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Posts Tagged ‘VIX’

How Option Prices are Determined

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Last week was one of the best for the market in about two years.  Our option portfolios at Terry’s Tips made great gains across the board as well.  One portfolio gained 55% for the week, in fact.  It is fun to have a little money tied up in an investment that can deliver those kinds of returns every once in a while.

This week I would like to discuss a little about what goes into an option price – what makes them what they are?

Terry

How Option Prices are Determined

Of course, the market ultimately determines the price of any option as buyers bid and sellers ask at various prices.  Usually, they meet somewhere in the middle and a price is determined.  This buying and selling action is generally not based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of value, but is soundly grounded on some mathematical considerations.

There are 5 components that determine the value of an option:

1. The price of the underlying stock

2. The strike price of the option

3. The time until the option expires

4. The cost of money (interest rates less dividends, if any)

5. The volatility of the underlying stock

The first four components are easy to figure out.  Each can precisely be measured.  If they were the only components necessary, option pricing would be a no-brainer.  Anyone who could add and subtract could figure it out to the penny.

The fifth component – volatility – is the wild card.  It is where all the fun starts.  Options on two different companies could have absolutely identical numbers for all of the first four components and the option for one company could cost double what the same option would cost for the other company.  Volatility is absolutely the most important (and elusive) ingredient of option prices.

Volatility is simply a measure of how much the stock fluctuates.  So shouldn’t it be easy to figure out?   It actually is easy to calculate, if you are content with looking backwards.  The amount of fluctuation in the past is called historical volatility.  It can be precisely measured, but of course it might be a little different each year.

So historical volatility gives market professionals an idea of what the volatility number should be.  However, what the market believes will happen next year or next month is far more important than what happened in the past, so the volatility figure (and the option price) fluctuates all over the place based on the current emotional state of the market.

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I like to trade calendar spreads.  Right now my favorite underlying to use is SVXY, a volatility-related ETP which is essentially the inverse of VXX, another ETP which moves step-in-step with volatility (VIX).  Many people buy VXX as a hedge against a market crash when they are fearful (volatility, and VXX. skyrockets when a crash occurs), but when the market is stable or moves higher, VXX inevitably moves lower.  In fact, since it was created in 2009, VXX has been just about the biggest dog in the entire stock market world.  On three occasions they have had to make 1 – 4 reverse splits just to keep the stock price high enough to matter.

Since VXX is such a dog, I like SVXY which is its inverse.  I expect it will move higher most of the time (it enjoys substantial tailwinds because of something called contango, but that is a topic for another time).  I concentrate in buying calendar spreads on SVXY (buying Jun-14 options and selling weekly options) at strikes which are higher than the current stock price.  Most of these calendar spreads are in puts, and that seems a little weird because I expect that the stock will usually move higher, and puts are what you buy when you expect the stock will fall.  That is the topic of today’s idea of the week.

Terry

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

It is important to understand that the risk profile of a calendar spread is identical regardless of whether puts or calls are used.  The strike price (rather than the choice of puts or calls) determines whether a spread is bearish or bullish.  A calendar spread at a strike price below the stock price is a bearish because the maximum gain is made if the stock falls exactly to the strike price, and a calendar spread at a strike price above the stock price is bullish.

When people are generally optimistic about the market, call calendar spreads tend to cost more than put calendar spreads.  For most of 2013-14, in spite of a consistently rising market, option buyers have been particularly pessimistic.  They have traded many more puts than calls, and put calendar prices have been more expensive.

Right now, at-the-money put calendar spreads cost more than at-the-money call calendar spreads for most underlyings, including SVXY.  As long as the underlying pessimism continues, they extra cost of the put spreads might be worth the money because when the about-to-expire short options are bought back and rolled over to the next short-term time period, a larger premium can be collected on that sale.  This assumes, of course, that the current pessimism will continue into the future.

If you have a portfolio of exclusively calendar spreads (you don’t anticipate moving to diagonal spreads), it is best to use puts at strikes below the stock price and calls for spreads at strikes which are higher than the stock price.  If you do the reverse, you will own a bunch of well in-the-money short options, and rolling them over to the next week or month is expensive (in-the-money bid-asked spreads are greater than out-of-the-money bid asked spreads so you can collect more cash when rolling over out-of-the-money short options).

