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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

September 26, 2022

Housing Poor

Homebuilding stocks got a boost early in the week after a prominent housing analyst upgraded the entire sector, including a rare “double upgrade” for Lennar (LEN) from underweight to overweight. The rationale was that housing tends to outperform coming out of a bear market and that “early pain = early gain.”

Now, he could very well be right … at some point. Housing stocks, along with the broader market, will eventually pull out of this bear market. But that’s off in the future. We’re still in the “early pain” phase.

LEN got a boost from the news but then trended lower after a mixed earnings report and another 75 bps rate hike from the Fed (with more to come). The stock could not pierce its declining 20-day moving average (blue line), which has kept a lid on LEN’s rally attempts after turning lower two months ago. Furthermore, the 50-day moving average (red line), which is now headed lower, sits overhead, ready to provide resistance.

This trade is based on more “early pain” for the homebuilders based on rising interest rates, mortgage rates at 14-year highs and the looming prospect of a recession. We are playing a call credit spread with the short call sitting above the 50-day, meaning that LEN will have to overcome two points of resistance to move the spread into the money.

If you agree that LEN will continue to slide lower, consider the following trade that relies on the stock staying below $82 (green line) through expiration in six weeks:

Buy to Open the LEN 4Nov 85 call (LEN221104C85)
Sell to Open the LEN 4Nov 82 call (LEN221104C82) for a credit of $1.05 (selling a vertical)

This credit is $0.02 less than the mid-point price of the spread at Friday’s $77.07 close. Unless LEN sags quickly, you should be able to get close to that price.

The commission on this trade should be no more than $1.30 per spread. Each spread would then yield $103.70. This trade reduces your buying power by $300, making your net investment $196.30 per spread ($300 – $103.70). If LEN closes below $82 on Nov. 4, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would be 53% ($103.70/$196.30). 

September 20, 2022

Pumped Up

Much is made of gas prices declining for so many weeks in a row (I think we’re at 13 and counting). And that’s great for drivers. But what about the oil companies. Don’t they suffer when pump prices decline? Apparently not.

Gas prices peaked in mid-June and have dropped about 25% since then. But Chevron (CVX) has gained more than 5% during that period. For the year, CVX is up 33%. Its only major blip this year was the June swoon that pulled all stocks lower. But the decline was supported by the 200-day moving average, which allowed just a handful of daily closes below it in mid-July.

This trade is based on the strength of oil companies continuing for the next couple of months. More specifically, it is relying on the continued support of the 200-day. Note that the short put of our spread is right on the 200-day (blue line) and will be below it given the trendline’s current slope. Thus, CVX will have to penetrate that support to move the spread into the money.

If you agree that CVX will respect the 200-day, consider the following trade that relies on the stock staying above $148 (red line) through expiration in six weeks:

Buy to Open the CVX 28Oct 145 put (CVX221028P145)
Sell to Open the CVX 28Oct 148 put (CVX221028P148) for a credit of $0.75 (selling a vertical)

This credit is $0.05 less than the mid-point price of the spread at Friday’s $156.45 close. Unless CVX pops quickly, you should be able to get close to that price.

The commission on this trade should be no more than $1.30 per spread. Each spread would then yield $73.70. This trade reduces your buying power by $300, making your net investment $226.30 per spread ($300 – $73.70). If CVX closes above $148 on October 28, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would be 33% ($73.70/$226.30). 

September 12, 2022

September 12, 2022

Warp Speed for This Lithium Producer

Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM) producers highly sought after commodities, most notably lithium and potassium fertilizers. Though it missed on earnings in its August earnings report, it easily beat on sales. A couple of analysts raised their price target after the news, though the overall mood toward the stock is between a buy and a hold.

But what do analysts know? SQM is up 120% this year (not a typo) … and it pays a dividend of more than 11%. The stock has recovered what it lost following earnings and came within four cents of hitting an all-time high in Friday’s trading. Though it has traded mostly sideways for the past three months, the overall uptrend remains intact, as the stock continues to put in higher lows. Plus, its 20-day and 50-day moving averages are pointed higher.

This trade is a play on SQM’s continued strength as it sits in one of the most favorable sectors within the global economy – supplying EV battery makers. We are thus going with a put credit spread with the short put sitting below the 20-day moving average (blue line). 

If you agree that SQM will continue its uptrend, consider the following trade that relies on the stock staying above $100 (red line) through expiration in six weeks:

Buy to Open the SQM 21Oct 95 put (SQM221021P95)
Sell to Open the SQM 21Oct 100 put (SQM221021P100) for a credit of $1.10 (selling a vertical)

This credit is $0.02 less than the mid-point price of the spread at Friday’s $111.12 close. Unless SQM pops quickly, you should be able to get close to that price.

The commission on this trade should be no more than $1.30 per spread. Each spread would then yield $108.70. This trade reduces your buying power by $500, making your net investment $391.30 per spread ($500 – $108.70). If SQM closes above $100 on October 21, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would be 28% ($108.70/$391.30). 

Upcoming Market Dates:

Monday September 5th. Market closed for Labor Day
Monday October 10th. Market closed for Columbus Day

Making 36%

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