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The "Greeks"

The "Greeks" are measures designed to better understand how option prices change when the underlying stock changes in value and/or time passes by (and options decline in value).

My goal is to keep this discussion of Greek measures as simple as possible. It is not easy. I have tried many times to explain these terms to people in person. I have seen their eyes glaze over before I get past Alpha.

I'm sure you heard about the fellow who bragged that he could speak every language except Greek, and when asked to say something in a particular foreign language, answered "It's all Greek to me." Let's hope that isn't your answer next time you are asked about a Greek stock option measure.

I'll confine this discussion to three measures of market risk exposure - delta, gamma, and theta. Mathematicians gave these measures the names of Greek letters, or names that sound like they're Greek letters (vega, another measure which we will not discuss here, is not in the Greek alphabet, but sounds like it should be).

Delta, gamma,and theta are the three most important Greeks in the world of stock options, and each tells us something important about an option. If you own 100 shares of a company's stock, your market risk is easy to understand. If the stock rises (or falls) by $1.00, you gain (or lose) $100. It's not so simple with stock options. The most common way to measure market risk for an option is the Greek called delta.

Delta is the amount the option will change in value if the stock goes up by $1.00. If an option carries a delta of 70, and the stock goes up by $1.00, the price of the option will rise by $.70 ($70 since each option is worth 100 shares).

Owning an option which has a delta of 70 means that you own the equivalent of 70 shares of the company's stock.

All options do not have the same delta value. Deep in-the-money options have very high delta values (perhaps in the 90s), while way out-of-the-money options have very low delta values (could be under 10).

To make matters more confusing, delta values change over the life of the option, even if the price of the stock remains unchanged. An in-the-money option, which might have a delta value of 60 with a month to go until expiration, will have a delta value of essentially 100 on expiration Friday.

You can calculate the net delta value of your composite option positions by multiplying the delta value of your long options by the number of those options and subtracting the delta value of your short options multiplied by the number of those options. The resulting figure, net delta value, tells you how much the value of your current option portfolio will change if the underlying stock goes up by $1.00. It is perhaps the best measure of market risk at any given moment.

Most professional market makers who hold a variety of options in their account, some long, some short, some puts and some calls, calculate their net delta value continually throughout the day so that they don't expose themselves to more risk than their comfort level allows. Ideally, they like to be net delta neutral, which means that with their current configuration of option holdings, they do not care whether the market goes up or down.

Gamma is a measure of how much delta changes with a dollar change in the price of the stock. Just as with deltas, all gammas are different for different options. While you may establish a net delta neutral position (i.e., you don't care if the stock goes up or down), the gamma will most always move you away from delta neutrality as soon as the underlying stock changes in value.

If there is a lot of time left in an option (such as a LEAP), the gamma tends to be quite stable (i.e., low). This holds true for both in-the-money and out-of-the-money options. Short-term options, on the other hand, have widely fluctuating gammas, especially when the strike price of the option is very close to the stock price.

A perfectly neutral option strategy would have a zero net delta position and a zero net gamma position. As long as you deal with calendar spreads, you will never enjoy this luxury. You will always see your net delta position fall as the stock price rises, and watch your net delta position rise as the stock price falls. Gamma measures tend to do the same, which serves to accelerate the change in the net delta position of a calendar spread portfolio.

Occasionally checking out the net gamma position lets you know how big the change in your net delta position will be if the stock moves up or down in price. It helps you know how your exposure to market risk will change as the stock price changes.

Theta is my favorite Greek, because it tells me how much money I will make today if the price of the stock stays flat when I have my favorite positions (calendar spreads) in place. Theta is the amount of daily decay. It is expressed as a negative number if you own an option (that is how much your option will decay in value in one day).

On the other hand, if you are short an option, theta is a positive number which shows how much you will earn while the option you sold to someone else goes down in value in one day.

Theta tells you how many dollars you will make today if the stock stays flat. For me, knowing this number has some negative implications, however. If I'm at a restaurant on a night when the market didn't change much, I might remember the theta value that day - it was sort of "free" money I really didn't make any effort to earn. Oftentimes, I order a too expensive bottle of wine because of that silly theta number).

