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April 28, 2011

Hedging Volatility Risk in Take-Over Stocks

Say you hear a takeover rumor. A $50 stock is rumored to be taken out at $55. Looks like a nice spec trade. You go to the option chain to look for some calls to buy. But, wow! The options seem to have gotten expensive. Implied volatility is jacked. 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 a trader to do?

One solution can be to buy a bull call spread instead of instead 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

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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.

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 Dec 50 call at $4
Sell 1 Dec 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.


April 21, 2011

The Stock Repair Strategy

Stock Repair Options Strategy
It’s been a rough ride for a lot of investors. Some investors are waiting (patiently) for some of their losers to turn around. Some traders are buying at new, cheaper prices. But as experienced investors know, the market can always go lower, sometimes fast and furiously. There is one more alternative that can make sense in some cases: the stock repair strategy.

Introduction to the Stock Repair Strategy
The stock repair strategy is a strategy involving only calls that can be implemented when an investor thinks a stock will retrace part of a recent drop in share price within a short period of time (usually two to three months).

The stock repair strategy works best after a decline of 20 to 25 percent of the value of an asset. The goal is to “double up” on potential upside gains with little or no cost if the security retraces about half of its loss by the option’s expiration.

There are three benefits the stock repair strategy trader hopes to gain. First, little or no additional downside risk is acquired. This is not to say the trader can’t lose money. The original shares are still held. So if the stock continues lower, the trader will increase his loses. This strategy is only practical when traders feel the stock has “bottomed out”.

Second, the projected retracement is around 50 percent of the decline in stock price. A small gain may be marginally helpful. A large increase will help but have limited effect.

Third, the investor is willing to forego further upside appreciation over and above original investment. The goal here is to get back to even and be done with the trade.

Implementing the Stock Repair Strategy
Once a stock in an investor’s portfolio has lost 20 to 25 percent of the original purchase price, and the trader is anticipating a 50 percent retracement, the investor will buy one close-to-the-money call and sells two out-of-the-money calls whose strike price corresponds to the projected price point of the retracement. Both option series are in the same expiration month, which corresponds to the projected time horizon of the expected rally. The “one-by-two” call spread is ideally established “cash-neutral” meaning no debit or credit. (This is not always possible. More on this later). To better understand this strategy, let’s look at an example.

An investor, buys 100 shares of XYZ stock at $80 a share. After a month of falling prices, XYZ trades down to $60 a share. The investor believes the stock will rebound, but not all the way back to his original purchase price of $80. He thinks there is a reasonable chance for the stock to retrace half of its loss (to about $70 a share)

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over the next two months.

The trader wants to make back his entire loss of $20. Furthermore, he wants to do it without increasing his downside risk by any more than the risk he already has (with the 100 shares already owned). The trader looks at the options with an expiration corresponding to his two-month outlook, in this case the September options

The trader buys 1 September 60 call at 6 and sells 2 September 70 calls at 3. The spread is established cash-neutral.

Bought 1 Sep 60 call at 6
Sold 2 Sep 70 call at 3 (x2)

By combining these options with the 100 shares already owned, the trader creates a new position that gives double exposure between $60 and $70 to capture gains faster if his forecast is right. FIGURE 1 shows how the position functions if held until expiration.

(See Figure 1 above)

If the stock rises to $70 a share, the trader makes $20, which happens to be what he lost when the stock fell from $80 to $60. The trader would be able to regain the entire loss in a retracement of just half of the decline. With the stock above 60 at expiration, the 60-strike call could be exercised to become a long-stock position of 100 shares. That means, the trader would be long 200 shares when the stock is between $60 and $70 at expiration. Above $70, however, the two short 70-strike calls would be assigned, resulting in the 200 shares owned being sold at $70. Therefore, further upside gains are forfeited above and beyond $20.

But what if the trader is wrong? Instead of rising, say the stock continues lower and is trading below $60 a share at expiration. In this event, all the options in the spread expire and the trader is left with the original 100 shares. The further the stock declines, the more the trader can lose. But the option trade won’t contribute to additional losses. Only the original shares are at risk.

Benefits and Limitations of the Stock Repair Strategy
The stock repair strategy is an option strategy that is very specific in what it can (and can’t) accomplish. The investor considering this option strategy must be expecting a partial retracement and be willing to endure more losses if the underlying security continues

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to decline. Furthermore, the investor must accept limiting profit potential above the short strike if the stock moves higher than expected.

Some stocks that have experienced recent declines may be excellent candidates for the stock repair. For others, the stock repair strategy might not be appropriate. For stocks that look like they are finished or may even head lower, the Stock Repair Strategy can’t help – just take your lumps! But for those that might slowly climb back, just partially, this can be a powerful option strategy to recoup losses fast.