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Posts Tagged ‘Straddles’

How to Use Expectations to Prosper With Earnings Announcements

Monday, April 15th, 2013

This week I will offer a simple spread idea that could make 50% in a couple of days next week.  It will cost about $170 per spread to put on. 

Also, if you read down further, there is information on how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider absolutely free! 

How to Use Expectations to Prosper With Earnings Announcements 

The earnings season started just last week.  In my last Idea of the Week I recommended buying a straddle on JPMorgan (JPM), the first big company to announce this time around.  We made that trade in an actual portfolio for Terry’s Tips subscribers and closed it out for a 15%+ gain after commissions. 

I also suggested an options strategy for JPM in a Seeking Alpha article – How To Play The JPMorgan Earnings Announcement.  In another Terry’s Tips portfolio  we placed calendar spreads as outlined in this article and closed them out for a gain of 15% after commissions even though the stock fell a little after the announcement while we were betting that it would go higher. 

A wonderful thing about options is that you can be wrong and still make profits as we did last week in our JPM trades.  Terry’s Tips subscribers who followed both portfolios made over 30% last week, more than most people make in an entire year of stock market investing. 

This week I wrote another Seeking Alpha article which checks out seven big companies which announce this week – How To Play The First Week Of The April Earnings Season.  

The major message of this article is that the price of the stock after the announcement is more dependent on pre-announcement market expectations than the actual numbers that the company releases.  If expectations are too high, the stock will fall no matter how much the company beats the analysts’ projections. 

Of the seven companies reviewed, SanDisk (SNDK) seemed to have the highest level of expectations.  Whisper numbers were 18.6% higher than analyst projections, the stock had shot up over 10% to a new high over the last week, and had moved 5% higher in the last week alone.  We believe that it is highly likely that some investors will “sell on the news” no matter how good it is, and the stock will either stay flat or fall after the announcement. 

With the stock trading about $57.70, I am buying May 57.5 puts and selling April 55 puts. Implied volatility (IV) of the May options is 37 while the April options carry an IV of 70, nearly double the May number (this means you are buying “cheap” and selling “expensive” options).  Each diagonal spread would cost $163 to place at the natural option prices at the close on Friday. 

Here is the risk profile graph for these spreads if you bought 20 of them, investing about $3400 after commissions (of course, you could buy fewer, or more, if you wished): 

SNDK Risk Profile Graph

SNDK Risk Profile Graph

This graph assumes that after the announcement, implied volatility (IV) of the May options will fall from its current 37 to 30 which is more likely in a non-announcement time period.  The graph shows that when you close the positions on Friday, April 19th, a double-digit gain could be made if the stock holds steady, and could nearly double your investment if it fell about $2 ½ after the announcement.  A profit would result no matter how far the stock might fall in value. 

We think the stock is likely to fall after the announcement because expectations are so unusually high.  If it moves higher, however, a loss could very well result.  Even in the world of options, there is no free lunch.  You need to take a risk.  We like our chances here.

An Interesting Straddle Purchase Opportunity in J.P. Morgan (JPM)

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Most of the time I prefer to sell options with just a few days or weeks of remaining life and collect the premium that is decaying at a higher rate than ever before.  However, this policy is not always the most profitable alternative out there.  Today I would like to discuss one of those situations where buying options rather than selling them might be the better bet. 

If you read down further, there is information on how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider absolutely free! 

An Interesting Straddle Purchase Opportunity in J.P. Morgan (JPM)

 Implied Volatility (IV) of an option price is supposed to measure the market’s expectation of how much the underlying security will fluctuate in one year.  If an options series has an IV of 20, the market expects the stock will move either up or down by 20% over the course of a year. 

Sometimes there is a huge difference between IV of the options and the actual price behavior of the stock.  For example, check out J P Morgan (JPM).  The April options have an IV of 24 with three weeks of remaining life, and this IV is unusually high because an earnings announcement is due on April 12 (before the open), and volatility is usually higher than normal after announcements. 

