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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.

Terry

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?

A Little About Vertical Spreads

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Today we will discuss vertical spreads, and how you can use them when you have a strong feeling about which way a stock is headed.

But first, a brief plug for my step-daughter’s new fitness invention called the Da Vinci BodyBoard – it gives you a full body workout in only 20 minutes a day right in your home.  She has launched a KickStarter campaign to get financing and offer it to the world – check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/412276080/da-vinci-bodyboard

Terry

A Little About Vertical Spreads

Vertical spreads are known as directional spreads.  When you place such a spread, you are betting that the stock will move in a particular direction, either up or down.  If you are right, you can make a nice gain.  Even better, you can usually create a vertical spread that also makes money if the stock doesn’t move in the direction you hoped, but stays absolutely flat instead.

If you have a strong feeling that a particular stock will move higher in the near future, you might be inclined to either buy the stock or buy a call on it.  Both of these choices have disadvantages.  Buying the stock ties up a great deal of money, and even if you are right and the stock moves higher, your return on investment is likely to be quite small.

Buying calls gives you great leverage and a much higher return on investment if you are indeed right and the stock moves higher.  But much of the cost of a call is premium (the extra amount you pay out so that you don’t have to put up so much cash compared to buying the stock).  The stock needs to go up a certain amount just to cover the premium, and you don’t start making money until that premium is covered.  If the stock doesn’t go up (and no matter how great you are at picking winners, you will probably be disappointed many times), you could lose some or all of your investment.  Bottom line, buying calls is a losing proposition much of the time – you have to be really lucky to come out a winner.

Buying a vertical spread is a safer alternative than either buying stock or calls.  You give up some of the extraordinary gains for a great likelihood of making a more moderate gain, and if you play your cards right, you can also make a gain if the stock stays flat.

Let’s look at an example.  Last week, my favorite underlying, SVXY, had been beaten down because VIX had shot up over 25.  I felt very strongly that the market fears would eventually subside, VIX would fall back to the 15 level, and SVXY (which moves in the opposite direction of VIX) would move higher.

Late last week, when SVXY was trading right at $60, I bought November 55 calls and sold November 60 calls as a vertical spread.  It cost me $3 ($300 per contract).  When these calls expire in about a month, if the stock is any higher than $60, my spread will be worth exactly $5, and I will make about 60% on my investment.  The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to move any higher than was at the time for me to make that kind of a gain.

In reality, while I did make this vertical spread, I didn’t use calls.  Instead, I sold a vertical spread using puts, buying November 60 puts and selling November 55 puts. I collected $2, an amount which is the exact same risk that I would have taken if I had bought the vertical spread with calls.  The broker will charge a maintenance fee of $5 ($500) on each spread, but since I collected $200 at the outset, my risk, and the amount I had to put up, is only $300.

The risks and rewards are identical if you buy a vertical with calls or sell a vertical with puts (assuming the strike prices are the same), but there is a neat thing about using puts if you believe the stock is headed higher.  In this case, if the stock ends up at the November expiration at any price higher than $60, both the long and short puts will expire worthless (and I get to keep the $200 I got at the beginning).  There is no exit trade to make, and best of all, no commissions to pay.  For this reason, I almost always use puts when I buy a vertical spread betting on a higher stock price rather than calls (the only exceptions come when the spread can be bought for a lower price using calls, something which occurs on occasion).

Update on the ongoing SVXY put demonstration portfolio.  (We own one Mar-15 65 put, and each week, we roll over a short put to the next weekly which is about $1 in the money (i.e., at a strike which is $1 higher than the stock price).

This week, SVXY moved sharply higher, from about $57 to about $62.  Today I bought back the out-of-the-money Oct4-14 59 put for a few cents and sold an Oct5-14 64 put (about $2 in the money) for a credit of $3.65 ($365) on the diagonal spread.  The account value is at $1290, just a little higher than $1234 where we started out (we would have done much better if the stock had moved up by only $2 instead of $5).

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.  This week I sold the next weekly put at a strike which was $2 in the money because I think the stock is headed higher because VIX is still at an elevated level compared to where it has been for the past year or so.

Knowing When to Bite the Bullet

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Sometimes, the market does just the opposite of what you hoped it would, and you are faced with the decision to hang on and hope it will reverse itself, or accept that you guessed wrong, and close out your position and move on to something else.

