from the desk of Dr. Terry F Allen

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Posts Tagged ‘Volatility’

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.


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.

Why Option Prices are Often Different

Monday, June 1st, 2015

This week I would like to discuss why stock option prices are low in some weeks and high in others, and how option spread prices also differ over time.  If you ever decide to become an active option investor, you should understand those kinds of important details.Terry

Why Option Prices are Often Different

The wild card in option prices is implied volatility (IV).  When IV is high, option prices are higher than they are when IV is lower.  IV is determined by the market’s assessment of how volatile the market will be at certain times.  A few generalizations can be made:

1. Volatility (and option prices) are usually lower in short trading weeks.  When there is a holiday and only four trading days, IV tends to be lower.  This means that holiday weeks are not good ones to write calls against your stock.  It is also a poor time to buy calendar spreads.  Better to write the calls or buy the calendar spread in the week before a holiday week.

2. Volatility is higher in the week when employment numbers are published on Friday.  This is almost always the first week of the calendar month.  The market often moves more than usual on the days when those numbers are published, and option prices in general tend to be higher in those weeks.  These would be good weeks to sell calls against your stock or buy calendar spreads.

3. IV rises substantially leading up to a company’s earnings announcement.  This is the best of all times to write calls against stock you own.  Actual volatility might be great as well, so there is some danger in buying the stock during that time.

4. Calendar spreads (our favorite) are less expensive if you buy spreads in further-out months rather than shorter terms.  For example, if you were to buy an at-the-money SPY calendar spread, buying an August-July spread would cost $1.44, but a September–August spread would cost only $.90.  If you were to buy the longer-out month spread and waited a month, you might be able close out the spread for a 50% gain if the price is about the same after 30 days.

Today we created a new portfolio employing further-out calendar spreads at Terry’s Tips.  We used the underlying SVXY which (because of contango) can usually be counted on to move higher (it has averaged about a 45% gain every year historically, just as its inverse, VXX, has fallen by that much).  We added a bullish diagonal call spread to several calendars (buying December and selling September) to create the following risk profile graph:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2015

We will have to wait 109 days for the September short options to expire, and hopefully, we will not have to make any more trades before then. This portfolio was set up with $4000, and we have set aside almost $400 to make an adjusting trade in case the stock makes a huge move in either direction.

The neat thing about this portfolio is that there is a very large break-even range.  The stock can fall about $15 before we lose on the downside, or it can go almost $30 higher before we lose on the upside.  With the extra cash we have, these break-even numbers can be expanded quite easily by another $10 or so in either direction, if necessary.

It would be impossible to set up a risk profile graph with such a large break-even range if we selected shorter-term calendar spreads instead of going way out to the December-September months.  Now we will just have to wait a while before we collect what looks like a 25% gain over quite a large range of possible stock prices.

Check Out a Long-Term Bet on FaceBook (FB)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

In the family charitable trust I set up many years ago, I trade options to maximize the amounts I can give away each year.  In this portfolio, I prefer not to actively trade short-term options, but each year, I make selected bets on companies I feel good about and I expect they won’t tank in price over the long run.  Last week, I made such a bet on FaceBook (FB) that I would like to tell you about today.  The spread will make over 40% in the next 8 months even if the stock were to fall $5 over that time.Terry

Check Out a Long-Term Bet on FaceBook (FB)

When most people think about trading options, they are thinking short-term.  If they are buying calls in hopes that the stock will skyrocket, they usually by the cheapest call they can find.  These are the ones which return the greatest percentage gain if you are right and the stock manages to make a big upward move.  The cheapest calls are the shortest term ones, maybe with only a week of remaining life.  Of course, about 80% of the time, these options expire worthless and you lose your entire bet, but hopes of a windfall gain keep people playing the short-term option-buying game.