So how much did JPM fluctuate over the past year?  On June 4, 2013 it hit a low of $30.83 and on March 15, 2013 it hit a high of $51.00. This is a 64% change, more than triple the IV of the options.  In other words, options are relatively inexpensive compared to the actual volatility of the stock. 

When you see a situation like this, the best options play might be to buy a straddle (both a put and a call) at an at-the-money strike and hope that the stock fluctuates as it has in the past. 

Right now, with JPM trading at $47.50, you could either buy an April 47 or 48 straddle for about $2.00 (if you think JPM is headed higher, you would select the 47 strike, and if you think JPM is more likely to fall, you would choose the 48 strike).  If the stock fluctuates more than $3.00 in the next three weeks, you could sell your straddle for a 50% gain.  (The nice thing about straddles is that you don’t care whether the stock goes up or down, just as long as it moves.) 

So how likely is JPM to fluctuate by at least $3.00 in a month?  Here are the biggest and smallest moves it has made over the past 25 months: 






Big Up

Big Down
















































































































































































 I have highlighted the months in which the stock fluctuated at least $3.00 in either direction (enough for you to make a 50% gain on a $2.00 straddle purchase).  For those months, a 50% gain would be possible in 17 out of 25 months (68% of the time).

 Admittedly, in this example with April options, there are only three weeks rather than four for the stock to fluctuate by this much, but since this time period includes an earnings announcement, greater volatility can be expected in this three-week period than a normal (no earnings announcement) month. 

If you were to buy an April straddle on JPM for $2.00 and place a good-til-cancelled order to sell it if it hit $3.00, you would gain 50% on your investment (less commissions).  If it did not execute in the next two weeks, I would recommend selling it when there was one week remaining for the April options.  If the stock is trading exactly at the strike price of your straddle, you would probably get back half of your $2.00 cost, losing 50%.  If the stock is at any other price than exactly at your strike price, you should be able to sell the straddle for more than $1.00.  If the stock is as little as $1.00 higher or lower than your strike price, you should be able to get back $1.50 of your original $2.00 cost by exiting (selling) the position with a week of life remaining in the option.  If the stock is $2.00 away from the strike price, you should be able to sell the straddle at a profit. 

The stock does not have to fluctuate by $3.00 for you to sell an at-the-money straddle for $3.00 since there will always be some time value to the options (over and above the intrinsic value) right up until the options expire. 

I like the odds of this straddle purchase and plan to do it both in my personal account and in one of my portfolios that I conduct at Terry’s Tips

Buying a Straddle on Oracle

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Last week I told you about a pre-earnings announcement on Nike.  With the stock trading around $65, we bought calendar spreads at the 62.5, 65, and 67.5 strikes for an average of $.33 each, guessing that if the stock ended up near any one of these strikes, that spread would be worth over a dollar and cover all three spreads. The stock shot up more than 11% after the announcement, and was closest to the 70 strike.  The calendar spread at that  strike was worth $1.20, so we were right on that score.  But we didn’t have any spreads at that strike, and we lost money for the day.  In future calls in companies like Nike which have a history of big moves after announcements, we will add extra out-of-the-money calls and/or puts to provide insurance against huge moves of this size. 

If you read down further, there is information on how you can become a Terry’s Tips Insider absolutely free! 

Buying a Straddle on Oracle 

On Friday, with Oracle (ORCL) trading at $32, I bought an April straddle (both a put and a call) at the 32 strike.  The straddle cost me $1.40.  The stock will have to move in either direction at least $1.40 for the intrinsic value of my straddle to be at break-even (although it will not have to move that much for the straddle to be able to be sold for a gain as there will always be some extra premium value in the options I own).

 Let’s look at how much Oracle has fluctuated each month for the past two years:  

Oracle Monthly Price Changes Last Two Years

Oracle Chart March 25 2013

Oracle Chart March 25 2013

Only two times in the last two years has Oracle failed to move at least $1.40 in one direction or another in a single month.  That means that an at-the-money straddle purchased for $1.40 at the beginning of the month could have been sold for a profit at some point during that month 22 out of 24 times. 