How to Play War Rumors

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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

Terry

How to Play War Rumors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013

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

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

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

Terry

A “Conservative” Options Strategy for 2014

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

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

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

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

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

Spy Straddle Risk Profile For 2014

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

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

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

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

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

Terry

A Look at the Downsides of Option Investing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With CD’s and bonds yielding ridiculously low returns (and the stock market not really showing any gains for quite a while – adjusted for inflation, the market is 12% lower than it was in March,  2000,), the options alternative has become more attractive for many investors, in spite of all the problems we have outlined above.

A Useful Way to Think About Delta

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This week we will start a discussion about the “Greeks” – the measures designed to predict how option prices will change when underlying stock prices change or time elapses. It is important to have a basic understanding of some of these measures before embarking on trading options.

I hope you enjoy this short discussion.

Terry 

A Useful Way to Think About Delta: The first “Greek” that most people learn about when they get involved in options is Delta. This important measure tells us how much the price of the option will change if the underlying stock or ETF changes by $1.00.

If you own a call option that carries a delta of 50, that means that if the stock goes up by $1.00, your option will increase in value by $.50 (if the stock falls by $1.00, your option will fall by a little less than $.50).

The useful way to think about delta is to consider it the probability of that option finishing up (on expiration day) in the money. If you own a call option at a strike price of 60 and the underlying stock is selling at $60, you have an at-the-money option, and the delta will likely be about 50. In other words, the market is saying that your option has a 50-50 chance of expiring in the money (i.e., the stock is above $60 so your option would have some intrinsic value).

If your option were at the 55 strike, it would have a much higher delta value because the likelihood of its finishing up in the money (i.e., higher than $55) would be much higher. The stock could fall by $4.90 or go up by any amount and it would end up being in the money, so the delta value would be quite high, maybe 70 or 75. The market would be saying that there is a 70% or 75% chance of the stock ending up above $55 at expiration.

On the other hand, if your call option were at the 65 strike while the stock was selling at $60, it would carry a much lower delta because there would be a much lower likelihood of the stock going up $5 so that your option would expire in the money.

Of course, the amount of remaining life also has an effect on the delta value of an option. We will talk about that phenomenon next week.

A Strategy of Buying Weekly SPY Straddles

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

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

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

 

SPY Straddle Chart

SPY Straddle Chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Make a Portfolio of Calendar Spreads Either Bearish or Bullish

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Last week our string of 12 consecutive winning PEA Plays (Pre-Earnings Announcement) was broken, not because our model guessed wrong on where the stock (LULU) would go after the announcement (down, as it did), but because the CEO announced her retirement and the stock fell almost 20% on that news (the company actually exceeded estimates on earnings, revenues, and guidance but the retirement news overshadowed that good news).  Our option positions were set up to handle a 7% drop and still make a gain, but we could not handle a 20% drop.

Interestingly, our loss came about not from our basic diagonal spread (where we would have made money in spite of the huge drop) but from the insurance calendar spreads we placed “just in case we were wrong” about the direction the stock would take.  If we had had more faith in our model, we would not have made the insurance purchase, and we would not have suffered a loss.

Our loss on LULU was slightly greater than the average gain we made on the 12 previous PEA Plays, so while it was an unpleasant setback, it was not devastating.

Terry

How to Make a Portfolio of Calendar Spreads Either Bearish or Bullish: 

At Terry’s Tips, we use an options strategy that consists of owning calendar (aka time) spreads at many different strike prices, both above and below the stock price. A calendar spread is created when you buy an option with a longer lifespan than the short option that you sell against your long position with both options at the same strike price. We also use diagonal spreads which are similar to calendar spreads (except that the strike prices of the long and short sides are different). 

We typically start out each week or month with a slightly bullish posture since the market has historically moved higher more times than it has fallen.  In option terms, this is called being positive net delta.  Starting in May and extending through August, we usually start out with a slightly bearish posture (negative net delta) in deference to the “sell in May” adage. 

