from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

Skip navigation

Member Login  |  Contact Us  |  Sign Up

1-800-803-4595

Posts Tagged ‘VIX’

An Option Trade for Anyone Who Likes Facebook (FB)

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

The market seems to be crashing because of a fear of a worldwide economic slowdown, and last week a disappointing guidance from LinkedIn (LNKD) spooked many social media stocks like Facebook (FB). I think that FB was sold down far more than it should have and that it will recover soon. Today I made a trade which will make 66% on my investment (after commissions) in 25 days even if FB doesn’t gain a penny from here. I would like to share the details of this option trade with you today.

Terry

An Option Trade for Anyone Who Likes Facebook (FB)

Less than two weeks ago, Facebook had a blow-out quarter that exceeded estimates by a large margin, both on the top and bottom lines. Ad revenue from Instagram topped expectations all around, and the future looks even better, especially in this election year when candidates are finding that social media is one of the best ways to reach voters in local elections (Ted Cruz reportedly spend $10k a day on Instagram in Iowa and won the election).

After the announcement, FB soared 15% and hit a high north of $117 a couple of days later. And then LNKD announced, and the entire gain disappeared. As I write this on Monday, the stock is back down to $98.

For Q4 2015, LinkedIn actually had a decent quarter. Revenues grew by 34% over the prior-year period and beat analyst estimates by more than $4.3 million. On the bottom line, non-GAAP EPS of $0.94 smashed estimates for $0.78. Unfortunately, investors like to be more forward looking, and guidance was down – the company expects 2016 revenue of $3.6B-3.65B and EPS of $3.05-3.20, below a consensus of $3.91B and $3.67.

This guidance implies 2016 revenue growth of just 20-22%, a dramatic slowdown from the 35% seen in 2015. One analyst reported, “The problem for LNKD is that the name is heavily compared to the social media giant Facebook (FB). Fair or not, the most recent results show a large divide between the success of these firms. In another strong quarter, FB reported a GAAP profit of $2.56 billion on nearly $6 billion in revenues. For the entire year in 2015, LinkedIn didn’t even hit $3 billion in revenues and lost more than $164 million.”

FB has clearly found a way to monetize its traffic while LNKD has not, and FB was
unfairly penalized pretty much because of tepid guidance provided by a not-so-popular alternative social media company.

So what do you do if you’re an options nut and you think FB shouldn’t be trading this low? My favorite strategy is to sell what is called a vertical put credit spread. You choose a strike price which is at a number where you think the minimum price will be at some time in the future and you sell a put option at that strike while you buy a lower-strike put option in the same series. The higher-strike put option sells for more than you pay for the lower-strike put, and cash is deposited in your account when you make the trade. If you are right, both puts expire worthless and you get to keep the money that you collected when you originally placed the trade.

Here is what I did today while FB was trading just about $98:

Buy to Open 1 FB Mar-16 95 put (FB160318P95)
Sell to Open 1 FB Mar-16 97.5 put (FB160318P97.5) for $1.02 (selling a vertical)

For each contract I sold, $102 was placed in my account (less $2.50 for the commission at the cost Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), for a net of $99.50. The broker will place a maintenance requirement on my account of $250 for each contract. This is not a margin loan and no interest is charged, but I can’t use that amount to buy other options or stock. Since I received $99.50 from the sale, the most I could actually lose is $150.50, and that is all that is tied up from the $250 maintenance requirement.

If FB closes at any price above $97.50 on March 18, both puts will expire worthless and I will get to keep the $99.50 I received for each contract. There will be no trade necessary and no commission to pay. That works out to a gain of 66% for the month.

If the stock falls from $98 to $97 on that date, I would have to buy back the 97.5 put for $50, so my gain would be just less than $50. The break-even price would be about $96.50 below which I would lose money up to the $150.50 maximum. In order to lose the maximum amount, FB would have to close at or below $95.

You might choose a further-out date, say April, July, or September instead of March for this trade to give the stock a little more time to move higher. You could probably get more than $1.02 for those months, but you would have to wait that much longer to be able to collect your money.

Another way to play this spread would be to select higher strike prices and hope that FB doesn’t just stay flat but moves higher. If you bought puts at the 97.5 strike and sold puts at the 100 strike, you could collect about $1.20 for the spread. If the stock ended up above $100, you would make a little less than $120 per spread on a risk of $130, or about 90%. This is a much more bullish bet because the stock has to move higher for you to collect the maximum gain. I personally think it should move this high, but I feel more comfortable betting that it at least doesn’t fall any more from here.

 

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

 

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

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

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

Terry

Making a Long-Term Options Bet on Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Option Play Designed to Make 68% in One Month

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Last week, VIX, the so-called “fear index” rose 65% to close at 24.39. It was the 10th time that it moved over 20 in the last 3 years. In 9 of those 10 occasions, VIX fell back below 20 in less than 10 days, and in the other instance (August 21, 2015), it took 40 days to fall back below 20. Today I would like to tell you about a trade I am making today that will make 68% in one month if that pattern continues this time around.

