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August 25, 2011

Interesting and Volatile Times

“May you live in interesting times” is an ancient Chinese curse. The fact that the last few weeks have seen neck snapping and

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wild changes in volatility, I think we qualify for living in what these philosophers would consider to be interesting times.

For those who are unfamiliar with the impact of volatility on option trades, suffice it to say that the current market contains unique challenges. As I write, the volatility environment has experienced remarkable volatility. While the concept of the volatility of the volatility may seem arcane, it has huge impact on the behavior of option positions.

Remember that option premium, while quoted as a single bid/ask spread, in reality consists of the sum of the extrinsic and intrinsic premiums. While the intrinsic premium may vary wildly in such markets as we currently are experiencing, it is a straightforward and transparent calculation depending solely on the current market price of the underlying and the strike price under consideration.

The extrinsic premium is not so straightforward and is impacted by several factors, the most important of which are the time to expiration and the IV. The time to expiration is clearly defined by anyone with a calendar, or perhaps a stopwatch currently, and represents another transparent variable.

The situation is much more interesting in the world of IV. This is where current unprecedented directional movements impact option prices most dramatically. The situation is rendered even more complex by the fact that the IV changes are occurring in both directions; it is not simply a trending volatility environment. The volatility of the volatility has increased dramatically.

Traders must be cautious when establishing new positions and monitor the vega of the position assiduously. In many cases, structured positions such as vertical spreads are indicated in order to reduce vega exposure.

August 18, 2011

If I’d Meant That, I’d Have Said That

To the new option trader, it often seems as if he has entered into the terra incognita of the derivatives world through Alice’s looking glass. Engaging

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the natives in conversation quickly results in encountering colorful characters who appear not to recognize the same reality from which the traveler has arrived. For those who have chosen to enter this new world, Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty seems particularly familiar wherein he declares: `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

The nomenclature of options is boundlessly confusing. While the casual visitor may only notice the broad categories of puts and calls, the serious student soon will come to realize that the detailed nomenclature is confusing and results from the inescapable fact that options have more moving parts than do stocks. When initiating a stock position, the choices are two: buy or sell the issue. When initiating an options position, the choices are numerous and not mutually exclusive. The selection of the particular series to trade and the anatomic structure in which to place it is often nuanced.

An individual option’s value is a function of three main factors: price of the underlying, time to expiration, and implied volatility. Furthermore the individual options can be combined into complex spreads composed of multiple positions in an almost limitless variety. It is from this abundance of choice that the word salad of option terminology arises.

I find the terminology paradoxically to find its maximum point of obfuscation when used to describe one of the basic building blocks of options, the vertical spread. Verticals represent a two-legged category of spreads in which one option is bought and an option of a different strike is sold; both positions are taken in the same series month and in the same type, either puts or calls. Strike selection determines the directional bias of the trade as well as the credit or debit status. Bullish and bearish trades are easily constructed in both puts and calls.

This simple spread results in a chaotic and confusing panoply of names including: bull call spread, call debit spread, bear call spread, call credit spread, bear put spread, put credit spread, bull put spread, bull call vertical, bear call vertical, bull put vertical, and bear put vertical. As if this collection of a dozen names describing four basic trades were not sufficiently opaque, many traders use an implied shorthand description. For example, they may refer to opening a call credit spread as “selling a call vertical”; conversely opening a call debit spread is often referenced as “buying a call vertical”. The directional bias of the trade is apparent to those having been shown the “secret handshake” by the spread type, call or put, used and the credit or debit status of the opening cash flow.

Unfortunately there is no easy resolution to this nomenclature nightmare. Various traders use the terms inconsistently and variably for no apparent logical reason. Such is everyday life in the world of options.

August 11, 2011

Great Trader Part II

Last time we talked about an options trader having a commitment to excellence. This time we’ll go over why an options trader needs a trading plan and how to go about writing one. This is the part nobody wants to do. Most options traders think that their trading plan is

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in their head. “I know what I need to do when I need to do it” most beginning and some veteran options traders will exclaim. If it was just that easy, everyone would be a great options trader. Unfortunately it’s not. That is specifically why you need a written options trading

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plan. Just because you know what to do doesn’t mean you will do it.