Many times, there would have been an opportunity to more than double your money, and while the maximum loss is theoreticlly $1.40 per spread, last week, with a week of remaining life, the 32 at-the-money straddle could have been sold for $.72 which means that if you closed out the spread with a week remaining, the worst you could do would be to recover half your initial investment.  (If the stock were at any price higher or lower than $32, the straddle would be worth more than $.72 with a week remaining). 

The big challenge with these kinds of spreads is deciding when to sell.  One way is to place a limit order when the spread reaches a certain profit level, say 50%, and take that gain whenever it comes.  In our example, that would mean placing an order to sell the straddle at $2.10.  The above table shows that in more than half the months (13 out of 24), you could have sold the straddle for at least a 50% gain.  I like those odds. 

The stock does not have to fluctuate the full $2.10 in order for the straddle to be sold at that price.  As long as there is time remaining in the options you hold, they will be worth more than the intrinsic value.  The $2.10 price might be hit if the stock only fluctuates $1.80 or so if it does it early in month. 

Another way of selling the spread is to place limit orders at slightly more than what you paid for the straddle if either the put or call reaches that price.  You might place a limit order to sell the puts at $1.43 and another order to sell the calls if they reach $1.43.  In either case, you get all your money back (plus the commission) and you have either puts or calls remaining that might be worth a great deal if the stock reverses itself and moves in the opposite direction.  The stock might have to move only about $1.20 in either direction for one of these trades to execute. 

We typically place orders to sell half of our original spreads if either the puts or calls can be sold for the original cost of the straddle.  That way we get half our money back (almost assuming that we will not lose money for the month) and if the stock continues in the direction it has started, a huge gain might be made on those remaining options, and if the stock reverses, you have twice as many of the other options that might grow in value. 

Most of our investments at Terry’s Tips involves selling premium and waiting over time for decay to set in, all the time hoping that the stock does not fluctuate too much (as that hurts calendar spreads).  It is fun to have at least one investment play that does best if the market does fluctuate, and the more the better.  Buying a straddle on Oracle gives us that opportunity, and the history of the stock’s fluctuations shows that it is a pretty good bet.


Closing out the APPLE Pre-Earnings Spreads

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The AAPL crash after the earnings announcement surely hurt a lot of people big-time (several people had commented that just buying calls was the smart way to approach the announcement, and others said they were selling out-of-the-money puts to be more “conservative” – they are the ones who got hurt the most – at least the call buyers only lost their entire investment).

 If you recall, in my Seeking Alpha article entitled A Remarkably Safe Way To Play The Apple Earni…  I recommended buying one AAPL Apr-13 500 straddle and selling one Jan4-13 500 straddle to take advantage of the huge difference in IV between them (April = 34, Jan4-13 = 76).  In addition, I said to buy two Apr-13 500 straddles to protect against a large move in AAPL in either direction. 

The difference between the first two straddles came up to $2900, and the extra two straddles cost $6500 each (I actually got better prices than these, but let’s go with the numbers I used in the article). 

I waited until Friday about noon to close out the positions.  AAPL had fallen all the way to $440, down about $60 since I placed the spreads, and $75 from where it had closed just before the announcement. 

I closed out the long and short straddles by selling both the  puts and calls as a calendar spread, collecting $570 for the calls and $750 for the puts.  So I lost money on those spreads (cost $2900, sold for $1320, lost $1580). 

The extra two straddles were sold for $7350 each ($14,700 total) compared to the $13,000 cost for a gain of $1700.  Bottom line, after paying $15 in commissions, I eked out a gain of $105 for the day. 

I consider myself lucky, especially waiting until Friday to close it out (the stock fell another $10 by the time I sold so I did better with the extra straddles than I would have done closing out on Thursday).  