That will be our subject today.

Terry

Knowing When to Bite the Bullet

Kenny Rogers said it well – “You’ve got to know when to walk away and know when to run.”  We set up demonstration portfolio to trade diagonal spreads on an ETP called SVXY.  We were betting that the stock would go up.  In each of the last two years, SVXY had doubled in value.  Its inverse, VXX, had fallen from a split-adjusted $3000+ to under $30 over the past 5 years, making it just about the biggest dog on the entire stock exchange (selling it short would have made anyone a bundle over that time period).  We felt comfortable being long (i.e., the equivalent of owning stock) in something that would do just the opposite of VXX.

In our demonstration portfolio, we decided to trade puts rather than calls because there was a lot more time premium in the weekly puts that we planned to sell to someone else than there was in the calls.  Each Friday, we would buy back the expiring put and replace it by selling another put with a week of remaining life.  This strategy enabled us to be short put options that had extremely high decay.

The biggest challenge was to decide which strikes to sell new puts at.  We selected a strike that was about $1 in-the-money (i.e., about a dollar higher than the stock price), or if the put we were buying back was well into the money so that the trade could not be made at a credit, we would select the highest strike we could take that could yield us a credit on the spread.  This meant that when the stock tumbled, the best we could do would be to sell a calendar spread at a very small credit.

In a six-week period, the stock managed to fall by over 30%.  Not such good news when we were betting that it would go up.  The biggest problem with a drop of this magnitude was that our short put was so far in the money that we risked an execution.  This would mean that the stock would be put to us (i.e., we would be forced to buy it at the strike price).  With that risk hanging over our head, the time has come to recognize our loss.

Admitting that you were wrong, at least for a certain time period, and closing out your trade, is sometimes the best thing you could do.  Many people hang on to their losing investments and sell the winners (usually for a smaller profit than they could have made by hanging on).  In the long run, this strategy leaves you with a portfolio of losing stocks that you are hoping will go higher (and probably never will).  Better to sell your losers and move on to something more promising.

Today we placed the following trade which closed out our spread:

Buy to Close 1 SVXY Oct4-14 80.5 put (SVXY141024P80.5)
Sell to Close 1 SVXY Jan-15 90 put (SVXY150117P90) for a credit of $9.71  (selling a diagonal)

When the trade was executed at this price, we were left with $1,234 in the account after paying commissions.  Since we started with $1500, we were faced with a loss of $266, or a little less than 18%.  This was over a period in which the stock we were betting on lost over 30%.  This is another example of how options can protect you better than merely buying stock.

We expected to make 150% a year on this portfolio, many times greater than the 18% we lost in the couple of months we operated it.  If the stock had remained flat or moved higher as we expected, we could have expected to gain the 3% a week we were hoping for.

Today, in the special account I set up this portfolio with $1500 (and now is down to $1234), I am trying again, this time at lower strike prices which are more appropriate to the current level of the stock.

This was the trade I executed today when the stock was trading about $57:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Mar-15 65 put (SVXY150320P65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Oct4-14 59 put (SVXY141025P59) for a debit of $12.07 (buying a diagonal)

I will continue trading this account and let you know from time to time how close I am achieving my goal of 3% a week, although I will not report every trade I make each week.  I will follow the guidelines for rolling over as outlined above, so you should be able to do it on your own if you wished.

Ongoing Spread SVXY Strategy – Week 3

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Two weeks ago we started a $1500 demonstration portfolio using SVXY, an ETP that is destined to move higher over the long run because of the way it is constructed (selling VIX higher-priced futures each day and buying at the spot price of VIX, a condition called contango which exists about 90% of time).

Today, contango is about 6% (that is how much higher the futures are that this ETP is selling each day when it buys at the spot price of VIX).  In rough terms, this means that SVXY should go up by 6% each month that VIX remains unchanged.  This works out to be about $1.25 per week that SVXY should go up, all other things being equal (which, unfortunately, they usually aren’t).

I hope you find this ongoing demonstration to be a simple way to learn a whole lot about trading options.