Other people (including me) prefer to sell these short-term options, using longer-term options as collateral.  Instead of buying stock and writing calls against it, longer-term options require far less capital and allow for a potentially higher return on investment if the stock stays flat or moves higher.  This kind of trading requires short-term thinking, and action, as well.  When the short-term options expire, they must be replaced by further-out short options, and if they are in the money, they must be bought back before they expire, allowing you to sell new ones in their place.

Most of the strategies we advocate at Terry’s Tips involve this kind of short-term thinking (and adjusting each week or month when options expire).  For this reason, many subscribers sign up for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim (it’s free) and have trades executed automatically for them, following one or more of our 10 actual portfolios.

Some portfolios make longer-term bets, and since they do not require active trading, they are not offered through Auto-Trade.  With these bets, you place the trade once and then just wait for time to expire.  If you are right, and the stock falls a little, stays flat, or goes up by any amount, the options you started with all expire worthless, and you end up with a nice gain without making a single extra trade.

In one of our Terry’s Tips demonstration portfolios, in January of this year, we placed long-term bets that AAPL, SPY, and GOOG would move higher during 2015, and when the January 2016 options expired, we would make a nice gain.  In fact, we knew precisely that we would make 91% on our investment for that one-year period.  At this point in time, all three of these stocks have done well and are ahead of where they need to be for us to make our 91% gain for the year.  We could close out these positions right now and take a 44% gain for the 3 months we have owned these options.  Many subscribers have done just that.

Let’s look at FaceBook and the long-term trade I just made in it.  I like the company (even though I don’t use their product).  They seem to have figured out how to monetize the extraordinary traffic they enjoy.  I looked at the chart for their 3 years of existence:

FaceBook FB Chart 2015

FaceBook FB Chart 2015

Note that while there have been times when the stock tanked temporarily, if you look at any eight-month period, there was never a stretch when it was lower at the end of 8 months than at the beginning.  Making a bet on the longer-term trend is often a much safer bet, especially when you pick a company you feel good about.

With the stock trading about $80, in my charitable trust, I made a bet that in 8 months, it would be trading at some price which was $75 or higher on the third Friday of December, 2015.  I make most of my donations in December, so like to be in cash at that time.

This is the trade I placed:

Buy to open FB Dec-15 70 puts (FB151219P70)
Sell to open FB Dec-15 75 puts (FB151219P75) for a credit of $1.52  (selling a vertical)

For every contract I sold, I collected $152 which immediately went into my account.  The puts I sold were at a higher strike than the puts I bought, so they commanded a higher price.  The broker placed a maintenance requirement on me of $5 ($500 per contract) which would be reduced by the $152 I collected.  This left me with a net investment of $348.  This would be my maximum loss if FB ended up below $70 on December 19, 2015.

A maintenance requirement is not like a margin loan.  No interest is charged.  It just means that I must leave $348 in cash in the account until the puts expire (or I close out the positions).  I can’t use this money to buy other options or stock.

If the stock ended up at $74 in December, I would have to buy back the 75 put I had sold for $1.  This would reduce my profit to $52 (less commissions of $3.75 – 3 commissions of $1.25  on the initial trades as well as the closing one).

If the stock ends up at any price above $75 (which I feel confident that it will), all my puts will expire worthless, the $348 maintenance requirement will disappear, and I get to keep the $152 (less $2.50 commission).  That works out to a 43% gain for the 8 months.

Where else can you find a return like this when the stock can fall by $5 and you still make the gain?  It is a bet that I don’t expect to lose any sleep over.

Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

One of the great mysteries in the investment world (at least to me, an admitted options nut) is why anyone would buy stock in a company they really like when they could dramatically increase their expected returns with a simple stock options strategy instead.  Of course, buying options is a little more complicated and takes a little extra work, but if you could make two or three times (or more) on your investment, wouldn’t that little extra effort be more than worth it?  Apparently not, since most people take the lazy way out and just buy the stock.Today I will try to persuade you to give stock options a try.  I will show you exactly what I am doing in one of my Terry’s Tips portfolios while trading one of my favorite stocks.


