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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.

Deltais 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.

Gammais 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.

Thetais 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

June 27, 2022

Darden Restaurants (DRI) reported earnings this week that beat on both revenue and profits. But the owner of such popular chains as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille was beset by higher food, beverage and labor costs even as customers are more comfortable eating out again.

Analysts weighed in with a plateful of target price decreases, although there were no rating downgrades. This has been common for most stocks, as analysts re-adjust their targets amid the 2022 swoon. Nevertheless, some targets are now barely above the current share price, which does not inspire confidence about DRI’s near-term price action.

The stock reacted with a small increase on Thursday and then popped 3.6% on Friday. But most stocks surged on Friday, so it doesn’t appear that earnings gave DRI a boost. Although the stock is up 8% off a 52-week low hit last week, it is bumping into its 20-day moving average at the 120 level (red line in chart). The 50-day moving average lies overhead at the 125 level (blue line). Although DRI has managed to overtake the 50-day at times, it ultimately retreats into a tailspin. Given this history, we’re using a bearish call credit spread with the short call strike (green line) sitting right on the 50-day.

If you agree that DRI will continue its overall downtrend, consider the following trade that relies on the stock staying below $125 through expiration in eight weeks.  

Buy to Open DRI 19Aug 130 call (DRI220819C130)
Sell to Open DRI 19Aug 125 call (DRI220819C125) for a credit of $1.50 (selling a vertical)

This credit is $0.05 less than the mid-point of the option spread when DRI was trading at $120. Unless the stock drops quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.

Your commission on this trade should be no more than $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $148.70. This trade reduces your buying power by $500 and makes your net investment $351.30 ($500 – $148.70) for one spread.  If DRI closes below $125 on August 19, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would be 42% ($148.70/$351.30).

June 20, 2022

Roku (ROKU) is a stock many believe is in play as a takeover candidate. Netflix and Disney are potential suitors, among others. Whatever the rumor or sentiment, the stock has been flat for the past seven weeks, which is saying something. In fact, since April 27, ROKU is down 2.7% while QQQ has fallen more than 13%.

There’s no denying that ROKU has been a spectacular flop for the past year. The shares are down a whopping 83% from their July 2021 high. But the stock has held up well over the past couple of months with takeover rumors in the air. It may not be advancing, but it’s not falling either. Moreover, the stock appears to have found solid support in the 72-73 area, the site of a two-year low.

One way to see how the market feels about a stock is by looking at equidistant out-of-the-money put and call prices. Currently, calls are trading for more than their corresponding puts, suggesting that the market sees more risk to the upside. That is highly unusual in this market, where most everything has richer put prices. We are therefore trading a put credit spread with the short put strike below the recent two-year low level. 

If you agree that ROKU is in play and will continue sideways at worst, consider the following trade that relies on the stock staying above $70 through expiration in six weeks. Note that ROKU is scheduled to report earnings the day before expiration.

Buy to Open ROKU 29Jul 65 put (ROKU220729P65)
Sell to Open ROKU 29Jul 70 put (ROKU220729P70) for a credit of $1.50 (selling a vertical)

This credit is $0.05 less than the mid-point of the option spread when ROKU was trading at $82.42. Unless the stock surges quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.

Your commission on this trade should be no more than $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $148.70. This trade reduces your buying power by $500 and makes your net investment $351.30 ($500 – $148.70) for one spread.  If ROKU closes above $70 on July 29, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would be 42% ($148.70/$351.30).

November 22, 2021

Target
(TGT) reported earnings before the bell on Wednesday that beat estimates on
both revenue and profits. The company also expects its fiscal Q4 comparable
sales growth to be higher than previous forecasts. Moreover, TGT claimed the
supply chain mess has not been an issue – store shelves are full and ready for
the holiday buying onslaught.

Analysts
were mostly bullish on the report, giving TGT several target price increases
(there was one lower price). One went as high as $350, a 38% premium to
Friday’s closing price. The stock price was not rewarded, however. The shares
dropped 4.7% on Wednesday and slid further the rest of the week. However, this
was a common theme among several retailers, including Walmart (WMT). In fact,
the overall retail sector was lower for the week.

The pullback dropped the shares to just above their 50-day moving average (blue line in chart). This trade is thus a bet that TGT will regain its footing and stay above the 50-day as holiday sales numbers – that are predicted to be robust – start rolling in. The short 245 strike (red line) of our put credit spread is below the 50-day, relying on trendline support to hold through expiration.

If
you agree that TGT will stay atop its 50-day moving average line in chart),
consider the following trade that relies on the stock remaining above 245  (through expiration in six weeks.

Buy
to Open TGT 31Dec 240 put (TGT211231P240)
Sell to Open TGT
31Dec 245 put (TGT211231P245) for a credit of $1.60 (selling a vertical)

This
credit is $0.02 less than the mid-point
of the option spread when TGT was trading around $251. Unless the stock rises
quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.

Your
commission on this trade will be only $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $158.70. This
trade reduces your buying power by $500 and makes your net investment $341.30
($500 – $158.70) for one spread.  If TGT
closes above $245 on December 31, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would
be 46% ($158.70/$341.30).

Making 36%

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

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).

Learn why Dr. Allen believes that the 10K Strategy is less risky than owning stocks or mutual funds, and why it is especially appropriate for your IRA.

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