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March 26, 2015

Reviewing Your Trades Like Roger Ebert

In my opinion, one of the most helpful things to do to improve your option trading or any type of trading is to review your trades. You need to pretend that you are the late, great Roger Ebert of option trading and give your trades a thumbs up or down. This is a fantastic way to gauge how you are developing as a trader and incorporate it into your trading plan. A lot of option traders are disheartened when they examine their profit and loss statements, but this can be deceiving. Why? Many good trades lose money and a lot of bad trades make money. Your goal as an option trader is to follow your trading plan and take the best trades that make sense to you and put the odds are your side for a successful trade. Easier said then done you might say but reviewing your trades is a very important step to take in order to become consistently profitable and putting the odds on your side.

Capture Your Trades

The first thing an option trader should consider doing is to capture his trades with some type of screen capture software. Every trader should have this in his or her trading plan. There are a plethora of options out there and many are free. An option trader should have a record of the chart, option chain, implied volatility and any other tangible that may be pertinent to the trade. If the trade is in effect for several days, screens shots can be taken periodically to help a trader understand what is happening on the charts and to the options. Once the trade is exited, screen shots should be taken again to compare the start and end of the trade.

Review

Now that the option trader has the concrete evidence in his hands or on his computer, it’s time to look at the damage or lack there of. When reviewing your trades, it is advantageous to do this part after the close of the market so full attention can be on the reviewing process. Label the chart and option chain with what strategy was used. Where did the trading plan call for entry, stop and target? Then where was the trade actually entered and exited? Were there any discrepancies? If there were, a trader needs to find out why and correct them in the future.

Correct and Make Adjustments

If the trade suffered a loss in particular, and the trading plan was followed, was it just part of the odds or is there something that can be done to improve the odds for next time? It really doesn’t matter what the violation or mistake was, it just needs to be recognized and taken into account for next time. Sometimes the loss is not the fault of the trader but many more times it probably was. Changes and adjustments both mentally and physically need to be made and corrected to improve trading performance. Once a trader has recognized and corrected his errors and adjusted the trading plan, trading can become a whole lot easier.

Last Thoughts

Reviewing your trades like Roger Ebert used to review movies for so many years can be an essential ingredient to becoming the option trader you want to be. The key to becoming successful and growing as an options trader is to learn to acknowledge your winners, but cherish and learn from your losses because that is what will make you profitable in the end. You will absolutely learn more from your losses than from your winners… thumbs up!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 19, 2015

Consider a Collar for Profitable Investments

A collar strategy is an option strategy that can particularly benefit investors. In this blog we have a lot more options education for traders and less for long-term investors so here is a strategy both can consider. A collar is simply holding shares of stock and buying a put and selling a call. Usually both the call and the put are out-of-the money (OTM) when establishing this option combination. A basic single collar represents one long put and one short call along with 100 shares of the underlying stock. A collar strategy is frequently implemented after stock (investment) has increased in price. The main objective of a collar is to protect profits that have accrued from the shares of stock rather than increasing returns. Is that an option strategy you might consider? Let’s take a look.

Why a Collar?

Since the market has been on a rather a bullish run and there are a plethora of stocks that have increased in value and it might be a good time to talk about some strategies that can help protect those gains. One option strategy is to buy a put. The investor has some protection for the unrealized profits in case the stock declines. The other part of the combination is selling the OTM call. By doing this, the investor is prepared to sell his or her shares of stock if the call is exercised because the stock has moved above the call’s strike price.

Advantages

The advantage of a collar strategy over just buying a protective put is being able to pay for some or the entire put by selling the call. In essence, an investor buys downside stock protection for free or almost free of charge. Until the investor exercises the put, sells the stock or has the call assigned, he or she will retain the stock.

Volatility and Time Decay

Even though implied volatility (IV) has been really low over the last several months in the market, volatility and also time decay are not usually big issues when it comes to a collar strategy. The simple explanation is because the investor is long one option and short another so the effects of volatility and time decay will generally offset each other.

An example:

An investor could have bought 100 shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) in October of last year for about $32 a share. At the time of this writing the stock has climbed to about $46 a share and the investor is worried about the current market conditions being extended to the upside and protecting his unrealized gains. The investor can utilize a collar strategy.

The investor can buy a April 43 put for 0.90. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $43. At the same time the investor can sell a April 48 call for 1.00. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.10 (1 – .90). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $2 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.