Terry

An Option Play Designed to Make 68% in One Month

Last week was a bad one for the market. The S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY) fell $7.74 to close at $201.88, down 3.7% for the week. SPY closed out 2014 at $205.54 and started out 2015 at $206.38, so if last week’s close holds up for two more weeks, the market will record a calendar year loss for the first time since 2008.

Apparently, the reason for the big drop centered around the Fed’s likely move to raise interest rates on Wednesday, the first time it has done so in a decade. I believe that the institutions (who control over 90% of the trading volume) were carrying out a last-ditch effort to discourage this move. After all, does the Fed want to be the bad guys who are responsible for the worst yearly market in 7 years? Would raising rates be a good idea at a time when the market is lower than it was a year ago? (We should remember that the Fed is composed of big banks who make greater profits when interest rates are higher, so raising rates may seem to be self-serving).

I have no idea if the Fed will raise rates in two days as Janet Yellen has indicated they plan to. If they do, I suspect it will be a small start, maybe 0.25%, and they will also report that they intend to be slow to make further increases. In either case, no rate increase or a small one, the big change will be that the uncertainty over the timing of the increase will cease to exist. Either choice should result in a higher market and more importantly for option traders, a lower VIX.

As I have written about extensively, an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) called SVXY varies inversely with VIX. When VIX moves higher, SVXY crashes, and vice versa. Last week, SVXY fell $14.27, from $59.41 to $45.14, (24%) when VIX rose 65%.

When VIX falls back below 20, as it has done every single time it rose over 20 for the past 3 years, SVXY will be trading higher than it is today. Here is the trade that will make 68% if SVXY is trading any higher than it closed on Friday in 32 days (on January 15, 2016).

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 40 put (SVXY160115P40)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 45 put (SVXY160115P45) for a credit of $2.05 (selling a vertical)

This trade will put $205 in your account (less $2.50 commissions at the rate Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim), or $202.50. The broker will place a maintenance requirement on your account of $500, but your maximum amount at risk is $500 less the $202.50 you collected, or $297.50) – this loss would occur if SVXY closed at any price below $40 at the January expiration. The break-even price for you would be $43.00 – any price above this would be profitable and any price below it would incur a loss. There is no interest charge on the maintenance requirement, but that much in your account will be set aside so that you can’t buy other stocks or options with it.

At the close of trading on January 15, 2016, if SVXY is at any price above $45, both these puts options will expire worthless and you will keep the $202.50 you collected when you made the trade. This works out to be a 68% gain on your investment at risk. You will not have to make a trade at that time, but just wait until the end of the day to see the maintenance requirement disappear.

Of course, there are other ways you could make a similar bet that SVXY will head higher as soon as some of the market uncertainty dissipates. You could sell the same spread at any weekly option series for the next 5 weeks and receive approximately the same credit price. For shorter time periods, you don’t have to wait so long to pocket your profit, but there is less time for uncertainty to settle down and SVXY move higher.

Actually, VIX does not have to fall for SVXY to at least remain flat. It should trade at least at $45 as long as VIX does not rise appreciably between now and when the options expire.

A more aggressive trade would be to bet that SVXY rises to at least $50 in 33 days. In this trade, you would buy Jan-16 45 puts and sell Jan-16 50 puts. You should collect at least $2.80 ($277.50 after commissions) and make 124% on your maximum risk of $222.50 if SVXY closed at any price above $50 on January 15, 2016.

The last time that VIX closed above 20 was on November 13, 2016. On that day, SVXY closed at $50.96. On the very next day, VIX fell below 20 and SVXY rose to $56.16. It never traded below the $50.96 number until last Friday when VIX once again moved above 20.

I think this is an opportune time to make a profitable trade which is essentially a bet that the current market uncertainty will be temporary, and might be over as soon as Wednesday when the Fed makes its decision concerning interest rates. Of course, a serious terrorist action or other calamity might spook markets as well, and the uncertainty will continue.

No option trades are sure bets, even if the last 10 times a certain indicator flashed and a 68% profit could have been made every time. As with all investments, you should never risk any money that you truly can’t afford to lose. However, I feel pretty good about the two investments outlined above, and will be making them today, shortly after you receive this letter.

 

How to Make Extraordinary Returns with Semi-Long Option Plays

Friday, November 27th, 2015

One of my favorite stock option plays is to make a bet that sometime in the future, a particular stock will be no lower than it is today. If you are right, you can make 50% – 100% without doing anything other than making a single option trade and waiting out the time period. Ten weeks ago, I made two specific recommendations (see my September 8, 2015 blog) for making this kind of bet, one which would make 62% in 4 months and the other 100% in that same time period. Today I would like to update those suggestions and discuss a little about how you set up the option trade if you know of a company you feel good about.

