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Tip 1 - All About Stock Options

My goal is to give you a basic understanding of what stock options are all about without hopelessly confusing you with unnecessary details. I have read dozens of books on stock options, and even my eyes start glazing over shortly into most of them. Let's see how simple we can make it.

Basic Call Option Definition

Buying a call option gives you the right (but not the obligation) to purchase 100 shares of a company's stock at a certain price (called the strike price) from the date of purchase until the third Friday of a specific month (called the expiration date).

People buy calls because they hope the stock will go up, and they will make a profit, either by selling the calls at a higher price, or by exercising their option (i.e., buy the shares at the strike price at a point when the market price is higher).

Basic Put Option Definition

Buying a put option gives you the right (but not the obligation) to sell 100 shares of a company's stock at a certain price (called the strike price) from the date of purchase until the third Friday of a specific month (called the expiration date).

People buy puts, because they hope the stock will go down, and they will make a profit, either by selling the puts at a higher price, or by exercising their option (i.e., forcing the seller of the put to buy the stock at the strike price at a time when the market price is lower).

Some Useful Details

Both put and call options are quoted in dollar terms (e.g. $3.50), but they actually cost 100 times the quoted amount (e.g., $350.00), plus an average of $1.50 commission (charged by my discount broker - commissions charged by other brokers are considerably higher).

Call options are a way of leveraging your money. You are able to participate in any upward moves of a stock without having to put up all the money to buy the stock. However, if the stock does not go up in price, the option buyer may lose 100% of his/her investment. For this reason, options are considered to be risky investments.

On the other hand, options can be used to considerably reduce risk. Most of the time, this involves selling rather than buying the options. Terry's Tips describes several ways to reduce financial risk by selling options.

Since most stock markets go up over time, and most people invest in stock because they hope prices will rise, there is more interest and activity in call options than there is in put options. From this point on, if I use the term "option" without qualifying whether it is a put or a call option, I am referring to a call option.

Real World Example

Here are some call option prices for a hypothetical XYZ company on February 1, 2010:
Price of stock: $45.00

Expiration Date  
Strike Price Feb '10 Mar '10 Jan '12 Terminology of Option
(price of call option)  
40 $5.50 $7.00 $18.50 "in-the-money"
(strike price is less than stock price)
45 $2.00 $4.00 $16.00 "at-the-money"
(strike price is equal to stock price)
50 $0.50 $1.00 $14.00 "out-of-the-money"
(strike price is greater than stock price)

The premium is the price a call option buyer pays for the right to be able to buy 100 shares of a stock without actually having to shell out the money the stock would cost. The greater the time period of the option, the greater the premium.

The premium (same as the price) of an in-the-money call is composed of the intrinsic value and the time premium. (I understand that this is confusing. For in-the-money options, the option price, or premium, has a component part that is called the time premium). The intrinsic value is the difference between the stock price and the strike price. Any additional value in the option price is called the time premium. In the above example, the Mar '10 40 call is selling at $7. The intrinsic value is $5, and the time premium is $2.

For at-the-money and out-of-the-money calls, the entire option price is time premium. The greatest time premiums are found in at-the-money strike prices.

Options that have more than 6 months until the expiration date are called LEAPS. In the above example, the Jan '12 calls are LEAPS.

If the price of the stock remains the same, the value of both puts and calls decreases over time (as expiration is approached). The amount that the option falls in value is called the decay. At expiration, all at-the-money and out-of-the-money calls have a zero value.

The rate of decay is greater as the option approaches expiration. In the above example, the average decay for the Jan '12 45 LEAP would be $.70 per month ($16.00/23 months). On the other hand, the Feb '10 45 call option will decay by $2.00 (assuming the stock stays the same) in only three weeks. The difference in decay rates of various option series is the crux of many of the option strategies presented at Terry's Tips.

A spread occurs when an investor buys one option series for a stock, and sells another option series for that same stock. If you own a call option, you can sell another option in the same stock as long as the strike price is equal to or greater than the option you own, and the expiration date is equal to or less than the option you own.

A typical spread in the above example would be to buy the Mar '10 40 call for $7 and sell the Mar '10 45 call for $4. This spread would cost $3 plus commissions. If the stock is at $45 or any higher when the options expire on the 3rd Friday in March, the spread would be worth exactly $5 (giving the spread owner a 60% gain for the period even if the stock stays the same – less commissions, of course).

Spreads are a way of reducing, but not eliminating the risks involved in buying options. While spreads may limit risk somewhat, they also limit the possible gains that an investor might make if the spread had not been put on.