Why Calendar Spreads Are So Much Better Than Buying Stock

I like just about everything about Costco.  I like to shop there.  I buy wine by the case, paying far less than my local wine store (I am not alone – Costco is the largest retailer of wine in the world, selling several billions of dollars’ worth every year).  I like Costco because they treat their employees well, paying them about double what Walmart pays its people.  I like shopping at Costco because I know I am never paying more than I should for anything I buy.  It seems to me that the other customers like it, too.  Everyone seems to be happy while roaming the aisles and enjoying the free samples they offer (I have a skinflint friend who shops at Costco once a week just for the samples – they are his lunch that day).

But most of all, I like the stock (COST).  It has been very nice to me over the years, and I have consistently made a far greater return using options than I would have if I had just gone out and bought the stock.

I recently set up an actual brokerage account to trade COST options for the educational benefit of Terry’s Tips paying subscribers.  I put $5000 in the account.  Today, it is worth $6800.  I started out buying calendar spreads, some at at-the-money strike prices and others at higher strike prices (using calls).  I currently own October 2015 calls at the 145 and 150 strike prices (the stock is trading about $146.50), and I am short (having sold to someone else) May-15 calls at the 145, 147, and 150 strike prices.  These calls will expire in 23 days, on May 15, 2015.  (Technically, the 147 calls I am short are with a diagonal spread rather than a calendar spread because the long side is at the 145 strike.  With calendar spreads, the long and short sides are at the same strike price.)

Here is the risk profile graph for my positions.  It shows how much money I will make (or lose) at the various possible prices where COST might be on May 15th when the short options expire:

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph April 2015

In the lower right-hand corner, the P/L Day number shows the expected gain or loss if the stock stays flat ($148.54), or is $3 higher, or lower, than the current price.  If the stock stays absolutely flat, I should make about $976, or about 14% on the $6800 I have invested.

I could have bought 46 shares of the stock with $6800 instead of owning these options.   If the stock doesn’t go up any in the next 23 days, I would not gain a penny.  But the options will make a profit of about $976.

If the stock falls $2 by May 15, I would lose $92 with my stock investment, and my options would make a gain of $19. I am still better off owning the options.  Only if the stock falls more than $2 ½ dollars over those three weeks would I be worse off with the options positions.  But I like this stock.  I think it is headed higher.  That’s why I bought COST in the first place.

If I am right, and the stock goes up by $3, I would make $138 if I owned 46 shares of the stock, or I would make $1,700 with my options positions.  That’s more than 10 times as much as I would make by owning the stock.

Can you understand why I am confused why anyone would buy stock rather than trading the options when they find a stock they really like?  It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Of course, when the options I have sold are set to expire in 23 days, I need to do something.  I will need to buy back the options that are in the money (at a strike which is lower than the stock price), and sell new options (collecting even more money) in a further-out month, presumably June.  The lazy guys who just bought the stock instead of owning stock are lucky in this regard – they don’t have to do anything.  But if the stock had stayed flat or risen moderately over those three weeks, I know that I am way ahead of the stock-owners every time.

While stock owners sit around and do nothing, my job on May 15 will be to roll over the short calls to the next month (and use the cash that is generated to buy new spreads to increase future returns even more).  I show my subscribers exactly what and how to make those trades each month (in both the COST portfolio and 9 other portfolios which use different underlying stocks).  Hopefully, eventually, they won’t need me any longer, but they will have discovered how to use stock options to dramatically increase their investment returns on their own.

How to Make 20% in one Month on Your Favorite Stock (Using Options)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


This week I would like to show you the exact positions of one of the 9 portfolios we are currently carrying out for Insiders at Terry’s Tips.  It involves one of my favorite places to shop, Costco, and its stock, COST.  We expect to make just under 20% on this portfolio in the next four weeks, even if the stock does not go up a single penny.  Welcome to the wonderful world of stock options.Terry

How to Make 20% in one Month on Your Favorite Stock (Using Options)

The basic strategy that we carry out at Terry’s Tips is to buy longer-term options on stocks we like and sell shorter-term options against them.  Since the decay rates of the shorter-term options is much higher than the decay rates of the long-term options we own, we hope to make money every day that the stock remains flat or moves in the direction that we expect it will.  In options terms, we have positions that have a positive theta value.

