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Posts Tagged ‘Volatility’

First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

This week I would like to share with you (for the first time ever) every option position we hold in every stock-based actual portfolio we carry out at Terry’s Tips.  You can access this report here.If you missed it last week, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads, and  How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.

There is a lot of material to cover in the report and videos, but I hope you will be willing to make the effort to learn a little about a non-traditional way to make greater investment returns than just about anything out there.


First Saturday Report with October 2015 Results

Here is a summary of how well our 5 stock-based portfolios using our 10K Strategy performed last month as well as for their entire lifetime:

First Saturday Report October Results 2015

First Saturday Report October Results 2015


While it was a good month for the market, the best in 4 years, our 5 portfolios outperformed the market by 166% in October.

Enjoy the full report here.

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

Monday, September 14th, 2015

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

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

Happy trading.


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

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

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

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

VXX Historical Chart 2015

VXX Historical Chart 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

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


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

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

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

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

5 Year Chart SVXY September 2015

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

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

This is what I did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

Friday, September 4th, 2015

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

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


Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

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

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

XIV Chart September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s review the trades I made last week:

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

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

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

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

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

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

Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Make This Volatility Trade

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

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

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

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

Here is what I did today:

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

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

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

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

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph August 2015

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

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

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

3 Options Strategies for a Flat Market

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

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

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

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

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


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.

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