This is an extremely brief overview of call options. I hope you are not totally confused. If you re-read this section, you should understand enough to grasp the essence of the 4 strategies discussed in Terry's Tips.

Further Reading

Two more steps will help your understanding. First, read the Frequently Asked Questions section. Second, Subscribe To My Free Options Strategy Report, and receive the valuable report "How to Create an Options Portfolio That Will Outperform a Stock or Mutual Fund Investment". This report includes a month-by-month description of the option trades I made during the year, and will give you a better understanding how at least one of my option strategies work.

Stock Option Symbols

In 2010, option symbols were changed so that they now clearly show the important fearure of the option - the underlying stock that is involved, the strike price, whether it is a put or call, and the actual date when the option expires. For example, the symbol SPY120121C135 means the underlying stock is SPY (the tracking stock for the S&P 500), 12 is the year (2012), 0121 is the third Friday in January when this option expires, C stands for Call, and 135 is the strike price.

Stock LEAPS are one of the greatest secrets in the investment world. Hardly anyone knows much about them. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times do not even report stock LEAP prices or trading activity, although sales are made every business day. Once a week, Barron's almost begrudgingly includes a single column where they report trading activity for a few strike prices for about 50 companies. Yet stock LEAPS are available for over 400 companies and at a great variety of strike prices.

LEAPS, Simply Defined

Stock LEAPS are long-term stock options. The term is an acronym for Long-term Equity AnticiPation Securities. They can be either a put or a call. LEAPS typically become available for trading in July, and at first, they have a 2.5-year lifespan.

As time passes, and there are only six months or so remaining on the LEAP term, the option is no longer called a LEAP, but merely an option. To make the distinction clear, the symbol of the LEAP is changed so that the first three letters are the same as the company's other short-term options.

LEAPS Are Tax-Friendly

All LEAPS expire on the third Friday of January. This is a neat feature because if you sell a LEAP when it expires, and you have a profit, your tax is not due for another 15 months. You can avoid the tax altogether by exercising your option. For example, for a call option, you purchase the stock at the strike price of the option you own.

Owning Call LEAPS Is Much Like Owning Stock

Call LEAPS give you all the rights of stock ownership except voting on company issues and collecting dividends. Most importantly, they are a means to leverage your stock position without the hassles and interest expense of buying on margin. You will never get a margin call on your LEAP if the stock should fall precipitously. You can never lose more than the cost of the LEAP - even if the stock falls by a greater amount.

Of course, LEAPS are priced to reflect the inputted interest that you avoid, and the lower risk due to a limited downside possibility. Just like in everything else, there's no free lunch.

All Options Decay, But All Decay is Not Equal

All LEAPS, like any option, go down in value over time (assuming the stock price remains unchanged). Since there are fewer months remaining until the expiration date, the option is worth less. The amount that it declines each month is called the decay.

An interesting feature of the monthly decay is that it is much smaller for a LEAP than it is for a short-term option. In fact, in the last month of an option's existence, the decay is usually three times (or more) the monthly decay of a LEAP (at the same strike price). An at-the-money or out-of-the-money option will plunge to zero value in the expiration month, while the LEAP will hardly budge.

This phenomenon is the basis for many of the trading strategies offered at Terry’s Tips. Quite often, we own the slower-decaying LEAP, and sell the faster-decaying short-term option to someone else. While we lose money on our LEAP (assuming no change in the stock price), the guy who bought the short-term option loses much more. So we come out ahead. It may seem a little confusing at first, but it really is quite simple.

Buy LEAPS To Hold, Not To Trade

One unfortunate aspect of LEAPS is due to the fact that not many people know about them, or trade them. Consequently, trading volume is much lower than for short-term options. This means that most of the time, there is a big gap between the bid and asked price. (This is not true for QQQQ LEAPS, and is one of the reasons I particularly like to trade in the Nasdaq 100 tracing equity.)

The person on the other end of your trade is usually a professional market maker rather than an ordinary investor buying or selling the LEAP. These professionals are entitled to make a profit for their service of providing a liquid market for inactively traded financial instruments such as LEAPS. And they do. They manage to sell at the asked price most of the time, and to buy at the bid price. Of course, you are not getting the great prices the market maker enjoys.

So when you buy a LEAP, plan on holding it for a long time, probably until expiration. While you can always sell your LEAP at any time, it is expensive because of the big gap between the bid and asked price.

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Terry's Tips Stock Options Trading Blog

January 22, 2015

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

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

Terry

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

The basic strategy that we carry out at Terry’s Tips is to buy longer-term options on stocks we like and sell shorter-term options against them. Since the decay rates of the shorter-term options is . . .

January 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

Terry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

Terry

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

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

Making 36%

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