar spreads than the short value because of the additional time value to those options.

12. More conservative (with lower potential gains) PEA Plays can be made by choosing a wider range of strike prices for the calendar spreads.

13. We checked to see if hedge funds had recently bought (or sold) shares in the company, and concluded that such information was valuable in deciding whether to bet on a higher (or lower) stock price.  While hedge funds aren’t always right, they surely do intensive due diligence before investing or divesting, and they have far more resources to do this that any individual has.

14. A statistic that will need more study is the short interest ratio.  When an unusually high percentage of shares have been sold short, a short squeeze is possible that could result in a large upward move after the announcement, but except for the GMCR case (huge short interest, huge gain after the announcement), the short interest level did not seem to be a significant factor. 

.  Will we be able to continue making profitable PEA Plays every week for the next six weeks?  Probably not.  But it’s possible.  We plan to invest only about half our portfolio value in any given earnings play (and sometimes two in a week) so that if there is a 10% move in the opposite direction we expect, we won’t be left with no money to work with.  (If we feel really strongly about a trade, like we did in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, we will invest more than half the portfolio value.)

So far, playing the earnings announcements has been fun, and profitable.  After reading this, I hope you decide that it would be a lot easier to become a Terry’s Tips Insider, sign up for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim, and let us make all the investment decisions.  You could also follow our Trade Alerts and place the trades at another broker if you prefer.

You can become a Terry’s Tips Insider, and receive all our educational reports and materials absolutely free by opening a new account (even if you already have another account) at the best options broker around – thinkorswim. You must use this link to sign up – open thinkorswim account– and once you have funded your account with at least $3500, email Seth@TerrysTips.com and let him know that you have done it, and this is what he will do – sign you for our Premium Service package ($119.95 value plus an extra 4 months of our Premium Service, valued at another $190.80).  You get $300.65 worth of services without paying us one penny, and your service will extend for five full months after which you can decide on whether to continue or not.

I look forward to prospering with you.

Terry
Terry@TerrysTips.com

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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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