Most of the time, we buy these option spreads on stocks we like, so by selecting strike prices that are higher than the current stock price, we create a portfolio that gains more than the theta value when the stock moves higher.  In options terms, we have a portfolio which is positive net delta.  It gains in value when the stock moves higher, just as owners of the stock enjoy.

Here is the risk profile graph for our actual Costco portfolio.  We have just under $5000 invested in these positions.  The curve shows how much we will make or lose at each of the possible stock prices when the February options expire on February 20, 2015, four weeks from tomorrow.
COST Risk Profile Graph 2015

COST Risk Profile Graph 2015

This graph is created by the free Analyse Tab software that is available at thinkorswim. You can see that if the stock remains flat at today’s price ($139.63 when I created this graph), the portfolio is slated to gain $960.38 when the February options expire.  That is almost 20% on our portfolio value.  If the stock moves higher (as we expect it will most of the time), the gain is just about the same, even if it moves as much as $10 higher in a single month.  (While we love this stock, it is probably unlikely to go that much higher).

On the downside, the stock can fall almost $2 and we will still make a small gain.  How can anybody disagree that these options positions are vastly better than just buying COST stock?  Most months, the stock will remain about flat or edge higher.  In each case, we should pick up almost 20% while stock-buyers gain little or nothing.

In this actual portfolio, we own the following call options:

1 COST Apr-15 145 call (COST150417C145)
4 COST Jul-15 135 calls (COST150717C135)
3 COST Jul-15 140 calls (COST150717C140)
3 COST Jul-15 150 calls (COST150717C150)

These are the calls that we have sold (are short):

6 COST Feb-15 140 calls (COST150220C140)
1 COST Feb-15 145 call (COST150220C145)
3 COST Feb-15 150 calls (COST150220C150)

When we have bought and sold a call at the same strike price, we own what is called a calendar spread (also called a time spread).  When the long and short call are at different strike prices, we own what is called a diagonal spread.  Most of the time, the short call is at a higher strike price than the long call (so we don’t incur a maintenance requirement).

We have one more long call than we have short calls.  We could make a greater gain at a flat stock price if we sold a February call against our extra long call, but we might end up not gaining nearly as much if the stock should move significantly higher in the next four weeks.

We are satisfied with making 20% in the next month in this portfolio.  Most people would be happy gaining that much for an entire year. If you like, COST, NKE, SBUX, GMCR, or SPY (to name a few we are currently trading), you could join us, and have all the trades made for you through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim by becoming a Terry’s Tips Insider.  Why not do it today?  It might be a great way to start out the New Year.

Try a Vertical Put Credit Spread on a Stock That You Like

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

This week I would like to share my thoughts about the market for 2015, and also one of my favorite option strategies when I find a stock I really like. Whenever I find a stock I particularly like for one reason or another, rather than buy the stock outright, I use options to dramatically increase the returns I enjoy if I am right (and the stock goes up, or at least stays flat).

Today I would like to share a trade that I made today in my personal account.  Maybe you would like to do something similar with a company you particularly like.

And Happy New Year – I hope that 2015 will by your best year ever for investments (even if the market falls a bit).


Try a Vertical Put Credit Spread on a Stock That You Like

First, a few thoughts about the market for 2015.  The Barron’s Roundtable (made up of 10 mostly large investment bank analysts) predicted an average 10% market gain for 2015.  None of the analysts predicted a market loss for the year.  Others have suggested that the year should be approached with more caution, however. The whopping gain in VIX in the last week of 2014 is a clear indication that investors have become more fearful of what’s ahead. The market has gained about 40% over the past two years.  The bull market has continued for 90 months, a near-record–breaking string.