I suspect that my small gain was a whole lot better than most option-players experienced this earnings week (I surely did a whole lot worse in many of my other spreads, most calendars at higher strike prices than $500 – all of which lost big time).

It ended up being one of the worst weeks ever for me, in fact. 

The biggest reason that the “remarkably safe” positions I  recommended  did not do anywhere near what the risk profile graph had suggested the spreads might gain was because IV of the April options fell far more than I expected.  Before the announcement, IV was 34, lower than any other option month.  After the announcement, IV tumbled to 29.  The at-the-money straddle would cost $4900 to buy compared to the almost $6500 that I paid for the April at-the-money straddle a couple of days earlier. 

The at-the-money Feb1-13 440 straddle with a week to go until expiration (as I write this with AAPL at $440) could be sold for $1730 or just about half what the at-the-money straddle with a week of remaining life could be been sold for prior to  the announcement. 

In conclusion, it is important not to get too excited about the risk profile graphs that get created before an earnings announcement (unless your software allows you to set an expected IV of the longer-term options). 

The inevitability of all option prices falling dramatically after the earnings announcement makes calendar and diagonal spreads difficult to execute profitably at the time.

A Remarkably Safe Way To Play The Apple Earnings Announcement

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Apple announces earnings Wednesday after the close and I have come up with a strategy that looks like it can make a decent gain for the week (ranging from 5% to 15%) with almost no chance of incurring a loss. 

The big downside of the strategy is that it requires an investment of about $16,000.  I understand that many subscribers are looking for less costly option investments.

 However, if you can afford an investment of this size, check out the Seeking Alpha article I wrote just yesterday. 


Here is the link – A Remarkably Safe Way To Play The Apple Earnings Announcement 

This is the third week in a row that I have offered a strategy centering on the unusually-high option prices in the series that expires just after an earnings announcement. 

The first play was for Wells Fargo – How to Play the Wells Fargo Earnings Announcement for Tomorrow.  This one gained 44% after commissions. 

The second play involved eBay – How to Play the EBAY Earnings Announcement.  I waited too long to close out my spreads this time around (many subscribers gained 24% or more).  But I did manage to make 11.6% after commissions, still not a bad week. 

I think this week’s earnings-announcement play is the safest one yet in spite of the high cost  requirement.  I am also sharing with paid subscribers a most promising play in Starbucks (SBUX).

All About Back Spreads

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Back spreads and ratio spreads are usually discussed together because they are simply the mirror image of each other. Back spreads and ratio spreads are comprised of either both calls or both puts at two different strike prices in the same expiration month. If the spread has more long contracts than short contracts, it is a Back Spread. If there are more short contracts, it is a Ratio Spread.
Since ratio spreads involve selling “naked” (i.e., uncovered by another long option) they can’t be used in an IRA.  For that reason, and because we like to sleep better at night knowing that we are not naked short and could possibly lose more than our original investment, we do not trade ratio spreads at Terry’s Tips.

Back spreads involve selling one option and buying a greater quantity of an option with a more out-of-the-money strike. The options are either both calls or both puts.
A typical back spread using calls might consist of buying 10 at-the-money calls and selling 5 in-the-money calls at a strike low enough to buy the entire back spread at a credit. 
Ideally, you collect a credit when you set up a back spread.  Since the option you are buying is less expensive than the one you are buying, it is always possible to set up the back spread at a credit.  You would like as many extra long positions as possible to maximize your gains if the underlying makes a big move in the direction you are betting. 
If you are wrong and the underlying moves in the opposite direction that you originally hoped, if you had set up the back spread at a net credit at the beginning, all of your options will expire worthless and you will be able to keep the original credit as pure profit (after paying commissions on the original trades, of course).
Call back spreads work best when the stock price makes a large move up; put back spreads work best when the stock price makes a large move down.
One of the easiest ways to think about a back spread is as a vertical with some extra long options. A call back spread is a bear vertical (typically a short call vertical) plus extra long call options at the higher of the two strikes. A put back spread is a bull vertical (typically a short put vertical) plus extra long put options at the lower of the two strikes.
The purpose of a back spread is to profit on a quick extended move toward, through and beyond the long strike. The purchase of a quantity of more long options is financed by the sale of fewer short options. The danger is that because the short options are usually in the money, they might grow faster than the long out-of-the-money options if the stock price moves more slowly or with less magnitude than expected. This happens even faster as expiration approaches. The long out-of-the-money options may lose value despite a favorable move in the stock price, and that same move in the stock price may increase the value of the short options. This is when the back spread loses value most quickly. This is depicted in the “valley” of the risk profile graphs. The greatest loss in the graph occurs at exactly the strike price of the long options.