If you missed them, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads, and How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

Terry

How to Make Extraordinary Returns with Semi-Long Option Plays

What is a long-term bet in the options world? A month? A week? I spend most of my time selling options that have only a week of remaining life. Sometimes they only have a day of life before they expire (hopefully worthless). So I don’t deal with long-term options, at least most of the time.

Most options plays are short-term plays. People who trade options tend to have short-term time horizons. Maybe they have ADHD and can’t handle long waits to learn whether they made a gain or not. But there are all sorts of different ways you can structure options plays. While most of my activity involves extremely short-term bets, I also have quite a bit of money devoted to longer-term bets which take 4 months to a year before the pay-day comes along.

One of my favorite semi-long (if there is such a word) option plays involves picking a stock which I particularly like for the long run, or one which has been beaten down for some reason which doesn’t seem quite right. When I find such a stock, I place a bet that sometime in the future, it will be at least as high as it is now. If I am right, I can usually make 50% – 100% on the bet, and I know in advance exactly what the maximum possible gain or loss will be, right to the penny.

Ten weeks ago, I liked where the price of SVXY was. This ETP is inversely correlated with option volatility. When volatility moves higher, SVXY falls, and vice versa. At the time, fears of a world-wide slowdown were emerging. Markets fell and volatility soared. VIX, the so-called “fear index” rose from the 12 – 14 range it had maintained for a couple of years to over 20. SVXY tanked to $45, and had edged up to $47 when I recommended placing a bet that in 4 months (on January 15, 2016), SVXY would be $40 or higher.

This trade would make the maximum gain even if SVXY fell by $7 and remained above $40 on that date:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 35 put (SVXY160115P35)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 40 put (SVXY160115P40) for a credit of $1.95 (selling a vertical)

Quoting from my September 8th blog, “When this trade was executed, $192.50 (after a $2.50 commission) went into my account. If on January 15, 2016, SVXY is at any price higher than $40, both of these puts will expire worthless, and for every vertical spread I sold, I won’t have to make a closing trade, and I will make a profit of exactly $192.50.

So how much do I have to put up to place this trade? The broker looks at these positions and calculates that the maximum loss that could occur on them would be $500 ($100 for every dollar of stock price below $40). For that to happen, SVXY would have to close below $35 on January 15th. Since I am quite certain that it is headed higher, not lower, a drop of this magnitude seems highly unlikely to me.

The broker will place a $500 maintenance requirement on my account. This is not a loan where interest is charged, but merely cash I can’t use to buy shares of stock. However, since I have collected $192.50, I can’t lose the entire $500. My maximum loss is the difference between the maintenance requirement and what I collected, or $307.50.

If SVXY closes at any price above $40 on January 15, both puts will expire worthless and the maintenance requirement disappears. I don’t have to do anything except think of how I will spend my profit of $192.50. I will have made 62% on my investment. Where else can you make this kind of return for as little risk as this trade entails?

Of course, as with all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose. But I believe the likelihood of losing on this investment is extremely low. The stock is destined to move higher, not lower, as soon as the current turbulent market settles down.

If you wanted to take a little more risk, you might buy the 45 put and sell a 50 put in the Jan-15 series. You would be betting that the stock manages to move a little higher over the next 4 months. You could collect about $260 per spread and your risk would be $240. If SVXY closed any higher than $50 (which history says that it should), your profit would be greater than 100%. I have also placed this spread trade in my personal account (and my charitable trust account as well).”

It is now 10 weeks later. SVXY is trading at $58 ½. I could buy back the first spread for $.45 ($47.50 after commissions). That would give me a $145 profit on my maximum risk of $307.50. That works out to a 47% gain for 10 weeks. That was easy money for me.

The other spread I suggested, raising the strikes of both the long and short sides by $10, could have been sold for $260. You could buy back the spread for $102.50 including commissions, giving you a profit of $157.50 on a maximum risk of $240, or 65%. Or you could just wait it out and enjoy the full 108% gain if SVXY closes no lower than $50 on the third Friday in January. I am hanging on to both my original bets and not selling now unless something better comes along.

In some Terry’s Tips, we make similar investments like this each January, betting that one year later, stocks we like will be at least where they were at the time. The portfolio we set up this year made those kinds of bets on GOOG, AAPL, and SPY. It will make 92% on the maximum amount at risk in 6 weeks if these three stocks are where they are today or any higher when the January 2016 puts expire. In fact, GOOG could fall by $155 and we would still make over 100% on that spread we had sold in January 2015. We could close out all three spreads today and make a gain of 68% on our maximum risk.