The forward P/E for the market has expanded to 19, several points higher than the historical average, and 2 points above where it was a year ago.  The trailing market P/E is 22.7x compared to 14x for the 125-year average.  Maybe such high valuations are appropriate for a zero-interest environment, but that is about to change. For the first time since 2007, the Fed will not be propping up the market with their Quantitative Easing purchases. The Fed has essentially promised that they will raise interest rates in 2015.  The only question is when it will happen.

There is an old adage that says “don’t fight the Fed.”  Not only have they stopped pumping billions into the economy every month, they plan to raise interest rates this year.  Like it or not, stock market investments made in 2015 are tantamount to picking a fight with the Fed.

While the U.S. economy is strong (and apparently growing), a great number of U.S. companies depend on foreign sales for a significant share of their business, and the foreign prospects aren’t so great for a number of countries. This situation could cause domestic company earnings to disappoint, and stock prices could fall.  At the very best, 2015 seems like a good time to take a cautious approach to investing.

Even if the market is not great for 2015, surely some shares will move higher. Barron’s chose General Motors (GM) as one of its best 10 picks for 2015 and made a compelling argument for the company’s prospects.  The 3.27% dividend should insulate the company from a big down-draft if the market as a whole has a correction in 2015.

I was convinced by their analysis that GM was highly likely to move higher in 2015.  Today, with GM trading at $35.70, I placed the following trade:

Buy To Open 10 GM Jun-15 32 puts (GM150619P32)

Sell To Open 10 GM Jun-15 37 puts (GM150619P37) for a credit of $2.20  (selling a vertical)

I like to go out about six months with spreads like this to give the stock a little time to move higher.  The above trade put $2200 in my account.  There will be a $5000 maintenance requirement which is reduced to $2800 when you subtract out the amount of cash I received.  This means that my maximum loss would be $2800, and this would come about if the stock closes below $32 on June 19, 2015.

If the stock closes at any price above $37, both the long and short puts will expire worthless and I will not have to make any more trades.  If this happens, I will make a profit of $2200 (less $25 commission, or $2175) on an investment of $2800.  This works out to a gain of 77%.

In order for me to make 77% on this investment, GM only needs to go up by $1.50 (4.2%).  If it stays exactly the same on June 19th ($35.70), I will have to buy back the 37 put for a cost of $1.30 ($1300 for 10 contracts).  That would leave me with a gain of $862.50, or 30.8%.

If I had purchased shares of GM with the $2800 I had at risk, I could have bought 78 shares.  I I might have collected a dividend of $91 over the 6 months.  With my options investment, I would have gained nearly 10 times that much if the stock did not move up at all.

Bottom line, even though I am taking a greater risk with options, the upside potential is so much greater than merely buying the stock that it seems to be a better move when you find a company that looks like it will be a winner.

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Last week we outlined an options play based on the historical fluctuation pattern for our favorite ETP called SVXY.  This week we will compare those fluctuations to the market in general (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as the market definition). We proposed buying a vertical call spread for a one-month-out expiration date with the lower strike about 6% above the starting stock price.

The results were a little unbelievable, possibly gaining an average of 65% a month (assuming the fluctuation pattern continued into the future). If you used an outside indicator to determine which months were more likely to end up with a winning result, you would invest in just under half the months, but when you did invest, your average gain might be in the neighborhood of 152%.  Your average monthly gain would be approximately the same if you only invested half the time or all the time, but some people like to increase the percentage of months when they make gains (the pain of losing always seems to be worse than the pleasure of winning).

This week we will offer a second way to bet that the stock will rise by 12.5% in about 38% of the months (as it has in the past).  It involves buying a calendar spread rather than a vertical call spread (and sort of legging into a long call position as an alternative to the simple purchase of a call).


Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First. Let’s compare the monthly price fluctuations of SPY and SVXY.  You will see that they are totally different.

