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Posts Tagged ‘USO’

Update on Oil Trade (USO) Suggestion

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

On Monday, I reported on an oil options trade I had made in advance of OPEC’s meeting on Wednesday when they were hoping to reach an agreement to restrict production.  The meeting took place and an agreement was apparently reached.  The price of oil shot higher by as much as 8% and this trade ended up losing money.  This is an update of what I expect to do going forward.


Update on Oil Trade (USO) Suggestion

Several subscribers have written in and asked what my plans might be with the oil spreads (USO) I made on Monday this week.  When OPEC announced a deal to limit production, USO soared over a dollar and made the spreads at least temporarily unprofitable (the risk profile graph showed that a loss would result if USO moved higher than $11.10, and it is $11.40 before the open today).  I believe these trades will ultimately prove to be most profitable, however.

First, let’s look at the option prices situation.  There continues to be a huge implied volatility (IV) advantage between the two option series.  The long 19Jan18 options (IV=36) are considerably cheaper than the short 02Dec16 and 09Dec16 options (IV=50).  The long options have a time premium of about $1.20 which means they will decay at an average of $.02 per week over their 60-week life.  On the other hand, you can sell an at-the-money (11.5 strike) put or call with one week of remaining life for a time premium of over $.20, or ten times as much.  If you sell both a put and a call, you collect over $.40 time premium for the week and one of those sales will expire worthless (you can’t lose money on both of them).


At some point, the stock will remain essentially flat for a week, and these positions would return a 20%+ “dividend” for the week.  If these option prices hold as they are now, this could happen several times over the next 60 weeks.


I intend to roll over my short options in the 02Dec16 series that expires today and sell puts and calls at the 11.5 and 11 strikes for the 09Dec16 series.  I will sell one-quarter of my put positions at the 10.5 strike, going out to the 16Dec16 series instead.  I have also rolled up (bought a vertical spread) with the 19Jan18 puts, buying at the 12 strike and selling the original puts at the 10 strike.  This will allow me to sell new short-term puts at prices below $12 without incurring a maintenance requirement.


Second, let’s look at the oil situation.  The OPEC companies supposedly agreed to restrict production by a total of 1.2 million barrels a day.  That is less than a third of the new oil that Iran has recently added to the supply when restrictions were relaxed on the country.  The third largest oil producer (the U.S.) hasn’t participated in the agreement, and has recently added new wells as well as announcing two major oil discoveries.  Russia, the second largest producer, is using its recent highest-ever production level as the base for its share of the lowered output.  In other words, it is an essentially meaningless offer.


Bottom line, I do not expect the price of oil will move higher because of this OPEC action.  It is highly likely that these companies may not follow through on their promises as well (after all, many of them have hated each other for centuries, and there are no penalties for not complying).   Oil demand in the U.S. has fallen over the past 5 years as more electric cars and hybrids have come on the market, and supply has continued to grow as fracking finds oil in formerly unproductive places.  I suspect that USO will fluctuate between $10 and $11 for much of the next few months, and that selling new weekly puts and calls against our 19Jan18 options will prove to be a profitable trading strategy.  You can do this yourself or participate in the Boomer’s Revenge portfolio which Terry’s Tips subscribers can follow through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim which is essentially doing the same thing.

Happy trading.


Benefiting From the Current Uncertainty of Oil Supply

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

The price of oil is fluctuating all over the place because of the uncertainty of OPEC’s current effort to get a widespread agreement to restrict supply. This has resulted in unusually high short-term option prices for USO (the stock that mirrors the price of oil). I would like to share with you an options spread I made in my personal account today which I believe has an extremely high likelihood of success.


Benefiting From the Current Uncertainty of Oil Supply

I personally believe that the long-run price of oil is destined to be lower. The world is just making too much of it and electric cars are soon to be here (Tesla is gearing up to make 500,000 next year and nearly a million in two years). But in the short run, anything can happen.