The ultimate goal of my favorite calendar spread strategy (which I call the 10K Strategy) is to maximize the net theta position in your account without letting the net delta value get so high or low that you will lose a lot of money if the stock moves against you.

This short discussion of the Greeks should be all you need to impress your friends next time you talk about the stock market. All you need to do is to get around to the topic of stock options, and drop a few Greek names on them (ask them if they know what their net delta position was yesterday, or did their theta increase much last week, and watch their eyes glaze over).

I have found that the Greeks are very effective conversation stoppers. Feel free to use them whenever the need arises.

For a free report entitled "How to Make 70% a Year With Calendar Spreads", sign up for our free newsletter.

Terry's Tips Stock Options Trading Blog

April 26, 2016

Last Minute Facebook Earnings Play

Facebook (FB) announces earnings tomorrow, Wednesday the 27th, after the close. There is still time to place what I think will be a dynamite options play. You have until the close tomorrow to get these spreads in place.

Terry

Last Minute Facebook Earnings Play

Over the past few weeks, I have suggested legging into calendar spreads at a price slightly above the current stock price for companies that would be announcing earnings about two or three weeks later. The underlying idea of these spreads is that, 1) in the days leading up to the announcement, the stock tends to drift higher as hope for a positive announcement grows and, 2) implied volatility (IV) of the option series that expires directly after the announcement date almost always soars because big moves in the stock often take place right after results are disclosed.

In my personal account, in the last few weeks, I have both told you about and used this strategy for SBUX, JNJ, and FB. In each case, I bought a slightly out-of-the-money call a few weeks out and . . .

April 20, 2016

How to Play the Upcoming Facebook Earnings Announcement

Over the last 3 weeks, I have suggested a way to leg into calendar spreads at a credit in advance of the earnings announcement for Starbucks (SBUX), Facebook (FB), and Abbvie (ABBV). All three calendars ended up being completed, and all three have already delivered a small profit. Once earnings are announced and the short side of the calendar spread expires, all three spreads are guaranteed to produce a much larger profit as well (depending on how close the stock price is to the strike price).

Today I would like to discuss another Facebook play. While this one does not guarantee profits, I believe it is even more exciting in many ways. It is possible that you could double your money in less than two weeks. I also believe it is extremely unlikely to lose money.

Terry

How to Play the Upcoming Facebook Earnings Announcement

All sorts of articles have been written over the past few weeks about the prospects for FB, some positive and some negative. We will all learn who was right and who was wrong late next week when FB announces earnings on April 27, and the details of the company’s large assortment of new and wondrous initiatives will be disclosed.

The high degree of uncertainty over the announcement has caused implied volatility (IV) of the options to soar, particularly in the series that expires two days after the announcement. Those Apr5-16 options carry an IV of 52. This compares to only 35 for longer-term option series and 32 for the Apr4-16 series which expires this week.

Buying calendar spreads at this time represents one of the best opportunities I have ever seen to buy cheap options and sell expensive options against them. The FB calendar spreads are exceptionally cheap right now, at least to my way of thinking.

I have written an article which was published by TheStreet.com today which describes the actual calendar spreads I have bought yesterday and today (and I have bought a lot of them). The article fully explains my thinking as to which spreads I purchased. Read the full article here.

April 12, 2016

Earnings Season Has Arrived – How to Capitalize on it With Options

For each of the last two Mondays I have told you about an earnings-related trade I made. Today I would like to review my thinking on those trades, update how they are going, and offer you a new idea of a third trade I made his morning.

Terry

Earnings Season Has Arrived – How to Capitalize on it With Options

In the last few weeks leading up to a quarterly earnings announcement, two things usually happen. First of all, the stock often moves higher as the announcement day approaches as some investors start hoping that the company might beat expectations. The second thing is even more likely (and essentially always happens). Implied Volatility (IV) of the option prices moves much high. This means that the prices for options temporarily rise in value across the board. The greatest upward move in IV takes place in the options series which expires just after the announcement date.

The reason that IV becomes greater at this time is that once earnings are announced, the stock is likely to move either up or down by a much larger amount than it does most trading days. When volatility is . . .

Making 36%

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

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