Here is a graph showing how much SPY has fluctuated each month over the past 38 months:

Over the 38 months of the time period, SPY rose in 28 months and fell in 10 months.  By far, the most popular monthly change was in the zero to +2.5% range.  Note that in less than 8% of the months (3 out of 38) SPY fluctuated by more than 5%, while in over 92% of the months, the fluctuation was less than 5%.

Compare the monthly fluctuations of SPY with those for SVXY over the same time period:

SVXY rose in 28 of the 38 months, exactly the same number as SPY. However, the absolute percentage price changes are far higher for SVXY.  In nearly half the months, SVXY fluctuated by more than 10% either way (18 of 38 months).  In 24 of the 38 months (63%), SVXY changed by more than 5% in either direction compared to less than 8% of the months for SPY.  In 21 of the 38 months (55%)  SVXY gained over 5%.

Bottom line, monthly fluctuations for SVXY are considerably greater than they are for SPY.  In most months, the price change for SPY is relatively insignificant and for SVXY, the price is rarely anywhere near where it started out each expiration month.

Buying Vertical Spreads:

If you were to buy a one-month vertical spread on SPY, buying the at-the-money strike price and selling at a strike $5 higher, the spread would cost about $1.65 ($165) and you could sell it for $5.00 ($500) if the stock rose about 2 1/2% or more.  However, if the historical pattern persisted, you would make the maximum gain in only 13 of 38 months, or 34% of the time.

The same 5-point spread in SVXY would cost far more ($2.50) but you could look forward to making the maximum gain in 21 of 38 months (55% of the time).  While buying this spread would give you a statistical edge, it probably is not the best spread to purchase.  A more profitable spread would be at higher strike prices – betting that the stock would increase by 12.5% or more (which it has 38% of the time).  Since this higher-strike price would cost far less, your statistical edge would be much greater as would your gains in those months when a big increase took place.

A second alternative would be to simply buy a call which was about 6% above the purchase price.  Last week, in a demonstration portfolio at Terry’s Tips, with SVXY trading at $75, we bought a one-month-out 80 call.  It cost $1.40.  If the stock rose by 12.5% from $75, it would be trading around $84 ½ and you could sell the call for about 3 times what you paid for it.

We also bought some SVXY Dec4-14 – Dec2-14 80 calendar call spreads for $1.14.  This is a way of buying a 5-week call at the 80 strike, paying less than a 4-week call which cost $1.40.  When the Dec2-14 short calls expire in two weeks, we would not replace them, and stick with uncovered long calls that expires a week later than the Dec-14 call.  The only extra risk we are taking here is that the stock skyrockets 12.5% in the very first two weeks so that the Dec2-14 80 call finishes in the money (something that seems unlikely to happen his month since VIX is so low so that most of the increase in SVXY should come from the contango component).  This spread seems to be a better alternative than just buying the Dec-14 80 call, but we will see how it works out. Of course, I’ll report back to you.

So far, the stock has edged up to close today about 5% higher than it started out last week (after recovering from a big drop on Monday).  Contango is above 10%, unusually high, but not so unusual for the month of December because of the “holiday effect” (December is often characterized by low volume and higher stock prices, and VIX futures for this month are typically lower than any other month).  The contango number is a rough approximation of how much SVXY should increase in one month from the daily adjustment which is made (selling the one-month-out futures and buying at the spot price of VIX).  Of course, if VIX fluctuates, SVXY will move in the opposite direction.  If VIX moves higher, SVXY might move lower even if it is helped by the contango tailwinds.


An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Friday, November 28th, 2014

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and/or loved ones, and are ready for some exciting new information.  Admittedly, the title of this week’s Idea of the Week is a little bizarre.  Surely, such a preposterous claim can’t possibly have a chance of succeeding.  Yet, that is about what your average monthly gain would have been if you had used this strategy for the past 37 months that the underlying ETP (SVXY) has been in existence.  In other words, if the pattern of monthly price changes continues going forward, a 40% average monthly gain should result (actually, it would be quite a bit more than this, but I prefer to underpromise and over-deliver).  Please read on.