Three Possible Outcomes

The stock finishes over $48 at April expiration. If this scenario happens, another $2 per share is realized on the stock and $10 on the net credit of the combination is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes between $43 and $48 at April expiration. In this case, both options expire worthless. The stock is retained and the $10 net credit is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes below $43 at April expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $43. Either way the $10 net credit is the investors to keep.

Conclusion

The nice thing about a collar strategy is that an investor knows the potential losses and gains right from the start. If the stock climbs higher, the profits may be curbed due to the short call but if the stock takes a dive, the investor has protection due to the long put and protection might not be such a bad idea if the market corrects itself. Even an investor can benefit from some options education!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 12, 2015

Implied Volatility and Bull Put Spreads

Implied volatility (IV) has been relatively low in the market until recently. With recent downturn in the market, some implied volatility levels have increased of of their recent lows. Implied volatility by definition is the estimated future volatility of a stock’s price. More often than not, IV increases during a bearish market (or a sell off like we have been seeing) and decreases during a bullish market. The reasoning behind this comes from the belief that a bearish market is more risky than a bullish market. The jury is still out on whether this current bullish market can continue through the summer but regardless, now may be a good time to review a strategy that can take advantage of higher implied volatility even if it doesn’t happen this week. Option traders need to be prepared for all types of trading environments.

Reasoning and Dimensions

Selling bull put spreads during a period of high implied volatility can be a wise strategy, as options are more “expensive” and an option trader will receive a higher premium than if he or she sold the bull put spread during a time of low or average implied volatility. In addition, if the implied volatility decreases over the life of the spread, the spread’s premium will also decrease based on the option vega of the spread. Option vega measures the option’s sensitivity to changes in the volatility of the underlying asset. The implied volatility may decrease if the market or the underlying moves higher.

Outlook and the VIX

Let’s take a look at an example of selling a bull put spread during a time of high implied volatility. In this recent environment, the CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX) has recently moved from just below 14 percent to about 17 percent in about two weeks which was accompanied by a decline in the market over that same time period. The VIX measures the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options and it typically represents the market’s expectation of stock market volatility. Usually when the VIX rises, so does the implied volatility of options. Despite the drop, let’s say a trader is fairly bullish on XYZ stock. With the option premiums increased because of the implied volatility increasing, a trader decides to sell a bull put spread on XYZ, which is trading around $53 in this example.

Selling the Spread

To sell a bull put spread, the trader might sell one put option contract at the 52.5 strike and buy one at the 50 strike. The short 52.5 put has a price of 1.90, in this example, and the 50 strike is at 0.90. The net premium received is 1.00 (1.90 – 0.90) which is the maximum profit potential. Maximum profit would be achieved if XYZ closed above $52.50 at expiration. The most the trader can lose is 1.50 (2.50 – 1.00) which is the difference between the strike prices minus the credit received. The bull put spread would break even if the stock is at $51.50 ($52.50 – $1.00) at expiration. In other words, XYZ can fall $0.50 and the spread would still be at its maximum profit potential at expiration. If the VIX was still at 12 percent like it had been previously, the implied volatility of these options could be lower and the trader might only be able to sell the spread for 0.90 versus 1.00 when it was at 18%. Subsequently the max loss would be 0.10 higher too. In addition, if the IV decreases before expiration (like it has been known to do if the underlying rises), the spread will also decrease based on the option vega which could decrease the spread’s premium faster than if the IV stayed the same or if it rose.

Final Thoughts

When examining possible option plays and implied volatility is at a level higher than normal, traders may be drawn to credit spreads like the bull put spread. The advantage of a correctly implemented bull put spread is that it can profit from either a neutral or bullish move in the stock and selling premium that is higher than normal.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 4, 2015

A Butterfly Spread Used Directionally

For the most part,  option traders use butterfly spreads for a neutral outlook on the underlying. The position is structured to profit from time decay but with the added benefit of a “margin of error” around the position depending on what strike prices are chosen. Butterflies can be great market-neutral trades. However, what some traders don’t realize is that butterflies can also be great for trading directionally.

A Butterfly

The long butterfly spread involves selling two options at one strike and the purchasing options above and below equidistant from the sold strikes. This is usually implemented with all calls or all puts. The long options are referred to as the wings and the short options are the body; thus called a butterfly.

The trader’s objective for trading the long butterfly is for the stock to be trading at the body (short strikes) at expiration. The goal of the trade is to benefit from time decay as the stock moves closer to the short options strike price at expiration. The short options expire worthless or have lost significant value; and the lower strike call on a long call butterfly or higher strike put for a long put butterfly have intrinsic value. Maximum loss (cost of the spread) is achieved if the stock is trading at or below the lower (long) option strike or at or above the upper (long) option strike.