Before you even begin to write your options trading plan, you must take an inventory of yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? You must take the time to truly examine yourself and be honest about whom you are. Your options trading plan must match your personality.

The first thing you need to do to start your options trading plan is to write down your goals like we talked about last time. Once you do this, it brings everything into perspective. The same reason you need to write down your goals is the same reason you need to write down your options trading plan-so your thoughts are transformed from the subconscious to the conscious. It doesn’t matter if you write the plan on a nice piece of paper or a cocktail napkin. It just needs to be written down in your own words.

The next section of your options trading plan will be money management. This is one of the most crucial and often overlooked components of successful options trading. How much are you going to risk per trade? What are your weekly or monthly profit targets? What are the maximum losses you are comfortable with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? All of these questions need to be answered right in this section.

Strategies will be the next

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component of your options trading plan. This will be the meat and potatoes of the plan so to speak. A thing to consider is to start with relatively a few simple strategies (long calls and puts) and master them before you write in more complex option strategies into your plan. You need to describe in as much detail as possible the strategy you intend to use. You will probably be making constant changes to this part until you get exactly what you want.

The last section will be the follow up and review. This is when an option trader needs to print out the charts and the option chains and review them. Did I follow my written options trading plan like I said I would? This needs to be done when the market is closed so all your attention can be on the review. You must keep a trading journal and must always acknowledge your winners and more importantly learn from your losing trades.

This is just a general outline of an options trading plan to get you started. We will go into more detail in each area in upcoming features.

John Kmiecik

August 4, 2011

Great Trader Part I

Have you ever wondered what makes a great options trader? I mean not a options trader that does pretty well, but one that you envy and want to be? Are great options traders just born that way? Does being smarter necessarily give you an advantage in options trading? Is studying charts until you are bleary-eyed from looking at them the secret; or is it just dumb luck on who succeeds and who fails?

The qualities that you will need to succeed in my opinion are a commitment to success, having a options trading plan and the most important, mastering your emotions—or the psychology of options trading. I believe that options trading is the hardest job in the world (quite possibly the best, but the hardest). That’s why it will probably take you a lot longer than you think before you really get a solid grip on it.

So let’s first talk about your commitment to success. This essentially sounds like the easiest of the three qualities to master doesn’t it? Why does anyone want to become a options trader in the first place? Probably, because they want to become wealthy and very successful. Who isn’t committed to that, right? All you need is some money, charts, and a platform and you are on your way. Almost everyone says they are committed but most people are not because when they find out options trading is work—and it is. They tend to lose their focus and their original goals when the going

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gets though.

If you are committed to success then you must be committed to reaching your goals. The most important part of having goals is to write them down. If you never write them down they are simply just dreams. We don’t want to dream we are a great trader we want to realize that we are! Only about 2% of Americans write down their goals. Is it really shocking to know that most people never achieve what they want out of life? As “corny” as it may seem, when you write something down no matter what, your thoughts are transformed from the subconscious to the conscious and are now tangible. Your goals have become something you can see and say out loud. If you never write them down they never exist outside of your thoughts.

Let me leave you with this before I end this introduction on how we are going to build a great options trader out of you. I think everyone can agree whether you are a beginning options trader or a more experienced options trader that there are several key components you will need to do to become a standout. Having said this I also know that most of you will not be committed to do this at first. I know I wasn’t. I thought to

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myself I am too smart and I know how to options trade. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I was unprepared for the results that followed. I’ll give you a hint, they weren’t good. After I decided to fully commit myself and write down my goals did my results finally change. Let’s face it; options trading is a realm like no other. Options trading looks easy and which in turn makes you lazy to work at it. Be committed to your success and write down your goals right from the start will only help you achieve the success you are after that much quicker.

John Kmiecik