There are two reasons that I personally don’t like back spreads.  First, they are negative theta.  That means you lose money on your positions every day that nothing much happens to the underlying strike price. 

Second, and more importantly, the gains you make in the good time periods are inconsequential compared to the large losses you could incur in the other time periods.  If the stock moves in the opposite way you are hoping, you end up making a very small gain (the initial credit you collected when the positions were originally placed).  If the underlying doesn’t move much, your losses could be huge.  On the other hand, in order for you to make large gains when the market moves in the direction you hope it will, the move must be very large before significant gains come about.

Here is the risk profile graph for a back spread on SPY (buying 10 Dec-12 142 calls for $1.55 and selling 6 Dec-12 140 calls for $2.78 when SPY was trading at $142.20 and there were two weeks until expiration):

You have about $1100 at risk (the $1200 maintenance requirement less the $115 credit (after commissions) you collected at the outset.  If the stock falls by more than $2.20 so that all the calls expire worthless, you would gain the $115 credit.  If the stock moves higher by $2, you would lose just about that same amount.  It would have to move $2.20 higher before a gain could be expected on the upside, and every dollar the stock moved higher from there would result in a $400 gain (the number of extra calls you own).

The big problem is that if the stock doesn’t do much of anything, you stand to lose about $1000, a far greater loss than most of the scenarios when a gain could be expected.  In order for you to make $1000 with these positions, the stock would have to go up by $5 in the two-week period.  Of course, that happens once in a great while, but probably less than 10% of the time.  There there is a much greater likelihood of its moving less than $2 in either direction (and a loss would occur at any point within that range).

Bottom line, back spreads might be considered if you have a strong feeling that the underlying stock might move strongly in one direction or another, but I believe that there are other more promising directional strategies such as vertical spreads, calendar or diagonal spreads, or even straddles or strangles that make more sense to me.

Another Interesting Time to Buy Options

Monday, August 6th, 2012

For the past several weeks we have been discussing how to make money buying options.  For those of you who have been following us for any extended time, you understand that this is a total departure from our long-standing belief that the best way to make maximum returns is to sell short-term options to someone else.

A combination of low option prices and high actual volatility has recently caused us to reverse our strategy.  Now seems to be a good time to be buying either or both puts or calls.  Rather than blindly buying an option and hoping for the best, we are continually on the look-out for something that will give us an edge in making this buying decision.

Last week we couldn’t find an edge we were comfortable with.  We considered buying a straddle on Thursday in advance of the jobs report but the market had been quiet all week and we sat on the sidelines.  Unfortunately, as it worked out.  SPY rose almost 2% on Friday and we would have easily doubled our money if we had pulled the trigger.

Today we will talk about one of those possible edges.

Another Interesting Time to Buy Options

It seems to happen every summer.  While the overall market doesn’t seem to do much of anything (that’s why they call it the summer doldrums I suppose), on many days, the market just seems to jump all over the place.  It could be that so many traders are on vacation that the few who are working are able to move the market with very few trades.

A more likely explanation is the computer-generated program trading that has taken over the market lately.  The average holding period for a stock in our country is now less than two seconds according to one study.  When the computers sense unusual buying or selling coming into the market, they place trades in advance of the orders getting to the exchanges.  This adds to the momentum and pushes the market sharply in one direction or the other.