Directional Butterfly

What may not be obvious to novice traders is that butterfly spreads can be used directionally by moving the body (short options) of the butterfly out-of-the-money (OTM) and maybe using slightly wider strike prices for the wings (long options). This lets the trader make a directional forecast on the stock with a fairly large profit zone depending on the width of the wings.

To implement a directional butterfly, a trader needs to include both price and time in his outlook for the stock. This can be the most difficult part for either a neutral or directional butterfly; picking the time the stock will be trading in the profit zone. Sometimes the stock will reach the area too soon and sometimes not until after expiration. If the trader picks narrow wings (tighter strikes), he can lower the cost of the spread. If the trader desires a bigger profit zone (larger strikes), he can expand the wings of the spread and the breakevens but that also increases the cost of the trade. It’s a trade-off.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages of a directional butterfly spread is that it can be a relatively low risk and high reward strategy depending on how the spread is designed. Maybe one of the biggest disadvantages of a directional butterfly spread is that its maximum profit potential is reached close to expiration. But being patient can be very good for a trader…most of the time!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

February 25, 2015

Do You Understand Settlement?

A question I often get in Group Coaching and one that is probably not discussed enough when learning to trade options is that of the various settlement issues. Many option traders limit their universe of option trading to two broad categories. One group consists of individual equities and the similar group of exchange traded funds (ETFs). The other group is composed of a multitude of broad based index products. These two groups are not entirely mutually exclusive since a number of very similar products exist in both categories. For example the broad based SPX index has a corresponding ETF, the SPY.

The first category, the individual equities and ETFs, trade until the close of market on the third Friday of each month for the monthly series contracts. These days there are more and more ETFs and equities that also have weekly settlements too. These contracts are of American type and as such can be exercised by the owner of the contracts for any reason whatsoever at any time until their expiration. If the contract is in-the-money at expiration by just one cent, clearing firms will also exercise these automatically for the owners unless specifically instructed not to do so in many cases. The settlement price against which these decisions are made is the price of the underlying at the close of the life of the option contract.

When this first group we are discussing settles, it is by the act of buying or selling shares of the underlying equity/ETF at the particular strike price. As such, the trader owning a long call will acquire a long position in the underlying and the owner of a put a short position. Conversely, the trader short these options will incur the offsetting action in his account. Obviously, existing additional positions in the equity/ETF itself may result in different final net positions.

The second category, the broad based index underlyings, are also termed “cash settled index options”. This category would include a number of indices, for example RUT and SPX. As the name implies, these series settle by movement of cash into and out of the trader’s account. The last day to trade these options is the Thursday before the third Friday; they settle at prices determined during that Friday morning. Like ETFs and equities, these index options also have weekly settlements as well.

One critically important fact with which the trader needs to be familiar with is the unusual method of determining the settlement price of many of the underlyings; it is NOT the same as settlement described above. Settlement for this category of underlyings has the following two characteristics important for the trader to understand: 1.The settlement value is a calculated value published by the exchange and is determined from a calculation of the Friday opening prices of the various individual equities, and 2. This value has no obligate relationship to the Thursday closing value for the underlying.

Many option traders choose never to allow settlement for the options they hold, either long or short. For those who do allow positions to settle, careful evaluation of the potential impact on capital requirements of the account must be a routinely monitored to avoid any surprises. When in doubt the best way to go is to ask your broker how they will handle settlement for your particular situation  and and tell you what alternatives you might have.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

February 19, 2015

Your Overall Option Delta

Delta is probably the first greek an option trader learns and is focused on. In fact it can be a critical starting point when learning to trade options. Simply said, delta measures how much the theoretical value of an option will change if the stock moves up or down by $1. A positive delta means the position will rise in value if the stock rises and drop in value of the stock declines. A negative delta means the opposite. The value of the position will rise if the stock declines and drop in value if the stock rises in price. Some traders use delta as an estimate of the likelihood of an option expiring in-the-money (ITM). Though this is common practice, it is not a mathematically accurate representation.

The delta of a single call can range anywhere from 0 to 1.00 and the delta of a single put can range from 0 to -1.00. Generally at-the-money (ATM) options have a delta close to 0.50 for a long call and -0.50 for a long put. If a long call has a delta of 0.50 and the underlying stock moves higher by a dollar, the option premium should increase by $0.50. As you might have derived, long calls have a positive delta and long puts have a negative delta. Just the opposite is true with short options—a short call has a negative delta and a short put has a positive delta. The closer the option’s delta is to 1.00 or -1.00 the more it responds closer to the movement of the stock. Stock has a delta of 1.00 for a long position and -1.00 for a short position.