These are just some examples of how you can make longer-term bets on your favorite stocks with options, and making extraordinary gains even if the stock doesn’t do much of anything.

 

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

Monday, September 14th, 2015

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

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

Happy trading.

Terry

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

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

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

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

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Market volatility continues to be high, and the one thing we know from history is that while volatility spikes are quite common, markets eventually settle down.  After enduring a certain amount of psychic pain, investors remember that that the world will probably continue to move along pretty much as it has in the past, and market fears will subside.While this temporary period of high volatility continues to exist, there are some trades to be made that promise extremely high returns in the next few months.  I would like to discuss one today, a trade I just executed in my own personal account so I know it is possible to place.

Terry

A Low-Risk Trade to Make 62% in 4 Months

As we have been discussing for several weeks, VIX, the so-called Fear Index, continues to be over 25.  This compares to the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.  When VIX eventually falls, one thing we know is that SVXY, the ETP that moves in the opposite direction as VIX, will move higher.

Because of the persistence of contango, SVXY is destined to move higher even if VIX stays flat.  Let’s check out the 5-year chart of this interesting ETP:

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

Note that while the general trend for SVXY is to the upside, every once in a while it takes a big drop.  But the big drops don’t last very long.  The stock recovers quickly once fears subside.  The recent drop is by far the largest one in the history of SVXY.

As I write this, SVXY is trading about $47, up $2 ½ for the day. I believe it is destined to move quite a bit higher, and soon.  But with the trade I made today, a 62% profit (after commissions) can be made in the next 4 months even if the stock were to fall by $7 (almost 15%) from where it is today.

This is what I did:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 35 put (SVXY160115P35)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Jan-16 40 put (SVXY160115P40) for a credit of $1.95  (selling a vertical)

When this trade was executed, $192.50 (after a $2.50 commission) went into my account. If on January 15, 2016, SVXY is at any price higher than $40, both of these puts will expire worthless, and for every vertical spread I sold, I won’t have to make a closing trade, and I will make a profit of exactly $192.50.

So how much do I have to put up to place this trade?  The broker looks at these positions and calculates that the maximum loss that could occur on them would be $500 ($100 for every dollar of stock price below $40).  For that to happen, SVXY would have to close below $35 on January 15th.  Since I am quite certain that it is headed higher, not lower, a drop of this magnitude seems highly unlikely to me.

The broker will place a $500 maintenance requirement on my account.  This is not a loan where interest is charged, but merely cash I can’t use to buy shares of stock.  However, since I have collected $192.50, I can’t lose the entire $500. My maximum loss is the difference between the maintenance requirement and what I collected, or $307.50.

If SVXY closes at any price above $40 on January 15, both puts will expire worthless and the maintenance requirement disappears.  I don’t have to do anything except think of how I will spend my profit of $192.50.  I will have made 62% on my investment.  Where else can you make this kind of return for as little risk as this trade entails?

Of course, as with all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose.  But I believe the likelihood of losing on this investment is extremely low.  The stock is destined to move higher, not lower, as soon as the current turbulent market settles down.

If you wanted to take a little more risk, you might buy the 45 put and sell a 50 put in the Jan-15 series.  You would be betting that the stock manages to move a little higher over the next 4 months. You could collect about $260 per spread and your risk would be $240.  If SVXY closed any higher than $50 (which history says that it should), your profit would be greater than 100%.  I have also placed this spread trade in my personal account (and my charitable trust account as well).

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Last week I suggested buying two calendar spreads on the inverse volatility ETP called SVXY.  At the time, it was trading at $58 and history showed it was highly likely to move higher in the short run.  It didn’t.  Instead, it has fallen to below $46 today.  Anyone who followed this trade (as I did) is facing about a 75% loss right now.

Today I would like to discuss this trade a bit more, and tell you what I am doing about it.

Terry

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

As I said last week, the market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 last week, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 28 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

Here is the two-year chart of VIX so you can get an idea of how unusual the current high level of volatility is:
XIV Chart September 2015

XIV Chart September 2015

Note that about 90% of the time, VIX is well below 20.  When it moves higher than that number, it is only for a short period of time.  Every excursion over 20 is quickly reversed.

There is a strong correlation between the value of VIX and the price changes in SVXY.
When VIX is low (or falling), SVXY almost always moves higher.  When VIX shoots higher (or stays higher), SVXY will fall.  Over the past month, SVXY has fallen from the low $90’s to about half of that today.  Never in the 7-year history of this ETP has it fallen by such a whopping amount.

SVXY is constructed by trading on the futures of VIX.  Each day, the ETP purchases at the spot price of VIX and sells the one-month-out futures.  Since about 90% of the time, the futures price is greater than the spot price (a condition called contango), SVXY gains slightly in value.  The average contango number is about 5%, and that is how much SVXY is expected to gain in those months.