We will discuss some exact trades which might result in 40%+ monthly gains over the next four weeks.  I hope you will study every article carefully.  Your beliefs about options trading may be changed forever.


An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

First of all, we need to say a few words about our favorite underlying, SVXY.  It is not a stock.  There are no quarterly earnings reports to push it higher or lower, depending on how well or poorly it performs.  Instead, it is an Exchange Traded Product (ETP) which is a derivative of several other derivatives, essentially impossible to predict which way it will move in the next week or month.  The only reliable predictor might be to look how it has performed in the past, and see if there is a way to make extraordinary gains if the historical pattern of price changes manages to extend into the future.  This price change pattern is the basis of the 40% monthly gain potential that we have discovered.

SVXY is the inverse of VXX, a popular hedge against a market crash.  VXX is positively correlated with VIX (implied volatility of SPY options), the so-called fear index.  When the market crashes or corrects, options volatility, VIX, and VXX all soar.  That is why VXX is such a good hedge against a market crash.  Some analysts have written that a $10,000 investment in VXX will protect against any loss on a $100,000 stock portfolio (I have calculated that you would really need to invest about $20,000 in VXX to protect against any loss in a $100,000 stock portfolio, but that is not a relevant discussion here.)

While VXX is a good hedge against a market crash, it is a horrible long-term holding.  In its 7 years of existence, it has fallen an average of 67% a year.  On three occasions, they have had to engineer 1-for-4 reverse splits to keep the stock price high enough to bother trading.  In seven years, it has fallen from a split-adjusted $2000+ price to today’s under-$30.

Over the long run, VXX is just about the worst-performing “stock” that you could possibly find.  That is why we are so enamored by its inverse, SVXY.

Deciding to buy a stock is a simple decision.  Compare that to SVXY, an infinitely more complicated choice.  First, you start with SPY, an ETP which derives its value from the weighted average stock price of 500 companies in the S&P 500 index.  Options trade on SPY, and VIX is derived from the implied volatility (IV) of those options.  Then there are futures which are derived from the future expectations of what VIX will be in future months. SVXY is derived from the value of short-term futures on VIX.  Each day, SVXY sells these short-term futures and buys at the spot price (today’s value) of VIX.  Since about 90% of the time, short-term futures are higher than the spot price of VIX (a condition called contango), SVXY is destined to move higher over the long run – an average of about 67% a year, the inverse of what VXX has done.  Simple, right?

While SVXY is anything but a simple entity to understand or predict, its price-change pattern is indeed quite simple.  In most months, it moves higher.  Every once in a while, however, market fears erupt and SVXY plummets.  In October, for example, SVXY fell from over $90 to $50, losing almost half its value in a single month.  While owning SVXY might be a good idea for the long run, in the short run, it can be an awful thing to own.

Note on terminology: While SVXY is an ETP and not literally a stock, when we are using it as an underlying entity for options trading, it behaves exactly like a stock, and we refer to it as a stock rather than an ETP.

We have performed an exhaustive study of monthly price fluctuations (using expiration month numbers rather than calendar month figures).  Our major finding was that in half the months, SVXY ended up more than 12% higher or lower than where it started out.  It was extremely unusual for it to be trading at the end of an expiration month anyway near where it started out.  This would suggest that buying a straddle (both a put and a call) at the beginning of the month might be a good idea.  However, such a straddle would cost about 10% of the value of the stock, a cost that does not leave much room for gains since the stock would have to move by 10% before your profits would start, and that occurs only about half the time.

A second significant finding of our backtest study of SVXY price fluctuations was that in 38% of the months, the stock ended up at least 12.5% higher than it started the expiration month.  If this pattern persisted into the future, the purchase of an at-the-money call (costing about 5% of the stock price) might be a profitable bet.  There are other strategies which we believe are better, however.