Any calendar spread makes its maximum gain if the stock ends up on expiration day exactly at the strike price of the calendar spread.  As the market moves either up or down, adding new spreads at different strikes is essentially placing a new bet at the new strike price.  In other words, you hope the market will move toward that strike.

If the market moves higher, we add new calendar spreads at a strike which is higher than the stock price (and vice versa if the market moves lower).  New spreads at strikes higher than the stock price are bullish bets and new spreads at strikes below the stock price are bearish bets.

It does not make any difference whether puts or calls are used for a calendar spread – the risk profile is identical for both.  The key variable for calendar spreads is the strike price rather than whether puts or calls.  In spite of that truth, we prefer to use puts when buying calendar spreads at strikes below the stock price and calls when buying calendar spreads at strikes above the stock price because it is easier to trade out of out-of-the-money options when the short options expire.

If the market moves higher when we are positive net delta, we should make gains because of our positive delta condition (in addition to decay gains that should take place regardless of what the market does).  If the market moves lower when we are positive net delta, we would lose portfolio value because of the bullish delta condition, but some or all of these losses would be offset by the daily gains we enjoy from theta (the net daily decay of all the options).

Another variable affects calendar spread portfolio values.  Option prices (VIX) may rise or fall in general.  VIX typically falls with a rising market and moves higher when the market tanks.  While not as important as the net delta value, lower VIX levels tend to depress calendar spread portfolio values (and rising VIX levels tend to improve calendar spread portfolio values).  

Once again, trading options is more complicated than trading stock, but can be considerably more interesting, challenging, and ultimately profitable than the simple purchase of stock or mutual funds.

How to Use Expectations to Prosper With Earnings Announcements

Monday, April 15th, 2013

This week I will offer a simple spread idea that could make 50% in a couple of days next week.  It will cost about $170 per spread to put on. 

Also, if you read down further, there is information on how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider absolutely free! 

How to Use Expectations to Prosper With Earnings Announcements 

The earnings season started just last week.  In my last Idea of the Week I recommended buying a straddle on JPMorgan (JPM), the first big company to announce this time around.  We made that trade in an actual portfolio for Terry’s Tips subscribers and closed it out for a 15%+ gain after commissions. 

I also suggested an options strategy for JPM in a Seeking Alpha article – How To Play The JPMorgan Earnings Announcement.  In another Terry’s Tips portfolio  we placed calendar spreads as outlined in this article and closed them out for a gain of 15% after commissions even though the stock fell a little after the announcement while we were betting that it would go higher. 

A wonderful thing about options is that you can be wrong and still make profits as we did last week in our JPM trades.  Terry’s Tips subscribers who followed both portfolios made over 30% last week, more than most people make in an entire year of stock market investing. 

This week I wrote another Seeking Alpha article which checks out seven big companies which announce this week – How To Play The First Week Of The April Earnings Season.  

The major message of this article is that the price of the stock after the announcement is more dependent on pre-announcement market expectations than the actual numbers that the company releases.  If expectations are too high, the stock will fall no matter how much the company beats the analysts’ projections. 

Of the seven companies reviewed, SanDisk (SNDK) seemed to have the highest level of expectations.  Whisper numbers were 18.6% higher than analyst projections, the stock had shot up over 10% to a new high over the last week, and had moved 5% higher in the last week alone.  We believe that it is highly likely that some investors will “sell on the news” no matter how good it is, and the stock will either stay flat or fall after the announcement. 

With the stock trading about $57.70, I am buying May 57.5 puts and selling April 55 puts. Implied volatility (IV) of the May options is 37 while the April options carry an IV of 70, nearly double the May number (this means you are buying “cheap” and selling “expensive” options).  Each diagonal spread would cost $163 to place at the natural option prices at the close on Friday. 

Here is the risk profile graph for these spreads if you bought 20 of them, investing about $3400 after commissions (of course, you could buy fewer, or more, if you wished): 

SNDK Risk Profile Graph

SNDK Risk Profile Graph

This graph assumes that after the announcement, implied volatility (IV) of the May options will fall from its current 37 to 30 which is more likely in a non-announcement time period.  The graph shows that when you close the positions on Friday, April 19th, a double-digit gain could be made if the stock holds steady, and could nearly double your investment if it fell about $2 ½ after the announcement.  A profit would result no matter how far the stock might fall in value. 