Every once in a while (less than 10% of the time), current uneasiness is so high (like it is today), VIX is higher than the futures values.  When this occurs, it is called backwardation (as opposed to contango).  Right now, we have backwardation of about -8%.  If this continued for a month, SVXY might be expected to fall by that amount.

However, backwardation is not the dominant condition for very long.  It rarely lasts as long as a week.  It is highly likely that contango will return, VIX will fall back below 20, and SVXY will recover.

Let’s review the trades I made last week:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

The chart shows that if the stock fell below $46 (as it has today), the spreads will lose nearly $500 of the $670 cost.  That is just about what has happened. In fact, implied volatility (IV) of the SVXY options has fallen from about 100 to about 90 which means the value of the Oct1-15 calls has also fallen a bit that the above graph indicates.  The 60 spread could be sold right now for about $1.20 and the 65 spread would get only about $.65.  That works out to a loss of about $480 on a $670 investment (about 75% after commissions).

While a 75% loss is just awful, remember that we expected to make 90% on these spreads if the stock had ended up between $60 and $67 as we expected it would (and we would presumably have rolled the Sep1-15 expiring calls to future weekly series and increased our gain to well over 100%.

Every once in a while, the market does exactly the opposite of what you expected (or what historic experience would predict). This is one of those times.  Fortunately, they occur in far less than 50% of the time.  If you made this same bet on a number of occasions, over the long run, you should make excellent gains.

This time, you either have a choice of closing out the spreads or doing nothing, just hanging on (waiting for a resurgence of SVXY and being able to sell the remaining Oct1-15 calls at a higher price).  If you do sell the spread rather than letting the short Sep1-15 calls expire worthless today, be sure to use a limit order.  Most of the time, you should be able to get a price which is just slightly below the mid-point of the quoted spread price.  Options on SVXY carry wide bid-ask ranges, but spreads are usually possible to execute near the mid-point of the quoted prices.

I plan to do nothing today.  Even if I decide to sell Sep2-15 or Sep-15 calls against my long Oct1-15 positions, I will do it later (once SVXY has moved higher, as it should when the market settles down and VIX falls back to where it usually hangs out).

The spreads I suggested making a week ago have proved to be extremely unprofitable (at least so far).  But taking losses is a necessary part of option trading.  There are often big losses, but big gains are also possible (and oftentimes, probable).

 

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today I would like to pass along a trade I just made.  It has a chance of making 50% if the stock stays flat or moves moderately higher over the next ten days.  I want to share it with you just in case you might like to try it yourself (with some money you could afford to lose – we’re talking about $670 here, per contract).Terry

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

The market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 yesterday, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 30 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

One of our favorite underlying equities (it’s an Exchange Traded Product, or ETP) is SVXY.  It is essentially a way to bet that you think that volatility in the market is likely to fall. When the market is quiet and VIX hangs out in the 12 – 14 range, SVXY inexorably moves higher over time because of a thing called contango (which we can’t explain fully here, but it means that volatility futures are usually higher than the current option volatilities because the future is less certain than the present).

SVXY is the opposite of VXX, an ETP which suffers from the effects of contango. VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted $3000 or so to its present level of $24 over the past 6 years, making it the dog-of-all-dog stocks.  Since SVXY is the opposite of VXX, it has gone up by about the same amount (although it has not been in existence so long).  Its average annual gain has been about 45% since it started up.

SVXY has taken a huge hit with the recent market turmoil, falling from the low $90’s to $58.  When the market settles down, as it most surely will, SVXY can be counted on to move back up to where it was a week ago.  With VIX at 30, history says it is a great time to buy.

Here is what I did today:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

If the stock is exactly where it is when I made the trades ($58.10), the graph says that I will make a gain of $412, or 61% on my investment.  If the stock moves higher by as much as $10 (anywhere in the range of $58 – $68), I should make about $600, or almost 90% in ten days.  If the stock falls by less than $5, I should still make a gain of some sort.  If it falls by more than $5, I would lose money.  In the event of a flat or lower price, the short calls would expire worthless and I would have 4 more weeks of life in the Oct1-15 calls I own.  Presumably, I would then sell new weekly calls against those positions and lower my net investment considerably (and have more time for the stock to recover).

Implied volatility (IV) of these options is excessive right now (over 100), and if the market does settle down, IV should fall.  That might mean the gains would be not as great as the graph indicates, but there should be significant gains nonetheless.

I really like my chances here.  I will report back on how it works out.

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Before I delve into this week’s option idea I would like to tell you a little bit about the actual option portfolios that are carried out for Insiders at Terry’s Tips.  We have 11 different portfolios which use a variety of underlying stocks or ETPs (Exchange Traded Products).  Eight of the 11 portfolios can be traded through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim (so you can follow a portfolio and never have to make a trade on your own).  The 3 portfolios that cannot be Auto-Traded are simple to do on your own (usually only one trade needs to be made for an entire year).