Meanwhile, OPEC is trying to coax producers to limit supply in an effort to boost oil prices. Every time they boast of a little success, the price of oil bounces higher until more evidence comes out that not every country is on board. Iran and Yemen won’t even show up to the meeting. Many oil-producing companies have hated one another for centuries, and the idea of cooperating with each other seems a little preposterous to me.

The good old U.S.A. is one of the major producers of oil these days, and it is not one of the participants in OPEC’s discussion of limiting supply. Two significant new domestic oil discoveries have been announced in the last couple of months, and the total number of operating rigs has moved steadily higher in spite of the currently low oil prices.

Bottom line, option prices on USO are higher than we have seen them in quite a while, especially the shortest-term options. Implied volatility (IV) of the long-term options I would like to buy is only 36 compared to 64 for the shortest-term weekly options I will be selling to someone else.

Given my inclination to expect lower rather than higher prices in the future, I am buying both puts and calls which expire a little over a year from now and selling puts and calls which expire on Friday. Here are the trades I made today when USO was trading at $10.47:

Buy To Open 20 USO 19Jan18 10 puts (USO180119P10)
Sell To Open 20 USO 02Dec16 10 puts (USO161202P10) for a debit of $1.20 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 20 USO 19Jan18 10 calls (USO180119C10)
Sell To Open 20 USO 02Dec16 10.5 calls (USO161202C10.5) for a debit of $1.58 (buying a diagonal)

Of course, you can buy just one of each of these spreads if you wish, but I decided to pick up 20 of them. For the puts, I paid $1.43 ($143) for an option that has 60 weeks of remaining life. That means it will decay in value by an average of $2.38 every week of its life. On the other hand, I collected $.23 ($23) from selling the 02Dec16 out-of-the-money 10 put, or almost 10 times what the long-term put will fall by. If I could sell that put 60 times, I would collect $1380 of over the next 60 weeks, more than 10 times what I paid for the original spread.

Here is the risk profile graph which shows what my spreads should be worth when the short options expire on Friday:

USO Risk Profile Graph December 2016

USO Risk Profile Graph December 2016

My total investment in these spreads was about $5600 after commissions, and I could conceivably make a double-digit return in my very first week. If these short-term option prices hold up for a few more weeks, I might be able to duplicate these possible returns many more times before the market settles down.

As usual, I must add the caveat that you should not invest any money in options that you cannot truly afford to lose. Options are leveraged investments and can lose money, just as most investments. I like my chances with the above investment, however, and look forward to selling new calls and puts each week for a little over a year against my long options which have over a year of remaining life.

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Sunday, January 17th, 2016


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

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

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


Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

This week I would like to share an option spread idea which will cost you only $20 to try (plus commission).  Of course, it you like the idea, you could buy a hundred or more of them like I did, or you could just get your options toe wet at a cost of a decent lunch (skip lunch and take a walk instead – it could improve both your physical and financial health).

The bet requires you to take a stab at what the price of oil might do in the next few weeks.  Your odds of winning are surely better than placing a bet on a fantasy baseball team, and it could be as much fun.  Read on.


$20 Spread Investment Idea – a Bet on Oil

I continue to investigate investment opportunities in USO, both because there is a large Implied Volatility (IV) advantage to calendar spreads (i.e., longer-term options that you buy are “cheaper” than the shorter-term options that you are selling) and because of the ongoing discussion about which way oil prices are headed (with several investment banks (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Citi) telling their clients that oil is headed far lower), and on the other side, other analysts are saying oil is headed higher and hedge funds are covering their shorts.  The Iran nuclear deal, if successful and sanctions are lifted, could lower oil prices by $15 according to industry experts, and every rumor concerning how negotiations are going moves USO in one direction or the other.

Right now, the price of oil is about $59 a barrel (and West Texas Crude is about $5 less).  The price of USO moves roughly in tandem with this price, changing about $1 for every $2 in the change in the barrel price of oil.

We should know something about the Iran deal by the end of June, but its impact on oil prices is likely to occur later (it seems like sanctions will be gradually reduced over time).  The current price of USO has been edging higher in spite of unprecedented supplies, and the possibility of Iran flooding the market even more.   My best guess is that USO might be trading around $20 in June compared to its current $18.80.