We think the stock is likely to fall after the announcement because expectations are so unusually high.  If it moves higher, however, a loss could very well result.  Even in the world of options, there is no free lunch.  You need to take a risk.  We like our chances here.

Buying a Straddle on Oracle

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Last week I told you about a pre-earnings announcement on Nike.  With the stock trading around $65, we bought calendar spreads at the 62.5, 65, and 67.5 strikes for an average of $.33 each, guessing that if the stock ended up near any one of these strikes, that spread would be worth over a dollar and cover all three spreads. The stock shot up more than 11% after the announcement, and was closest to the 70 strike.  The calendar spread at that  strike was worth $1.20, so we were right on that score.  But we didn’t have any spreads at that strike, and we lost money for the day.  In future calls in companies like Nike which have a history of big moves after announcements, we will add extra out-of-the-money calls and/or puts to provide insurance against huge moves of this size. 

If you read down further, there is information on how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider absolutely free! 

Buying a Straddle on Oracle 

On Friday, with Oracle (ORCL) trading at $32, I bought an April straddle (both a put and a call) at the 32 strike.  The straddle cost me $1.40.  The stock will have to move in either direction at least $1.40 for the intrinsic value of my straddle to be at break-even (although it will not have to move that much for the straddle to be able to be sold for a gain as there will always be some extra premium value in the options I own).

 Let’s look at how much Oracle has fluctuated each month for the past two years:  

Oracle Monthly Price Changes Last Two Years

Oracle Chart March 25 2013

Oracle Chart March 25 2013

Only two times in the last two years has Oracle failed to move at least $1.40 in one direction or another in a single month.  That means that an at-the-money straddle purchased for $1.40 at the beginning of the month could have been sold for a profit at some point during that month 22 out of 24 times. 

Many times, there would have been an opportunity to more than double your money, and while the maximum loss is theoreticlly $1.40 per spread, last week, with a week of remaining life, the 32 at-the-money straddle could have been sold for $.72 which means that if you closed out the spread with a week remaining, the worst you could do would be to recover half your initial investment.  (If the stock were at any price higher or lower than $32, the straddle would be worth more than $.72 with a week remaining). 

The big challenge with these kinds of spreads is deciding when to sell.  One way is to place a limit order when the spread reaches a certain profit level, say 50%, and take that gain whenever it comes.  In our example, that would mean placing an order to sell the straddle at $2.10.  The above table shows that in more than half the months (13 out of 24), you could have sold the straddle for at least a 50% gain.  I like those odds. 

The stock does not have to fluctuate the full $2.10 in order for the straddle to be sold at that price.  As long as there is time remaining in the options you hold, they will be worth more than the intrinsic value.  The $2.10 price might be hit if the stock only fluctuates $1.80 or so if it does it early in month. 

Another way of selling the spread is to place limit orders at slightly more than what you paid for the straddle if either the put or call reaches that price.  You might place a limit order to sell the puts at $1.43 and another order to sell the calls if they reach $1.43.  In either case, you get all your money back (plus the commission) and you have either puts or calls remaining that might be worth a great deal if the stock reverses itself and moves in the opposite direction.  The stock might have to move only about $1.20 in either direction for one of these trades to execute. 

We typically place orders to sell half of our original spreads if either the puts or calls can be sold for the original cost of the straddle.  That way we get half our money back (almost assuming that we will not lose money for the month) and if the stock continues in the direction it has started, a huge gain might be made on those remaining options, and if the stock reverses, you have twice as many of the other options that might grow in value. 

Most of our investments at Terry’s Tips involves selling premium and waiting over time for decay to set in, all the time hoping that the stock does not fluctuate too much (as that hurts calendar spreads).  It is fun to have at least one investment play that does best if the market does fluctuate, and the more the better.  Buying a straddle on Oracle gives us that opportunity, and the history of the stock’s fluctuations shows that it is a pretty good bet.

 

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