At some point, the momentum shifts, and the market moves sharply in the other direction.

Check out the price action of SPY on Fridays for the past ten weeks:

June 1        -3.30
June 8        +1.05
June 15    +1.30  Monthly X dividend
June 22    +1.05
June 29     +3.31
July 6        -1.30
July 13        +2.20
July 20        -1.30    Monthly X dividend
July 27        +2.51
Aug 3        +2.70

If you had bought a slightly out-of-the-money put and call (or an at-the-money straddle) on essentially any one of the Thursdays preceding these Fridays, you would have surely made money when the stock moved well over a dollar the next day.  These puts and calls with only one day of remaining life are quite cheap, and could easily double or triple in value if the market moves by over $2 which it has on half of the Fridays this summer.

This edge probably does not extend to other months of the year, however.  In April and May, the stock did not move over $.75 on any Friday.  So it seems to be a summer phenomenon.

Buying options is risky business because you can lose 100% of your investment.  But doing it with small amounts when you see an edge like this Friday action (or before jobs reports, or on the Monday following the monthly option expiration), the odds may shift in your favor.

Be careful, and good luck.  Never invest money that you can’t afford to lose.

Another Buying Straddles Story

Monday, July 16th, 2012

For most of the last year, the market (SPY) and many individual stocks have fluctuated more than the implied volatility of the options would predict.  This situation has made it quite difficult to make gains with the calendar spread strategy that we have long advocated.

Now we are experimenting with buying straddles as an alternative to our basic strategy.  This represents a total reversal from hoping for a flat market to betting on a fluctuating one.

Today I would like to report on a straddle purchase I made last week.

Another Buying Straddles Story

I selected the Russell 2000 (Small-Cap) Index (IWM) as the underlying. For many years, this equity seems to fluctuate in the same direction and by about the same amount as the market in general (SPY) although it is trading for far less ($80 vs. $134) so the percentage fluctuations are greater.

On Monday morning, IWM was trading right about $80. I bought an 80 straddle using IWM (Jul2-12 puts and calls), paying $1.53 for the pair.  If IWM moved by $1.53 in either direction, the intrinsic value of either the puts or calls would be $1.53, and there would be some time premium remaining so that either the puts or calls could be sold for a profit.

How likely was IWM to move by more than $1.53 in either direction in only one week?  Looking back at weekly price behavior for IWM, I found that in 62 of the past 66 weeks, IWM had fluctuated at least $1.60 during the week in one direction or another.  That is the key number I needed to make the purchase.  That meant that if the historical pattern repeated itself, I could count on making a profit in 94% of the weeks.  I would be quite happy with anything near that result.

Buying a straddle fits my temperament because I was not choosing which way the market might be headed (something I know from experience that I can’t do very well, at least in the short term), and I knew that I could not lose 100% of my investment (even on Friday and the stock had not moved, there would still be some time premium remaining in the options that could be sold for something).

One on the biggest problems with trading straddles is the decision on when to sell one or both sides of the trade.  We’ll discuss some of the choices next week.  What I did was place a limit order to take a reasonable profit if it came along.  When IWM had fallen about $1.75, I sold my puts for $1.85 on Thursday.  On Friday the stock reversed itself, and I was able to collect $.17 by selling the calls, making a total 20% after commissions for the week. Not a bad result, I figured.  

At some point during the week, there were opportunities to sell both the puts and calls for more than I sold them for, but I was delighted with taking a reasonable profit.  You can’t look back when trading straddles.  If I had not sold the calls but waited until the end of the week, I would have lost about 70% of my original purchase.  So selling when you have a small profit is clearly the way to go.

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Last Friday was the government’s monthly jobs report.  Historically, the market has been unusually volatile on those Fridays when the actual numbers either exceed expectations or are disappointing.  Last week we gave the results of a strangle trade we made a year ago which resulted in a gain of 67% for the day.