Ten of our 11 portfolios are ahead of their starting investment, some dramatically ahead.  The only losing portfolio is based on Alibaba (BABA) – it was a bet on the Chinese market and the stock is down over 30% since we started the portfolio at the beginning of this year (our loss is much greater).  The best portfolio for 2015 is up 55% so far and will make exactly 91% if the three underlyings (AAPL, SPY, and GOOG) remain where they presently are (or move higher).  GOOG could fall by $150 and that spread would still make 100% for the year.

Another portfolio is up 44% for 2015 and is guaranteed to make 52% for the year even if the underlying (SVXY) falls by 50% between now and the end of the year.  A portfolio based on Costco (COST) was started 25 months ago and is ahead more than 100% while the stock rose 23% – our portfolio outperformed the stock by better than 4 times.  This is a typical ratio –  portfolios based on Nike (NKE) and Starbucks (SBUX) have performed similarly.

We are proud of our portfolio performance and hope you will consider taking a look at how they are set up and perform in the future.

Terry

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

If you think the market will be flat for the next month, there are several options strategies you might employ.  In each of the following three strategies, I will show how you could invest $1000 and what the risk/reward ratio would be with each strategy.  As a proxy for “the market,” we will use SPY as the underlying (this is the tracking stock for the S&P 500 index).  Today, SPY is trading at $210 and we will be trading options that expire in just about a month (30 days from when I wrote this).

Strategy #1 – Calendar Spread.  With SPY trading at $210, we will buy calls which expire on the third Friday in October and we will sell calls which expire in 30 days (on September 4, 2015).  Both options will be at the 210 strike.  We will have to spend $156 per spread (plus $2.50 commissions at the thinkorswim rate for Terry’s Tips subscribers).  We will be able to buy 6 spreads for our $1000 budget. The total investment will be $951.   Here is what the risk profile graph looks like when the short options expire on September 4th:

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Calendar Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

On these graphs, the column under P/L Day shows the gain (or loss) when the short options expire at the stock price in the left-hand column.  You can see that if you are absolutely right and the market is absolutely flat ($210), you will double your money in 30 days.  The 210 calls you sold will expire worthless (or nearly so) and you will own October 210 calls which will be worth about $325 each since they have 5 weeks of remaining life.

The stock can fluctuate by $4 in either direction and you will make a profit of some sort.  However, if it fluctuates by much more than $4 you will incur a loss.  One interesting thing about calendar spreads (in contrast to the other 2 strategies we discuss below) is that no matter how much the stock deviates in either direction, you will never lose absolutely all of your investment.  Since your long positions have an additional 35 days of life, you will always have some value over and above the options you have.  That is one of the important reasons that I prefer calendar spreads to the other strategies.

Strategy #2 – Butterfly Spread:  A typical butterfly spread in involves selling 2 options at the strike where you expect the stock to end up when the options expire (either puts or calls will do – the strike price is the important thing) and buying one option an equidistant number of strikes above and below the strike price of the 2 options you sold.  You make these trades all at the same time as part of a butterfly spread.

You can toy around with different strike prices to create a risk profile graph which will provide you with a break-even range which you will be comfortable with.  In order to keep the 3 spread strategies similar, I set up strikes which would yield a break-even range which extended about $4 above and below the $210 current strike.  This ended up involving selling 2 Sept-1 2015 calls at the 210 strike, and buying a call in the same series at the 202.5 strike and the 217.5 strike.  The cost per spread would be $319 plus $5 commission per spread, or $324 per spread.  We could buy 3 butterfly spreads with our $1000 budget, shelling out $972.

Here is the risk profile graph for that butterfly spread when all the options expire on September 4, 2015:

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Butterfly Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see that the total gain if the stock ends up precisely at the $210 price is even greater ($1287) than it is with the butterfly spread above ($1038).  However, if the stock moves either higher or lower by $8, you will lose 100% of your investment.  That’s a pretty scary alternative, but this is a strategy that does best when the market is flat, and you would only buy a butterfly spread if you had a strong feeling of where you think the price of the underlying stock will be on the day when all the options expire.