Terry

Ongoing Spread SVXY Strategy – Week 3

In this simple portfolio, we own an SVXY Jan-15 90 put.  We will use this as collateral for selling a put each week in the weekly series that expires a week later than the current short put that we sold a week ago.  The decay of our long put (theta) is $4 (this means that if SVXY remains unchanged, the put will fall in value by $4 each day.  The decay of our short put is $13 (and will increase every day until next Friday).  This means that all other things being equal, we should gain $9 in portfolio value every day at the beginning of the week and about double that amount later in the week.

Each Friday we will have to make a decision as to which strike we should sell the following week’s put at.  Our goal is two-fold – sell a put at a strike which is closest to being $1 in the money (i.e., the strike price is about $1 higher than the current price of the stock), and second, it must be sold at a credit so that we add cash to our portfolio each week.

This week, we were a little lucky because the stock is trading today at very near the strike of the 87 put we sold a week ago.  We will buy this put back today and sell a put for next week at the 88 strike and collect cash in doing so.  Here is the trade that we will place today.  If it doesn’t execute after half an hour, we will reduce the credit amount by $.10 (and continue doing this each half hour until we get an execution).

Here is the trade we placed today:

Buy to Close 1 SVXY Aug5-14 86 put (SVXY140829P86)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Sep1-14 86.5 put (SVXY140905P86.5) for a credit limit of $1.50  (selling a diagonal)

When we entered this order, the natural price (buying at the ask price and selling at the bid price) was $1.25 and the mid-point price was $1.55.  We placed a limit order at $1.50, a number which was $.05 below the mid-point price.  (It executed at $1.50).

Our goal is to generate some cash in our portfolio each week.  This should be possible as long as the stock remains below $90 and we have to move that strike price higher.  We will discuss what we need to do later when it becomes an issue.

We paid a commission of $2.50 for this trade, the special rate for Terry’s Tips customers at thinkorswim.  The balance in our account is now $1670 which shows a $170 gain over the two weeks we have held the positions.  This is much more than the $45 average weekly gain we are shooting for to make our goal of 3% a week.

Next Friday we will make another similar trade and I will keep you posted on what we do.

3% a Week Possible With This Strategy?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Today I would like to share a strategy with you that seems to make sense to me.  I have not back-tested it, and I am not exactly positive that it will work.  But I think it will.  And I will only need to commit $1500 to test it out (actually, a little less than that as you will see).  I invite you to follow along if you wish.  For the next few weeks, I will send out any trades I make so you can mirror them if you wish.

My gut feeling tells me that this strategy could make 3% each week.  I have set up a separate brokerage account with $1500 to test it out.

Terry

3% a Week Possible With This Strategy?

This strategy is based on my favorite underlying “stock” (actually an Exchange Traded Product, ETP) called SVXY.  It is the inverse of VXX, a volatility-related ETP which many people buy for protection just in case the market crashes (when that happens, volatility soars, and so does VXX).  The only problem is that volatility has been pretty much tame for quite a while, and VXX has consistently moved lower.

In fact, VXX is just about the worst investment you could have made over the last few years.  Since it was started 7 years ago, it was at a pre-reverse split price of over $3000 and now it is about $28.  It is hard to find anything out there that has been that bad.

SVXY is the inverse of VXX, and that sounds to me like a better investment for the long run.  SVXY has only been around for 2 ½ years, and in each of the first two calendar years, it has about doubled in value.  So far this year it is up about 40%.

Of course, the big risk with owning SVXY is that a crash or correction will come along and the stock will fall by a large amount.  However, over the long run, because of contango (discussed in this newsletter on many occasions), it inevitably will rise.

One possible good investment might be to just buy SVXY. We do essentially this in one of the 10 portfolios we carry out at Terry’s Tips, in fact – it has gained over 40% since we set it up in November 2013 (sometimes we sell shares when we have fears of impending market volatility such as the fiscal cliff scare, and buy shares back when it looks like the possible crisis has blown over).

SVXY is an extremely volatile ETP and option prices are extremely high.  For that reasons, we trade it in several Terry’s Tips portfolios.  The proposed new strategy I am telling you about here will not be traded at Terry’s Tips unless it ends up looking highly likely that we could make the 3% a week that I think is possible.