One possible strategy would be to buy a one-month out vertical call spread with the lower strike about 6% above the current price of the stock.  Last week, with SVXY trading about $75, we bought a Dec-14 80 call and sold a Dec-14 85 call.  The spread cost us $1.11 ($111 per spread, plus $2.50 in commissions at the special thinkorswim rate for paying Terry’s Tips subscribers).  This means that if the stock ends up at any price above $85 (which it has historically done 38% of the time), we could sell the spread for $497.50 after commissions, making a profit of $384 on an investment of $113.50.  That works out to a 338% gain on the original investment.
If you bought a vertical call spread like this for $113.50 each month and earned a $384 gain in the 14 months (out of 37 historical total) when SVXY ended up the expiration month having gained at least 12.5%, you would end up with $5376 in gains in those months.  If you lost your entire $113.50 investment in the other 23 months, you would have losses of $2610, and this works out to a net gain of $2766 for the total 37 months, or an average of $74 per month on a monthly investment of $113.50, or an average of 65% a month.  Actually, it would be better than this because wouldn’t lose the entire investment in many months when the maximum gain did not come your way.

But as good as 65% a month seems (surely better than the 40% a month I talked about at the beginning), it could get better.  Again using the historical pattern, we identified another variable which could tell us whether or not we should buy the vertical spread at the beginning of the month. If you followed this measure, you would only buy the spread in 17 of the 37 months.  However, you would make the maximum gain in 10 of those months. Your win rate would be 58% rather than 38%, and your average monthly gain would be 152%.  This variable is only available for paying subscribers to Terry’s Tips, although maybe if you’re really smart and can afford to spend a few dozen hours of searching, you can figure it out for yourself.

Starting in a couple of weeks, we are offering a portfolio that will execute spreads like this every month, and this portfolio will be available for Auto-Trading at thinkorswim (so you don’t have to place any of the orders yourself).  Each month, we will start out with $1000 in the portfolio and buy as many spreads as we can at that time.  We expect it will be a very popular portfolio for our subscribers.  With potential numbers like this, I’m sure you can agree with our prognosis.

Of course, this entire strategy is based on the expectation that future monthly price fluctuations of SVXY will be similar to the historical pattern of price changes.  This may or may not be true in the real world, but we think our chances are pretty good.  For example, for the November expiration that ended just one week ago, the stock had risen a whopping 34%.  In the preceding October expiration month, it had fallen by almost that same amount, but at the beginning of the month, our outside variable measure would have told us not to buy the spread for that month, so we would have made the 338% in November and avoided any loss at all in October.

There are other possible spreads that could be placed to take advantage of the unusual price behavior of SVXY, and we will discuss some of them in future reports.  I invite you to check them out carefully, and to look forward for a year-end special price designed to entice you to come on board for the lowest price we have ever offered. It could be the best investment decision you make in 2014.

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  This sample demonstration portfolio holds a SVXY Mar-15 75 put, and each week, (almost always on Friday), we buy back an expiring weekly put and sell a one-week-out put in its place, trying to sell at a strike which is $1 – $2 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 or $2 above the stock price).  Our goal in this portfolio is to make 3% a week.

Last week, SVXY rose to just less than $75 and we bought back the expiring Nov-14 73 put  and sold a Dec1-14 75 put (selling a calendar), collecting a credit of $1.75 ($172.50 after commissions).

The account value was then $1570, up $70 for the week, and $336 from the starting value of $1234 on October 17th, 5 weeks ago.  This works out to $67 a week, well more than the $37 weekly gain we need to achieve our 3% weekly goal.  In fact, we have gained 5.4% a week for the 5 weeks we have carried out this portfolio.

At this point, we closed out this portfolio so that we could replace the positions with new options plays designed to take advantage of the SVXY price fluctuation pattern we spoke about today.  It seems like very few people were following our strategy of selling weekly puts against a long Mar-15 put, but we clearly showed how 3% a week was not only possible, but fairly easy to ring up.  Where else but with stock options can you achieve these kinds of investment returns?

Making 36%

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

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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.

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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