Strategy #3 – Short Iron Condor Spread.  This spread is a little more complicated (and is explained more fully in my White Paper).  It involves buying (and selling) both puts and calls all in the same expiration series (as above, that series will be the Sept1-15 options expiring on September 4, 2015).  In order to create a risk profile graph which showed a break-even range which extended $4 in both directions from $210, we bought calls at the 214 strike, sold calls at the 217 strike and bought puts at the 203 strike while selling puts at the 206 strike.  A short iron condor spread is sold at a credit (you collect money by selling it).  In this case, each spread would collect $121 less $5 commission, or $116.  Since there is a $3 difference between each of the strikes, it is possible to lose $300 per spread if the stock ends up higher than $217 or lower than $203.  We can’t lose the entire $300, however, because we collected $116 per spread at the outset.  The broker will put a hold on $300 per spread (it’s called a maintenance requirement and does not accrue interest like a margin loan does), less the $116 we collected.  That works out to a total net investment of $184 per spread (which is the maximum loss we could possibly incur).  With our $1000 budget, you could sell 5 spreads, risking $920.

Here is the risk profile graph for this short iron condor spread:

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SPY Short Iron Condor Spread Risk Profile Graph August 2015

You can see the total potential gain for the short iron condor spread is about half what it was for either of the earlier spreads, but it has the wonderful feature of coming your way at any possible ending stock price between $206 and $214.  Both the calendar spread and the butterfly spread required the stock to be extremely near $210 to make the maximum gain, and the potential gains dropped quickly as the stock moved in any direction from that single important stock price.  The short iron condor spread has a lower maximum gain but it comes your way over a much larger range of possible ending stock prices.

Another advantage of the short iron condor is that if the stock ends up at any price in the profit range, all the options expire worthless, and you don’t have to execute a trade to close out the positions.  Both the other strategies require closing trades.

This is clearly not a complete discussion of these option strategies.  Instead, it is just a graphic display of the risk/reward possibilities when you expect a flat market.  Maybe this short report will pique your interest so that you will consider subscribing to our service where I think you will get a thorough understanding of these, and other, options strategies that might generate far greater returns than conventional investments can offer.

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

A subscriber wrote in and asked what he should do if he thought the market would be 6% lower by the end of September.  I thought about his question a little bit, and decided to share my thoughts with you, just in case you have similar feelings at some time along the way.Terry

5 Option Strategies if you Think the Market is Headed Lower

We will use the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as a proxy for the market.  As I write this, SPY is trading just below $210.  If it were to fall by 6% by the end of September (3 months from now), it would be trading about $197 at that time.  The prices for the possible investments listed below are slightly more costly than the mid-point between the bid and ask prices for the options or the option spreads, and include the commission cost (calculated at $1.25 per contract, the price that Terry’s Tips subscribers pay at thinkorswim).

#1.  Buy an at-the-money put.  One of the most common option purchases is the outright buy of a put option if you feel strongly that the market is crashing.  Today, with SPY trading at $210, a September 2015 put option at the 210 strike would cost you $550.  If SPY is trading at $197 (as the subscriber believed it would be at the end of September), your put would be worth $1300.  You would make a profit of $750, or 136% on your investment.

Buying a put involves an extremely high degree of risk, however. The stock must fall by $5 ½ (about 2.6%) before you make a nickel of profit.  If the market remains flat or goes higher by any amount, you would lose 100% of your investment.  Studies have shown that about 80% of all options eventually expire worthless, so by historical measures, there is a very high likelihood that you will lose everything.  That doesn’t sound like much of a good investment idea to me, even if you feel strongly about the market’s direction.  It is so easy to get it wrong (I know from frequent personal experience).

If you were to buy an out-of-the-money put (i.e., the strike price is below the stock price), the outlook is even worse.  A Sept-15 205 put would cost about $400 to buy.  While that is less than the $550 you would have to shell out for the at-the-money 210 put, the market still has to fall by a considerable amount, $9 (4.3%) before you make a nickel.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t even consider it.

#2.  Buy an in-the-money put.  You might consider buying a put which has a higher strike than the stock price.  While it will cost more (increasing your potential loss if the market goes up), the stock does not need to fall nearly as far before you get into a profit zone.  A Sept-15 215 put would cost you $800, and the stock would only have to fall by $3 (1.4%) before you could start counting some gains.  If the market remains flat, your loss would be $300 (38%).

If the stock does manage to fall to $197, your 215 put would be worth $1800 at expiration, and your gain would be $1000, or 125% on your investment.  In my opinion, buying an in-the-money put is not a good investment idea, either, although it is probably better than buying an at-the-money put, and should only be considered if you are strongly convinced that the stock is headed significantly lower.

#3.  Buy a vertical put spread.  The most popular directional option spread choice is probably a vertical spread.  If you believe the market is headed lower, you buy a put and at the same time, sell a lower-strike put as part of a spread.  You only have to come up with the difference between the cost of the put you buy and what you receive from selling a lower-strike put to someone else.  In our SPY example, you might buy a Sept-15 210 put and sell a Sept-15 200 put.  You would have to pay $300 for this spread.  The stock would only have to fall by $3 before you started collecting a profit.  If it closed at any price below $200, your spread would have an intrinsic value of $1000 and you would make a profit of $700 (230% on your investment), less commissions.