That is just my guess.  You may have an entirely different idea of where the price of oil might be headed.  When trading calendar spreads, you want to select a strike price where you believe the stock will be trading when the short options expire.  If you are lucky to be near that strike, those options you sold to someone else will expire worthless (or nearly so) and there will be more time premium in the long options you hold that exists for any other option in that time series.

Yesterday, I bought USO Jul-15 – Jun-15 20 calendar spreads (using calls) and paid only $.20 ($20) per spread. If I am lucky enough for USO to be right at $20 when the June options expire, the July calls should be trading about $.80 and I would make about 3 ½ times on my money after commissions.  If I missed by a dollar (i.e., USO is at $19 or $21), I should double my money.  If I missed by $2 in either direction, I would about break even. More than $2 away from $20, I will probably lose money, but my initial cost was only $20, so how bad can it be?

It seems like a low-cost play that might be fun.  I also bought these same spreads at the 19 strike (paying $.21) to hedge my bet a bit.  If I triple my money on either of the bets, I will be an overall winner.  You may want to bet on lower oil prices in June and buy spreads at a lower strike.

Another way to play this would be to exit early as long as a profit can be assured.  If at any time after a month from now, if USO is trading about where it is now, the calendar spread could be sold for about $.30 or more (a Jun-15 – May-20 calendar could be sold for a natural $.32 today).  If USO were trading nearer to $20, that spread could be sold for $.37 (which would result in a 40% profit after commissions on the spread that I am suggesting).

With a spread costing as little as this, commissions become important.  Terry’s Tips paying subscribers pay $1.25 per option at thinkorswim, even if only one option is bought or sold.  A calendar spread (one long option, one short one) results in a $2.50 per spread commission charge.  This means that you will incur a total commission of $5 on a spread cost of $20 counting both putting it on and closing it out (unless the short options expire worthless and you don’t have to buy them back – if this happens, your total commission cost would be $3.75 per spread).

An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Bernie Madoff attracted billions of dollars because he said he had a system that would generate gains of 12% a year.  For many investors, 12% must seem like a pretty good return.  Options investors think differently.  They prefer to have at least some of their investment capital in something that could conceivably make a far greater return.Today I would like to discuss an investment I made this week in a demonstration (actual money on the line) portfolio for Terry’s Tips Insiders.  It is designed to make about 25% in the next four weeks.


An Oil Play Designed to Make 25% in One Month

One of our favorite underlyings these days is USO, an ETP (Exchange Traded Product) which closely tracks the price of oil.  If you have filled your car with gas lately, you know that the price of oil must have been trading lower over the recent past.  In fact, it has.  A barrel of oil has fallen from about $100 to $50, while USO has dropped from about $40 to about $18.

There are a couple of reasons to believe that the downward trend of USO might continue for a while longer.  First, the way this ETP is designed, it suffers from contango (futures prices for further-out months are higher than the spot price of oil).  At the current level of contango, if the price of oil remains the same, USO should lose about 21% of its value over the course of a year due to the influence of contango.

Second, some large investment banks (e.g., Citi) have come out and said that the price of oil is likely to fall in half once again before the current glut is eliminated and oil might start recovering in the third quarter.

With these two reasons suggesting that oil (and USO) might be headed lower, at least  for the next month or so, we looked back at every calendar monthly change in USO for the recent past, and we learned that in the last 25 months, on only two occasions did USO fall by more than 15% in a single month, and only once did it rise by more than 5.6%.

If this historical pattern continues for the next month, the portfolio we set up has an 88% chance of making a gain, and the average gain over most of the possible stock prices is over 25%.