This strategy is based on my observation that weekly put prices on SVXY are more expensive than weekly call prices, and they also seem to be higher than they should be given what the stock does most of the time.  You can sell someone a weekly put that is $5 out of the money (i.e., $5 less than the current stock price) and collect more than a dollar ($100 per contract) for it.  In other words, if the stock does anything other than fall over $6 in a week, you get to keep the entire option price you collected.  SVXY has only fallen $6 in a single week once in 2014 (although in 2013, it fell considerably more on two occasions).

It is possible to sell puts naked (not in an IRA, however), but that would require a huge maintenance requirement that would reduce your return on investment.  Besides, the risk would just be too great for most of us.  Instead, I will buy a longer-term put at a strike about $6 below the strike of the call I plan to sell.  That will create a maintenance requirement of $600 per trade (less the value of the put that is sold).

To start off, today with SVXY trading about $87, I placed the following spread order:

Buy to Open 1 SVXY Jan-15 75 put (SVXY150117P75)
Sell to Open 1 SVXY Aug-2 81 put (SVXY140808P81) for a debit of $7.20 (buying a diagonal)

The spread executed.  I paid $8.70 for the Jan-15 75 put and received $1.50 for the Aug2-14 81 put that expires in 10 days.  The spread cost me $720 plus a $2.50 commission:

SVXY Diagonal Trade July 2014SVXY Diagonal Trade July 2014

Thinkorswim offers a special commission rate for Terry’s Tips subscribers ($1.25 for a single option trade).  Many people have become Terry’s Tips insiders to qualify for this rate for all their trades.  If you are paying more than this, you might consider it yourself.

My total investment is $720 plus the $600 maintenance requirement, or $1320.  That is the maximum I can lose if SVXY falls below $75 and stays there through next January.  I can live with that unlikely possibility.

A week from Friday when the Aug2-14 81 put expires (most likely worthless), I will either  buy it back for a small amount and sell a new put for the Aug-14 series that expires a week later (at a strike which is about $6 less than the then-current stock price) or do nothing and wait until Monday to sell a new put.

If the Aug2-14 81 put ends up in the money because SVXY has fallen below $81, I will buy it back and sell an Aug-14 81 put as a calendar spread, collecting a credit of some amount.

In any event, as soon as I make a trade, I will tell you about it.  I think this strategy might be a little fun to play, and if it does manage to make 3% a week, I could live with 150% a year on my money.

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

Monday, June 16th, 2014

The recent developments in Iraq have nudged options volatility higher, but for one underlying, SVXY, it has apparently pushed IV through the roof.  This development has brought about some potentially profitable option spread possibilities.Terry

An Interesting Trade to Make on Monday

In case you don’t know what SVXY is, you might check out the chart of its volatility-related inverse, VXX.  This is the ETP many investors use as a protection against a market crash.  If a crash comes along, options volatility skyrockets, taking VXX right along with it.  The only problem with VXX is that over time, it is just about the worst investment you could imagine making.  Three times in the last five years they have had to engineer 1 – for – 4  reverse splits to keep the price higher enough to bother with buying.  Over the past 7 years, VXX has fallen from a split-adjusted price over $2000 to its current $32.

Wouldn’t you like to buy the inverse of VXX?  You can.  It’s called SVXY  (XIV is also its inverse, but you can’t trade options on XIV).

Last week I talked about buying short-term (weekly) call options on SVXY because in exactly half the weeks so far in 2014, the stock had moved $4 higher at least once during the week.  I also advised waiting until option prices were lower before taking this action.  Now that option prices have escalated, the best thing seems to be selling option premium rather than buying it.

Two weeks ago, a slightly out-of-the-money weekly SVXY option had a bid price of $1.05.  Friday, that same option had a bid price of $2.30, more than double that amount.

All other things being equal, SVXY should move higher each month at the current level of Contango (6.49%).  That works out to about $1.20 each week.  I would like to place a bet that SVXY moves higher by about that amount and sell a calendar spread at a strike price about that much above Friday’s close ($79.91).

Below I have displayed the risk profile graph  for a July-June 81 calendar put spread (I used puts rather than calls because if the stock does move higher, the June puts will expire worthless and I will save a commission by not buying them back.