Last Thursday we made a similar bet, this time using a straddle.  Here is how it worked out for us.

Last Week’s Trade – Buying Straddles With Weekly Options

Near the close on Friday, the stock (SPY) was trading right around $137 and it was possible to buy both a Jul2-12 137 put and a 137 call which would expire one day later for $1.18 ($118 per spread plus $2.50 commissions).  We bought 7 spreads, paying $843.50 including commissions.  

This is called buying a straddle.  If at any point on Friday, SPY changed in value by more than $1.00 in either direction, we could sell those options at a profit.  (At any price above $138, the calls could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle, and at any price below $136, the puts could be sold for more than we paid for the straddle.)

The market expected that 100,000 new jobs would be created, but the actual results were lower – about 80,000.  When the market opened up just over a dollar lower, it seemed not to be going anywhere so we took a profit, selling the puts for $155 each, collecting $1076.25 after commissions (the calls expired worthless and no commission was involved).  Our net gain on the trade was $235, or 27.8% on the initial investment.

We were hoping that the stock would reverse itself after the early drop so that we could sell the calls later in the day and add to our gain, but that never happened.

If we had waited until later in the day the profit could have been more than double this amount but if we had waited until the end of the day it would have been less.  There is no easy answer as to when to sell a straddle, but we will probably continue our strategy of taking a moderate profit when it comes along.  Another way to play it would have been to sell enough of the spreads to break even and let the others ride in hopes of a windfall gain.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.  What they like best is a whip-saw market where the market moves sharply higher (and they sell their calls) and then down (when they unload their puts).   There are many ways to profit with options. Buying straddles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains.

The downside to buying straddles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment.  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  

However, straddle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.  Right now, VIX (the so-called “fear index” that measures how high option prices are for SPY options) is at 17.10 compared to its mean average of 20.54.  This means that option prices are relatively low right now.  Last December, for example, when VIX was about 25, the same straddle we bought last week for $118 would have cost over $200.

On Friday, a SPY 137 at-the-money straddle with one week of remaining life (expiring July 13, 2012) could have been bought for $1.99 ($199 each).  If at any time during the next week, if SPY fluctuated more than $2, the straddle should be trading for more than $2.  Over the past 13 weeks, SPY has moved in one direction or another by at least $2 in 11 of those weeks, and in one week it fell by $1.94 at one point.

Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.   There are many ways to profit with options. It is best to remain flexible, and use the option strategy that best matches current market conditions. Buying straddles or strangles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains, as we happily did last week.

The downside to buying straddles or strangles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment (although if you don’t wait too much longer than mid-day on the day options expire, even out-of-the-money options retain some value and should be able to be sold for something).  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  However, straddle- or strangle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.

Buying Strangles With Weekly Options (and How We Made 67% in a Single Day Last Week)

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Exactly one year ago, we spoke about an interesting options play that might be made before the July jobs report came out.  This Friday, the July 2012 report will come out before the market opens, and a similar trade might be in order.  It is interesting to note that one year ago, the market (SPY) was almost exactly where it is today.


Here are my exact words delivered on the Monday following the jobs report: “This week I would like to share an actual investment we made last Thursday which involved buying a close relative of a straddle called a strangle (buying a put and a call but at different strike prices).  Admittedly, the word strangle does not have the greatest of connotations, but it can be a wonderful thing as we learned last week.




Buying Strangles With Weekly Options (and How We Made 67% in a Single Day Last Week)


On Thursdays which precede the government monthly job reports,  we have sometimes employed a strategy that only does well if the stock (SPY) moves significantly in either direction once the report is published (we have noticed that volatility tends to be extreme on those days when the jobs report comes out).  Rather than betting that SPY will fluctuate by less than a dollar on Friday (the usual kind of bet we make), on the Thursday preceding the Friday jobs report, we sometimes buy either a straddle or strangle that will most likely make money if SPY moves by more than a dollar on Friday.