Here are the calendar spreads we placed in a portfolio that could be set up for no more than $2900 at today’s prices with USO trading about $18.45:

Buy to Open 8 USO Jan-16 16 puts (USO160115P16)
Sell to Open 8 USO Mar4-15 16 puts (USO150327P16) for a debit of $1.26  (buying a calendar)

Buy to Open 8 USO Jan-16 17 puts (USO160115P17)
Sell to Open 8 USO Mar4-15 17 puts (USO150327P17) for a debit of $1.42  (buying a calendar)

Buy to Open 4 USO Jan-16 18 puts (USO160115P18)
Sell to Open 4 USO Mar4-15 18 puts (USO150327P18) for a debit of $1.58  (buying a calendar)

Here is the risk profile graph for these spreads for March 27th when the short puts expire:

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph March 2015

The vertical red lines on the graph are set at -15% on the downside and +5% on the upside, and roughly indicate the break-even range for the positions.  Over the past 25 months, USO has fluctuated inside this range in 22 of the 25 months.  You can eyeball the potential gain and see that across a very large portion of the possible prices within this range, the indicated gain is close to $1000, or about 33% on your investment.

We like our chances with these positions.  It seems like a much higher chance of making double what Mr. Madoff was promising, and in only one month rather than a full year.  Option investors think differently than stock buyers.  I will report back on how well we do.

An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Yesterday I sent you a note describing an interesting way to make some serious money with options, betting that the price of oil will either stabilize or move higher from today’s low levels.  Thanks to subscriber Thomas, there is a better underlying out there.  Just in case you were planning to place the trades, I thought you should check this one out first.


An Even Better Way to Play Oil With Options

This is a re-write of yesterday’s letter, except the underlying is USO (another ETF) rather than OIH.  The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

The chart for USO is remarkably similar to that of OIH:

USO Historical Chart 2015

USO Historical Chart 2015

There is a distinct advantage to USO, however.  The options are far more liquid and bid-ask spreads are much smaller for USO.  In other words, you can get much better prices when you place orders or roll over your short positions to the next month.

USO closed at $19.60 Friday.  Here are the trades I plan to make today:

Buy 3 USO Jan-16 19 calls (USO160115C19)
Sell 3 USO Mar-15 19.5 calls (USO150320C19.5) for $1.45 (buying a diagonal)

Buy 1 USO Jan-16 19 call (USO160115C19) for $3.35
The spread order is priced at $.02 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask price for the spread, and the single call order is placed at $.05 higher than the mid price between the bid and ask.  You should be able to get those prices.

If you got those prices, your total investment would be $435 plus $335 plus $5 commission (Terry’s Tips commission rate at thinkorswim) for a total of $775.

This is the risk profile graph for these positions when the March calls expire on March 20:

USO Risk Profioe Graph 2015

USO Risk Profile Graph 2015

The graph shows that if the price of USO ends up in a range of being flat or moving higher by $3, the portfolio should gain at least $200, or about 25% for the six weeks of waiting.  The nice thing about owning options is that you can make this 25% even if the ETF doesn’t go up by a penny (in fact, if it actually is flat, your gain should be $327, or over 40%).  If you just bought USO instead of using options, you wouldn’t make anything if the ETF didn’t move higher.

Even better, if USO falls by a dollar, you still make a profit with the options positions.  If you owned the ETF instead, you would lose money, of course.

Owning an extra uncovered long Jan-16 19 call gives you upside protection in case USO moves dramatically higher.  It also leaves room to sell another short-term call if USO drifts lower instead of remaining flat or moving higher. Such a sale would serve to reduce or eliminate a loss if the ETF moves lower.

When the March calls expire, you would buy them back if they are in the money (i.e., the ETF is above $19.50) and you would sell Apr-15 calls at a strike slightly above the current ETF price.  You should be able to collect a time premium of about $100 for each call you sell.

There will be 10 opportunities to sell one-month-out calls for $100 before the Jan-16 calls expire. It is conceivable that you could collect $300 every month and get all your mney back in 3 months, and further  sales would be clear profit.  As long as the Jan-16 calls are in the money when they are about to expire, you would collect additional money from those sales as well.

This strategy involves making trades around the third Friday of each month when the short-term short options are about to expire.  That could be a pain in the neck, but to my way of thinking, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of doubling my money over the course of a year.  There is a variety of other option strategies you might employ, but this one makes good sense to me.


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