Taking the above paragraph into context, one may be able to derive that the delta of an option depends a great deal on the price of the stock relative to the strike price of the option. All other factors being held constant, when the stock price changes, the delta changes too.

What many traders fail to understand is that delta is cumulative. A trader can add, subtract and multiply deltas to calculate the delta of the overall position including stock. The overall position delta is a great way to determine the risk/reward of the position. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Let’s say a trader has a bullish outlook on Apple (AAPL) when the stock is trading at $128 and purchases 3 March 130 call options. Each call contract has a delta of +0.40. The total delta of the position would then be +1.20 (3 X 0.40) and not just 0.40. For every dollar AAPL rises all factors being held constant again, the position should profit $120 (100 X 1 X 1.20). If AAPL falls $2, the position should lose $240 (100 X -2 X 1.20) based on the delta alone.

Using AAPL once again as the example, lets say a trader decides to purchase a March 130/135 bull call spread instead of the long calls. The delta of the long $130 call is once again 0.40 and the delta of the short $135 call is -0.22. The overall delta of the position is 0.18 (0.40 – 0.22). If AAPL moves higher by $3, the position will now gain $54 (100 X 3 X 0.18) with all factors being held constant again. If AAPL falls a dollar, the position will suffer a $18 (100 X -1 X 0.18) loss based on the delta alone.

Calculating the position delta is critical for understanding the potential risk/reward of a trader’s position and also of his or her total portfolio as well. If a trader’s portfolio delta is large (positive or negative), then the overall market performance will have a strong impact on the traders profit or loss.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

February 12, 2015

Going for the Long Ball with OTM Call Options

It seems like almost every other week in my Group Coaching class, a student will ask me about buying deep out-of-the money (OTM) options. Many option traders especially those that are new initially buy deep out-of-the-money options because they are cheap and can offer a huge reward. Unfortunately many times, these “cheap” options are rarely a bargain. Don’t get me wrong, at first glance an OTM call that costs $0.25 may seem like a steal. Since spring training is fast approaching, we can use a baseball analogy and say that if the trade works out, it could turn into a real homerun; maybe even a grand slam. But if the call’s strike price is say $20 or $30 (depending on the stock price) above the market and the stock has never rallied that much before in the amount of time until expiration, the option will likely expire worthless or close to it.

Negative Factors

Many factors work against the success of a deep OTM call from profiting. The call’s delta (rate of change of an option relative to a change in the underlying) will typically be so small that even if the stock starts to rise, the call’s premium will not increase much. In addition, option traders will still have to overcome the bid-ask spread (the difference between the buy and sell price) which might be anywhere from $0.05 to $0.15 or even more for illiquid options.

Option traders that tend to buy the cheapest calls available are probably calls that have the shortest time left until expiration. If an OTM call option expires in less than thirty days, its time decay measured by theta (rate of change of an option given a unit change in time) will be often larger than the delta especially for higher priced and more volatile stocks. Any potential gains from the stock rising in price can be negated by the time decay. Plus each day the OTM call option premium will decrease if the stock drops, trades sideways or rallies just a tad.

Final Thoughts

A deep OTM call option can become profitable only if the stock unexpectedly jumps much higher. If the stock does rise sharply, an OTM call option can hit the proverbial homerun and post impressive gains. The question option traders need to ask themselves is how much are they willing to lose waiting for the stock to rise knowing that the odds are unlikely for it to happen in the first place? Trades like these have very low odds and may be better suited for the casino then the trading floor.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

February 5, 2015

What is an Option Strangle?

An option strangle is an option strategy that option traders can use when they think there is an imminent move in the underlying but the direction is uncertain. With an option strangle, the trader is betting on both sides of a trade by purchasing a put and a call generally just out-of-the-money (OTM), but with the same expiration. By buying a put and a call that are OTM, an option trader pays a lower initial price than with an option straddle where the call and put purchased share the same strike price. However, this comes with a price so-to-speak; the stock will have to make a much larger move than if the option straddle were implemented because the breakeven points of the trade will be further out due to buying both options OTM. The trader is, arguably, taking a larger risk (because a bigger move is needed than with an option straddle), but is paying a lower price. Like many trade strategies there are pros and cons to each. If this or any other option strategy sounds a little overwhelming to you, I would invite you to checkout the Options Education section on our website.