This was the Trade Alert we sent out to Insiders on Thursday, July 7, 2011 with about 10 minutes remaining in the trading day:


“July 7, 2011  Trade Alert    Last Minute  Portfolio

With the government jobs report due tomorrow, we would rather bet that the stock moves by a dollar or more rather than placing calendar spreads that make a gain only if the stock moves by less than a dollar.  We will invest only about a quarter of our available cash:


BTO 30 Jul2-11 135 put (SPY110708P135)

BTO 30 Jul2-11 136 call (SPY110708C136) for $.68 (buying a strangle)”


With SPY trading just about half way between $135 and $136 Thursday afternoon, we decided to buy the above strangle rather than a straddle.  If the stock had been closer to one particular strike price, we would have opted for a straddle instead.


We bought 30 strangles for $68 each, investing $2040.


If at any point on Friday, SPY changed in value by more than $1.00 in either direction, we could probably sell those options at a profit.  (At any price above $136.50, the calls could probably be sold for more than $68 we paid for the strangle, and at any price below $135.50, the puts could be sold for more than we paid for the strangle.)  A small amount could also probably be gained by selling the other side of the strangle as well (unless the stock moved well more than a dollar).


When the government report came out on Friday, the market was spooked by the poor numbers  – Non-farm private payrolls were expected to grow by 110,000 while the actual number was a disappointing 57,000.  Total nonfarm payrolls grew only 18,000 compared to an expected 80,000 (government jobs dropped by 39,000). The stock (SPY) opened down $1.40 and moved down almost $2 during the day.


Early in the day while the 135 puts were trading at about $1.00, we placed a limit order to sell 25 of our 30 puts at $1.10, and the order was executed about a half hour later. This would insure that we made a profit for the day no matter what happened from that point forward.  We were hoping that either the stock moved lower and we could sell the remaining 5 puts for a higher price or the stock would make a big move upward and maybe we could collect something from selling our 30 calls at the 136 strike.


The stock continued to fall, and later in the day we placed an order to sell the remaining 5 puts. We collected $1.52 ($152) each for them.  That wasn’t the absolute high for the day but it was darn close.  Had we waited until the close, we would have only received $.37 for those puts, and lost money on our investment.  This proves the value in taking a profit on the great majority of positions whenever it might come up rather than waiting for a possible windfall gain if the stock continues in only one direction.


Bottom line, we collected a profit for the day of $1363 after commissions on our investment of $2040, or 67%.


Straddle buyers like volatility as much as we don’t like it in our other portfolios.   There are many ways to profit with options. It is best to remain flexible, and use the option strategy that best matches current market conditions. Buying straddles or strangles when option prices are low and volatility is high is one very good way to make extraordinary gains, as we happily did last week.


The downside to buying straddles or strangles is that if the market doesn’t fluctuate much, you could lose every penny of your investment (although if you don’t wait too much longer than mid-day on the day options expire, even out-of-the-money options retain some value and should be able to be sold for something).  This makes it a much riskier investment than the other option strategies we recommend at Terry’s Tips.  However, straddle- or strangle-buying can be quite profitable if the current market patterns persist.


A personal thought – I think that expectations are so low for Friday’s jobs report (and May’s report was so disappointing), that there is a good chance that the market will surge on Friday.  Instead of buying a straddle or strangle, I plan to spend a very small amount of money buying an out-of-the-money Jul1-12 Weekly call (maybe paying $10 or less per option) just in case the stock skyrockets.  It is my lottery ticket purchase for the week, a reward to myself for having had such a good week (I have been quite long AAPL).  Chances are, I will lose the entire investment, just as the chances are hopelessly against you when you buy a lottery ticket.  At least my odds are better than being hit by lightning (the lottery ticket odds).

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I have been trading the equity markets with many different strategies for over 40 years. Terry Allen's strategies have been the most consistent money makers for me. I used them during the 2008 melt-down, to earn over 50% annualized return, while all my neighbors were crying about their losses.

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