One of the effects of the seasonality of options (that I talk a lot about with my options coaching students) is that premium sellers see the most dramatic erosion of the time value of options they have sold during the last week of the options cycle. Most premium sellers strive to keep the options they have sold short (also known as options they have “written”) out of the money (OTM) in order that the entirety of the premium they have sold represents time (extrinsic) premium and is subject to this rapid time decay.
With 12 monthly cycles, there historically have been only 12 of these final weeks per year in which premium sellers have seen the maximum benefit of their core strategy. The advent and widespread use of weekly options has changed the playing field. Options with one week durations are available on several indices and several hundred different stocks. These options have been in existence since October 2005 but only in the past couple of years have they gained widespread recognition and achieved sufficient trading volume to have good liquidity. Further now, there are weeklys that go for consecutive weeks (1 week options, 2 week options, 3 week options, 4 week options and 5 week options) that were just added a couple of weeks ago.
Standard trading strategies employed by premium sellers can be executed in these options. The advantage is to gain the “sweet spot” of the time decay of premium without having to wait through the entirety of the 4 to 5 week option cycle. The party never ends for premium sellers using these innovative vehicles.
Traders interested in using these weeklys MUST understand settlement procedures and be aware of last days for trading. An excellent discussion of weeklies given by Dan Passarelli is available at Learn to Trade Weeklys.
One of the basic directional spreads when learning to trade options is that of the vertical spread. It is extremely versatile and represents a major building block of more complex spreads. It is so named because of the configuration of the position when overlain on the classic format for displaying option quotes. In this format, the various strike prices for an option are arrayed vertically and the months available to trade are displayed horizontally. This defined risk position consists of both a long and short position at different strike prices within the same expiration month. It can be constructed in either puts or calls and the initial cash flow can be either a credit or debit. Strike prices can be selected to produce either aggressive or conservative stances.
As an example, let us consider a vertical spread in market leader Apple (AAPL). Current vital signs of the option chain show tremendous liquidity, a tight bid ask spread, and moderately elevated implied volatility.
For the trader who has a bullish thesis for the price action in AAPL into December expiration, a put credit spread can be established by selling the December 540 put and buying the December 530 put. As this is written with 31 days to expiration, the maximum potential return is 30% and is achieved as long as AAPL remains above the short put strike of 540. Maximum risk is defined by the long 530 put.
As contrasted to a naked put sale, this position has the following major differences: 1. Risk is crisply defined as opposed to the naked sale maximum risk of the underlying going to 0, and 2. Margin requirements for the position and hence yield are dramatically improved.
Do you know how many different types of options strategies there are? A lot: That’s how many! But that’s not really the important question. More importantly: Do you know why there are so many different types of options strategies? Now we have something to discuss and getting a proper options education can help a trader better understand all of those strategies and when and how to use them.
Different options strategies exist because each one serves a unique purpose for a unique market condition. For example, take bullish AAPL traders. Now that the stock has severely declined in price, there are traders who are extremely bullish on AAPL and want to get more bang for their buck and buy short-term out-of-the-money calls. Less bullish traders might buy at- or in-the-money calls. Traders bullish just to a point may buy a limited risk/limited reward bull call spread. If implied volatility is high and the trader is bullish just to a point, the trader might sell a bull put spread, and so on.
The differences in options strategies, no matter how apparently subtle, help traders exploit something slightly different each time. Traders should consider all the nuances that affect the profitability (or potential loss) of an option position and, in turn, structure a position that addresses each nuance. Traders need to consider the following criteria:
Degree of bullishness or bearishness
Carefully selecting options strategies makes all the difference in a trader’s long-term success. Leaving money on the table with winners, or taking losses bigger than necessary can be unfortunate byproducts of selecting inappropriate options strategies. With the holidays approaching, now is a great time to spend optimizing your options strategies over the next few weeks to build the habit heading into the New Year!
Hurricane Sandy and the recent decline in Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock is a reminder of how “black swan” events can impact our lives in unforeseen and unforeseeable ways. Yogi Berra summed it up succinctly in his aphorism that “the future isn’t what it used to be.” It never is.
One helpful organizational concept of financial risk is to consider that risk comes in two categories. The usual type of risk is analyzed by the bell shaped curve of a Gaussian (log normal) distribution that most traders are familiar with. The other general category of risk is characterized by the unforeseen events that result in major alterations of the financial landscape. It is this category of risk to which Nassim Taleb has drawn attention in his books regarding the lack of predictability of consequential rare events.
How does this impact the world of the trader and the usefulness of options? The fact is that all funds invested in the market are totally at risk at all times and the comfort that stop losses may give can give a trader can be a false sense of security. From this concept, the ability to control stock with far less invested capital becomes inescapably attractive.
Such is one core function of options; control of stock with commitment of far less capital than outright purchase. To take a straightforward example, shares of AAPL which has taken center-stage on many traders and investors radars, currently trades around $560 after a major decline. The stock may now look attractive to buyers after its fall from around $700. To control 100 shares by outright stock purchase would require $56,000. A substantially delta equivalent position using deep in-the-money calls, the December 400 strike, could be purchased for approximately $16,200. As is characteristic of a deep in-the-money option, there is very little eroding time premium for which the trader is paying. In this example, there is substantially less risk buying the call option than purchasing the stock outright.
Should Armageddon arrive unannounced again and it might, which position is better: the total loss of the value of the stock position or the vaporization of the money paid for the option?
The naked call is defined as an option strategy where an option player sells (writes) call options without owning the underlying security. Some may refer to this strategy as an “uncovered call” or “short call.”
The goal of the naked call is for the trader to collect premiums if the option expires worthless. A trader could sell an out-of-the-money (OTM) naked call each month and pocket premiums, provided the stock price either stays flat or drops. This process could continue as long as the stock remains below the strike. For those interested in learning all the ins and outs of naked calls and possibly safer alternatives, please visit the Learn To Trade section of our website.
The maximum gain for selling a naked call is limited to the premium received for the call option. That said, the loss potential is unlimited – as the stock can rise indefinitely. If the underlying stock’s price is above the strike price at expiration, it will result in the trader having to sell the stock at the strike price (which will be lower than the market price).
A loss can occur if the stock price rises. If the price of the underlying stock is greater than the short call’s strike price plus the premium received at expiration the option should be bought in to close the trade. Otherwise, when the option is assigned and a short-stock position is acquired, further losses are possible. On the flip side, the maximum profit is achieved when the underlying stock is less than or equal to the strike price of the sold call at its expiration.
For this specific example, we will take a look at Apple (AAPL) – which is trading right around $600 at the time of this writing. A December 650 call carries a bid price of 7.00. If the stock remains below the strike price by expiration, the call expires worthless and the call seller keeps the 7.00 in premium (less any commissions). The problem is if the stock rallies through the strike price at expiration, the call will be assigned, resulting in a short sale of 100 shares at $650. With the stock at $670, that would represent a loss of $20 a share, or $2,000. Subtract the $700 received in premium and the total loss comes to $1,300.
With unlimited loss potential, the naked call is considered one of the riskiest option strategies. A, perhaps, safer way to structure a trade with a similar risk profile is to sell a call credit spread. We’ll have a short blog posting on this in the future.
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Option (ODD) which can be obtained from your broker; by calling (888) OPTIONS; or from The Options Clearing Corporation, One North Wacker Drive, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60606. The content on this site is intended to be educational and/or informative in nature. No statement on this site is intended to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any security or to provide trading or investment advice. Traders and investors considering options should consult a professional tax advisor as to how taxes may affect the outcome of contemplated options transactions.