The Particulars

An option strangle has two breakeven points just like the option straddle. To calculate these points simply add the net premium (call premium + put premium) to the strike price of the call (for upside breakeven) and subtract the net premium from the put’s strike (to calculate downside breakeven). If at expiration, the stock has advanced or dropped past one of these breakeven points, the profit potential of the strategy is unlimited (for upside moves). The position will take a 100% loss if the stock is trading between the put and call strikes upon expiration. Remember that the maximum loss a trader can take on an option strangle is the net premium paid.

Implied Volatility

The implied volatility (IV) of the options plays a key role in an option strangle as well. With no short options in this spread, the IV exposure is concentrated. When IV is considered low compared to historical volatility (HV), it is a relatively “cheap” time to buy options. Since the option strangle involves buying a call and put, buying “cheaper” options is critical. If the IV is expected to increase after the option strangle is initiated, this could increase the option premiums with all other factors held constant which is certainly a bonus for long option strangle holders.

Example Trade

To create an option strangle, a trader will purchase one out-of-the-money (OTM) call and one OTM put. An option trader may think Apple Inc. (AAPL) looks good for a potential option strangle since at the time of this writing, it is teetering around its all-time high at $120. With IV lower than HV and the trader unsure in what direction the Apple stock may move, the option strangle could be the way to go. The trader would buy both an March 125 call and an March 115 put. For simplicity, we will assign a price of 2.00 for both – resulting in an initial investment of $4 (2 + 2) for our trader (which again is the maximum potential loss).

Apple Stock Rallies

Should the Apple stock rally past the call’s breakeven point which is $129 (125 + 4) at expiration, the 115 put expires worthless and the $125 call expires in-the-money (ITM) resulting in the strangle trader collecting on the position. If, for example at expiration the stock is trading at $133 which means the intrinsic value of the call $8 (133 – 125), the profit is $4 (8 – 4) which represents the intrinsic value less the premium paid.

Apple Stock Declines

The same holds true if the stock falls below the put’s breakeven point at expiration. The put is in ITM and the call expires worthless. At expiration, if Apple stock is trading below the put’s breakeven point of the trade which is $111 (115 – 4), a profit will be realized. The danger is that Apple stock finishes between $111 and $129 as expiration occurs. In this case, both legs of the position expire worthless and the initial 4, or $400 of actual cash, is lost.

Maximum Loss

Notice that the maximum loss is the initial premium paid, setting a nice limit to potential losses. Profits and losses can be realized way before expiration and it is up to the trader to decide how and when to close the position. Potential profits on the strangle are unlimited which can be very rewarding but as always, a traders needs to decide how he or she will manage the position.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 29, 2015

A Different Use of the Butterfly

There are several ways to make adjustments or lock in profits on a profitable long call or long put position. One of my favorites has to be converting the option position to a long butterfly spread. It may sound funny, but probably the hardest part about an option trader converting his position to lock in profits with a butterfly spread is getting to a profitable position in the first place; the rest is relatively easy! Let’s take a look at a scenario and an outlook in which this butterfly spread can be considered.

Butterfly Spread on BIDU

Let’s assume an option trader has been watching ABC Inc. (ABC) stock and noticed the stock pulled back slightly from the uptrend in which it has been trading. When ABC stock was trading around $175 in the middle of January, he decides to buy the February 175 call options for 7. Lo and behold about a week later the stock moves higher and it’s trading around $185. The $185 level is potential resistance for the stock because is has previously traded to that area twice before and the trader is concerned it might happen once again. The trader thinks there may be a chance that ABC stock may trade sideways at that level. Converting a long call position to a butterfly spread is advantageous if a neutral outlook is forecast (as in this case). A long butterfly spread has its maximum profit attained if the stock is trading at the short strikes (body of the butterfly) at expiration.

The option trader is already long the February 175 call which constitutes one wing of the butterfly so he needs to sell two February 185 calls which is the body of the butterfly and where the option trader thinks the stock may trade until expiration. $185 represents where the maximum profit can be earned at expiration. A February 195 call (other wing) would need to be purchased to complete the long call butterfly spread.

The original cost of the February 175 call was 7. The two short February 185 calls sell for 5.25 a piece and the long February 195 call costs 2. The converted 175/185/195 long call butterfly spread produces a credit of 1.50 (-7 + 10.50 – 2). Now here’s a look at the possible scenarios that could happen and some possibilities that can be considered.