This would be the risk profile graph if we were to buy 5 Jul-14 – Jun-14 put calendar spreads at the 81 strike price at a cost of $3.00 (or less).  You would have $1500 at risk and could make over 50% on your investment if the stock goes up by amount that contango would suggest.  Actually, as I write this Monday morning, it looks like SVXY will open up about a dollar lower, and the spread might better be placed at the 80 strike instead of the 81.

SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014
SVXY Risk Profile Graph June 2014

A break-even range of $3 to the downside and about $5 on the upside looks quite comfortable.  If you had a little more money to invest, you might try buying September puts rather than July – this would allow more time for SVXY to recover if it does fall this week on scary developments in Iraq (or somewhere else in the world).

I have personally placed a large number of Sep-Jun calendar spreads on SVXY at strike prices both above and below the current stock price in an effort to take advantage of the unusually higher weekly option prices that exist  right now.

That’s enough about SVXY for today, but I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  This report includes some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans and how you can do better.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

Contango, Backwardation, and SVXY

Monday, May 19th, 2014

This week I would like to introduce you to a thing called contango.  This is relevant today because contango just got higher than I have seen it in many years – over 10% while most of the time, it hangs out in the 3% – 4% range.  This measure becomes important when you are trading in my favorite ETP (Exchange Traded Product), SVXY.  If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, read on.
Terry

Contango, Backwardation, and SVXY

There seems to be a widespread need for a definition of contango.   I figure that about 99% of investors have no idea of what contango or backwardation are.  That’s a shame, because they are important concepts which can be precisely measured and they strongly influence whether certain investment instruments will move higher (or lower).  Understanding contango and backwardation can seriously improve your chances of making profitable investments.

Contango sounds like it might be some sort of exotic dance that you do against (con) someone, and maybe the definition of backwardation is what your partner does, just the opposite (indeed, it is, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves because we haven’t defined contango is yet).

If you have an idea (in advance) which way a stock or other investment instrument is headed, you have a real edge in deciding what to do.  Contango can give you that edge.

So here’s the definition of contango – it is simply that the prices of futures are upward sloping over time, (second month more expensive than front month, third month more expensive than second, etc.), Usually, the further out in the future you look, the less certain you are about what will happen, and the more uncertainty there is, the higher the futures prices are.  For this reason, contango is the case about 75 – 90% of the time.

Sometimes, when a market crash has occurred or Greece seems to be on the brink of imploding, the short-term outlook is more uncertain than the longer-term outlook (people expect that things will settle down eventually).  When this happens, backwardation is the case – a downward-sloping curve over time.

So what’s the big deal about the shape of the price curve?  In itself, it doesn’t mean much, but when it gets involved in the construction of some investment instruments, it does become a big deal.

A Little About VXX (and its Inverse, SVXY)

One of the most frequent times that contango appears in the financial press is when VXX is discussed. VXX is an ETP which trades very much like any stock.  You can buy (or sell) shares in it, just like you can IBM.  You can also buy or sell options using VXX as the underlying. VXX was created by Barclay’s on January 29, 2009 and it will be closed out with a cash settlement on January 30, 2019 (so we have a few years remaining to play with it).

VXX is an equity that people purchase as protection against a market crash.  It is based on the short-term futures of VIX, the so-called “fear index” which is a measure of the implied volatility of options on SPY, the tracking stock for the S&P 500.  When the market crashes, VIX usually soars, the futures for VIX move higher as well, pushing up the price of VXX.

In August of 2011 when the market (SPY) fell by 10%, VXX rose from $21 to $42, a 100% gain.  Backwardation set in and VXX remained above $40 for several months.  VXX had performed exactly as it was intended to.  Pundits have argued that a $10,000 investment in VXX protects a $100,000 portfolio of stocks against loss in case of a market crash.  No wonder it is so popular.  Investors buy about $3 billion worth of VXX every month as crash protection against their other investments in stocks or mutual funds.

There is only one small bad thing about VXX.  Over the long term, it is just about the worst stock you could ever buy. Over the last three years, they have had to have 3 reverse 1 – 4 stock splits just to keep the price of VXX high enough to bother with trading.  Every time it gets down to about $12, they engineer a reverse split and the stock is suddenly trading at $48.  Over time, it goes back to $12 and they do it again (at least that is how it has worked ever since it was created).