With this spread, however, if the stock remains flat or rises by any amount, you would lose your entire $300 investment.  That is a big cost for being wrong.  But if you believe that the market will fall by 6%, maybe a flat or higher price isn’t in your perceived realm of possible outcomes.

Another (more conservative) vertical put spread would be to buy an in-the-money put and sell an at-the-money put. If you bought a Sept-15 220 put and sold a Sept-15 210 put, your cost would be $600.  If the stock closed at any price below $210, your spread would be worth $1000 and your gain ($400) would work out to be about 64% after commissions. The neat thing about this spread is that if the stock remained flat at $210, you would still gain the 64%.  If there is an equal chance that a stock will go up, go down, or stay flat, you would have two out of the three possible outcomes covered.

You also might think about compromising between the above two vertical put spreads and buy a Sept-15 215 put and sell a Sept-15 205 put.  It would cost you about $420.  Your maximum gain, if the stock ended up at any price below $205, would be $580, or about 135% on your investment.  If the stock remains flat at $210, your spread would be worth $500 at expiration, and you would make a small gain over your cost of $420.  You would only lose money if the stock were to rise by more than $.80 over the time period.

#4.  Sell a call credit vertical spread.  People with a limited understanding of options (which includes a huge majority of American investors) don’t even think about calls when they believe that the market is headed lower.  However, you can gain all the advantages of the above put vertical spreads, and more, by trading calls instead of puts if you want to gain when the market falls.  When I want to make a directional bet on a lower market, I always use calls rather than puts.

If you would like to replicate the risk-reward numbers of the above compromise vertical put spread, you would buy a Sept-15 215 call and sell a Sept-15 205 call. The higher-strike call that you are buying is much cheaper than the lower-strike call you are selling.  You could collect $600 for the spread.  The broker would place a $1000 maintenance agreement (no interest charge) on your account (this represents the maximum possible loss on the spread if you had not received any credit when placing it, but in our case, you collected $600 so the maximum possible loss is $400 – that is how much you will have to have in your account to sell this spread).  Usually, buying a vertical put spread or selling the same strikes with a credit call vertical spread cost about the same – in this case, the call spread happened to be a better price (an investment of $400 rather than $420).

There are two advantages to selling the call credit spread rather than buying the vertical put spread.  First, if you are successful and the stock ends up below $205 as you expect, both the long and short calls will expire worthless.  There will be no commission to pay on closing out the positions. You don’t have to do anything other than wait a day for the maintenance requirement to disappear and you get to keep the cash you collected when you sold the spread at the outset.

Second, when you try to sell the vertical put spread for $10 (the intrinsic value if the stock is $205 or lower), you will not be able to get the entire $10 because of the bid-ask price situation.  The best you could expect to get is about $9.95 ($995) as a limit order.  You could do nothing and let the broker close it out for you – in that case you would get exactly $1000, but most brokers charge a $35 or higher fee for an automatic closing spread transaction.  It is usually better to accept the $995 and pay the commission (although it is better to use calls and avoid the commissions altogether).

#5.  Buy a calendar spread.  My favorite spreads are calendar spreads so I feel compelled to include them as one of the possibilities. If you think the market is headed lower, all you need to do is buy a calendar spread at a strike price where you think the stock will end up when the short options expire. In our example, the subscriber believed that the stock would fall to $197 when the September options expired.  He could buy an Oct-15 – Sept-15 197 calendar spread (the risk-reward is identical whether you use puts or calls, but I prefer to use calls if you think the market is headed lower because you are closing out an out-of-the-money option which usually has a lower bid-ask range).  The cost of this spread would be about $60.  Here is the risk profile graph which shows the loss or gain from the spread at the various possible stock prices:

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

Bearish SPY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

You can see that if you are exactly right and the stock ends up at $197, your gain would be about $320, or over 500% on your investment (by the way, I don’t expect the stock will fall this low, but I just went into the market to see if I could get the spread for $60 or better, and my order executed at $57).

What I like about the calendar spread is that the break-even range is a whopping $20.  You can be wrong about your price estimate by almost $10 in either direction and you would make a profit with the spread.  The closer you can guess to where the stock will end up, the greater your potential gain.  Now that I have actually bought a calendar spread at the 197 strike, I will buy another calendar spread at a higher strike so that I have more upside protection (and be more in line with my thinking as to the likely stock price come September).

There are indeed an infinite number of option investments you could make if you have a feeling for which way the market is headed.  We have listed 5 of the more popular strategies if someone believes the market is headed lower.  In future newsletters we will discuss more complicated alternatives such as butterfly spreads and iron condors.

Making 36%

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

This book may not improve your golf game, but it might change your financial situation so that you will have more time for the greens and fairways (and sometimes the woods).

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

Order Now

Success Stories

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.

~ John Collins