 Take Profit

With ABC stock trading around $185, the February 175 call option has increased in value to 11.25. That means the trader can sell the call and make a profit of $4.25 (11.25 – 7). Certainly this is a viable option and should be considered on some of the contracts before adjusting the position.

Maximum Loss

Maximum loss for a long butterfly spread is realized if the stock is trading at or below the lowest strike (lower wing) or at or above the highest strike (higher wing). In this case the maximum loss is not a loss at all but a credit of $1.50. In essence, the original $7 potential risk from buying the February 175 call is now erased and has turned into a guaranteed profit even if ABC stock completely collapses. If the stock continues to move higher and past the 195 strike at expiration, the maximum loss is still achieved; albeit a $1.50 profit. But more could have been made by simply keeping the original position intact. That is why it may be prudent if there is more than one contract (long call) to maybe not convert all the positions to a butterfly spread, particularity if the trader thinks that the stock can still climb higher. Keeping the long call would have more profitable if this scenario played out.

Maximum Profit

Maximum profit is achieved if the trader is right and stock closes right at $185 at expiration. The current profit on the trade is $4.25 as discussed above. If ABC stock continues to trade sideways or ends up at $185 at expiration, that $4.25 profit has now grown to an $11.50 profit. The maximum profit for a butterfly spread is derived from taking the difference between the bought and sold strikes which in this case is $10, and adding premium received from converting the position to a butterfly spread ($1.50). Not too bad of a result if ABC stock trades sideways or ends up at $185 at expiration. It seems pretty clear that the long butterfly spread is very beneficial when a sideways outlook is forecast after the long option has profited.

As long as the strike prices align with the trader’s outlook, converting a long call or a long put to a butterfly spread can be very effective after gains are realized. If there are multiple contracts, it allows an option trader to take profits now and also potentially earn more if the stock essentially goes nowhere and ends up close to the short strikes at expiration.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 22, 2015

Hedging Risk in Potential Take-Over Stocks

Several days ago, there was a rumor that Samsung was planning on acquiring smartphone maker BlackBerry Limited (BBRY) and the stock shot up over 25%. The rumors so far have failed to materialize. That being said, let’s look at an made-up example of a take-over and a way to use options to capture the possible move. A $50 stock is rumored to be taken out at $55. Looks like a nice spec trade right? You go to the option chain to look for some calls to buy and you notice that the options have gotten pretty expensive. Implied volatility has skyrocketed. Sometimes implied volatility can make options so expensive that even if the trade goes your way the profit is just not there–but the risk is. So, what’s an options trader to do?

One solution can be to buy a bull call spread instead of the outright call. The rationale? It’s called hedging–hedging volatility premium. Whenever you buy options, you’re getting long implied volatility. If implied volatility is expensive, the options are expensive too. And if implied volatility subsequently falls after you make the trade, those options drop in value too. So, what if you both buy and sell an option to create a spread? Let’s look at the two legs of a bull call spread

Bull Call Spread – Long Leg

A bull call spread is when a trader buys one call and sells another that has a higher strike price. Look at it as two trades. The long call would be the one you might buy if you were to spec on the take-over stock. In the case of a take over, this call likely has high implied volatility as the market scrambles to buy up calls, making it pricey.

Bull Call Spread – Short Leg

Because there is a target price in which the take-over target is expected to be bought, you only need exposure up to a certain point–the take-over price. Why not sell a call at or above the expected take-over price? You’re not giving up upside. But you are taking in (expensive) premium to hedge the (expensive) premium you’re buying with the long call leg. It’s a perfect spread.

Example

Let’s look at this in terms of absolute risk. A stock currently trading for $50 is rumored for take over at $55. News is expected within a couple of weeks.

Buy 1 February 50 call at $4

Sell 1 February 55 call at $2

Net debit $2

Max loss = $2 (That’s better than just buying the 50 calls outright)

Max gain = $3 (That’s the $5 spread minus the $2 premium)

Break even = $52 (That’s $50 strike plus $2 spread premium)

Here the max loss/max gain ratio of the spread is 2:3. The max loss/max gain ratio of the outright call would be 4:1 (Remember, you expect the stock only to rise to $55). The spread looks better so far. Let’s look at the break evens. The spread break-even is $52. The outright call’s break even is $54. Better still.

Wrap Up

With all option strategies, there are opportune times when they offer an advantage over an alternative strategy. Bull call spreads and take-over candidates are a natural fit. Traders always need to look for ways to construct the smartest position in terms of risk-reward.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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