VXX is adjusted every day by buying VIX futures and selling VIX at its spot price.  (This is not exactly what happens, but conceptually it is accurate.)  As long as contango is in effect, they are essentially buying high (because future prices are higher than the spot price) and selling low (the current spot price).  The actual contango number represents an approximation of how much VXX will fall in one month if a market correction or crash doesn’t take place.

So it’s a sort of big deal when contango gets over 10% as it is today.  VXX is bound to tumble, all other things being equal.  On the other hand, SVXY is likely to go up by that much in a month since it is the inverse of VXX.  SVXY has had a nice run lately, moving up an average of 4.5% in each of the last three weeks, in fact.  You can see why it is my favorite ETP (I trade puts and calls on it in large quantities every week, usually betting that it will move higher).

That’s enough about contango for today, but if you are one of the few people who have read down this far, I would like to offer you a free report entitled 12 Important Things Everyone with a 401(K) or IRA Should Know (and Probably Doesn’t).  I want to share some of my recent learnings about popular retirement plans but I don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much traffic while I get a new website set up.  Order it here.  You just might learn something (and save thousands of dollars as well).

 

Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Today I would like to talk a little about an important measure in the options world – volatility, and how it affects how much you pay for an option (either put or call).

Terry

Volatility’s Impact on Option Prices

Volatility is the sole variable that can only be measured after the option prices are known.  All the other variables have precise mathematical measurements, but volatility has an essentially emotional component that defies easy understanding.  If option trading were a poker game, volatility would be the wild card.

Volatility is the most exciting measure of stock options.  Quite simply, option volatility means how much you expect the stock to vary in price. The term “volatility” is a little confusing because it may refer to historical volatility (how much the company stock actually fluctuated in the past) or implied volatility (how much the market expects the stock will fluctuate in the future).

When an options trader says “IBM’s at 20” he is referring to the implied volatility of the front-month at-the-money puts and calls.  Some people use the term “projected volatility” rather than “implied volatility.”  They mean the same thing.

A staid old stock like Procter & Gamble would not be expected to vary in price much over the course of a year, and its options would carry a low volatility number.  For P & G, this number currently is 12%.  That is how much the market expects the stock might vary in price, either up or down, over the course of a year.

Here are some volatility numbers for other popular companies:

IBM  – 16%
Apple Computer – 23%
GE – 14%
Johnson and Johnson – 14%
Goldman Sachs – 21%
Amazon – 47%
eBay – 51%
SVXY – 41% (our current favorite underlying)

You can see that the degree of stability of the company is reflected in its volatility number.  IBM has been around forever and is a large company that is not expected to fluctuate in price very much, while Apple Computer has exciting new products that might be great successes (or flops) which cause might wide swings in the stock price as news reports or rumors are circulated.

Volatility numbers are typically much lower for Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) than for individual stocks.  Since ETFs are made up of many companies, good (or bad) news about a single company will usually not significantly affect the entire batch of companies in the index.  An ETF such as OIH which is influenced by changes in the price of oil would logically carry a higher volatility number.

Here are some volatility numbers for the options of some popular ETFs:

Dow Jones Industrial (Tracking Stock – DIA) – 13%
S&P 500 (Tracking Stock – SPY) –14%
Nasdaq (Tracking Stock – QQQ) – 21%
Russell 2000 (Small Cap – IWM) – 26%

Since all the input variables that determine an option price in the Black-Scholes model (strike price, stock price, time to expiration, interest and dividend rates) can be measured precisely, only volatility is the wild card.   It is the most important variable of all.

If implied volatility is high, the option prices are high.  If expectations of fluctuation in the company stock are low, implied volatility and option prices are low.  For example, a one-month at-the-money option on Johnson & Johnson would cost about $1.30 (stock price $100) vs. $2.00 for eBay (stock price $53).  On a per-dollar basis, the eBay option trades for about three times as much as the JNJ option.

Of course, since only historical volatility can be measured with certainty, and no one knows for sure what the stock will do in the future, implied volatility is where all the fun starts and ends in the option trading game.

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

Monday, April 7th, 2014

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

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

Terry

Using Puts vs. Calls for Calendar Spreads

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

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

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

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

How to Play War Rumors

Monday, March 10th, 2014

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

Terry

How to Play War Rumors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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