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January 23, 2014

Thoughts on Front-Month Puts

With the market threatening to move lower after a bullish run last year and earning’s season upon us,it might be a good time to talk about put options. If a trader buys a put option, he or she has the right to sell the underlying at a particular price (strike price) before a certain time (expiration). If a trader owns 100 shares of stock and purchases a put option, the trader may be able to protect the position fully or to some degree because he or she will have the right to sell the stock at the strike price by expiration even if the shares lose value.

A lot of traders especially those who are just learning to trade options can be smitten by put options especially buying the shortest-term, or front month put for protection. The problem, however, is that there is a flaw to the reasoning of purchasing front-month puts as protection. Front-month contracts have a higher theta (time decay) and relying on front-month puts to protect a straight stock purchase is not necessarily the best way to protect the stock. If you were to continually purchase front-month puts as protection, that can end up being a rather expensive way to by insurance.

Although front month options are often cheaper, they are not always your best bet. The idea may be sound, the trader purchases a number of shares of the stock and purchases out-of-the-money puts to protect his or her position; but sound reasoning does not always lead to good practice. Here’s an example.

We will use a hypothetical trade. The stock is trading a slightly above 13 and our hypothetical trader wants to own the stock because he or she thinks the stock will beat its earnings’ estimates in each of the next two quarters. This investment will take at least six months as the trader wants to allow the news events to move the stock higher.

Being a smart options trader, our stock trader wants some insurance against a potential drop in the stock just in case. The trader decides to buy a slightly out-of-the-money July 13 put, which carries an ask price of $0.50 (rounded for simplicity purposes). That 0.50 premium represents almost 4 percent of the current stock price. In fact, if the investor rolled option month after month, it would create a big dent in the initial outlay of cash. To be sure, after about seven months (assuming the stock hangs around $13) the trader would lose more than 25 percent on the $13 investment.

If the stock drops in price, then the ultimate rationalization for the strategy is realized; protection. The put provides a hedge. The value of the option will increase as the stock drops, which can offset the loss suffered as the stock drops. Buying the put is a hedge and and a solid insurance policy – though, albeit, an expensive one. Investors can usually find better ways to protect a stock.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 16, 2014

A Short Iron Condor

A short condor occurs when a trader combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It is essentially combining two credit spreads as one trade. The trade is executed by buying a lower-strike out-of-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put with a higher strike. Then the trader sells an out-of-the-money call with a higher strike and buys another out-of-the-money call with an even higher strike. Learning to trade more advanced option strategies like an iron condor is not essential for option traders but it can give you more means in which to possibly extract money from the market.

One of the rationales behind selling an iron condor is implied volatility (implied volatility is – simply defined – the volatility component of an option price). When IV is inflated (meaning the implied volatility has pushed the option price higher) it lifts the premium values for option sellers. In addition, the profitable range on the short iron condor is can be rather large depending on how it is implemented.

A short iron condor consists of four legs and results in a net credit received. As for profit potential, the maximum potential profit is the initial credit received upon entering the trade. This profit will occur if the underlying stock price, on expiration date, is between the two middle (short) strikes.

One of the benefits of a short iron condor (and potentially options in general) is limited risk. For short condors, the maximum loss comes when the underlying stock price drops below the lowest strike or above the highest strike. If you want an equation for max loss, think of it as the difference in strike prices of the two lower-strike options (or the two higher-strike options) less the initial credit for entering the trade.

Being that we are in the mist of earnings season, it may be best to construct the iron condor to expire before the actual announcement. If not, then it may be best to exit the trade before the announcement especially if the trade is profitable up to that point.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 9, 2014

Butterflies, Expiration, the Importance of Time and Christie Brinkley

One of the major differences when learning to trade options as opposed to equity trading is the impact of time on the various trade instruments. Remember that option premiums reflect the total of both intrinsic (if any) and extrinsic (time) value. Equities are not affected by the passing of time unlike many movie stars. Even though Christie Brinkley is still considered to be still quite attractive by many, her look is not the same as it was decades ago when she was a top model and cover-girl. Also remember that while very few things in trading are for certain, one certainty is that the time value of an option premium goes to zero at the closing bell on expiration Friday.

While this decay of time premium to a value of zero is reliable and undeniable in the world of option trading, it is important to recognize that the decay is not linear. It is during the final weeks of the option cycle that decay of the extrinsic premium begins to race ever faster to oblivion. In the vocabulary of the options trader, the rate of theta decay increases as expiration approaches. It is from this quickening of the pace that many examples of option trading vehicles gain their maximum profitability during this final week of their life.

Some of the most dramatic changes in behavior can be seen in the trading strategy known as the butterfly. For those new to options, consideration of the butterfly represents the move from simple single legged strategy such as simply buying a put or a call to multi-legged strategies that include both buying and selling options in certain patterns.

To review briefly, a butterfly consists of a vertical debit spread and vertical credit spread sharing the same strike price constructed together in the same underlying in the same expiration. It may be built using either puts or calls and its directional bias derives from strike selection rather than the particular type of option used for construction. For a (long) butterfly, maximum profit is always achieved at expiration when the underlying closes at the short strike shared by the two vertical spreads.

The butterfly has the interesting characteristic in that it responds sluggishly to price movement early in its life. For example in the first two weeks of a four week option cycle, time decay or theta is slow to erode. However, as expiration approaches, the butterfly becomes increasingly sensitive to price movement as the time premium erodes and the spread becomes increasingly subject to delta as a result of increasing gamma. It is for this reason that many butterfly traders restrict their use to the more responsive part of the options cycle. For a butterfly, the greatest sensitivity to time (and, therefore, profit potential) is reaped in the final week of the life cycle of the butterfly, i.e. expiration week. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 2, 2014

A Few Pennies Can Make a Difference

One of the more difficult problems with which to deal for an options trader has historically been the broad bid-ask spreads quoted for options. I often refer to them in class and depending on how large the spread, it may keep me out of a potential trade. Experienced traders have routinely negotiated the bid-ask spreads downward with varying success when trading individual positions, but the non-economic price has been the significant effort and time required to achieve these negotiated results.

Beginning in January 2007, Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) initiated a Pilot Program to reduce bid-ask spreads to as low as 1¢. As of the beginning of this year, there are currently around 360 in the series (including such big names as Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and more) quoted in these penny increments. CBOE maintains an Excel file of option series currently included within this “Penny Pilot” program.

Because option positions are frequently constructed with several individual legs, the impact of the ability to trade with tighter bid-ask spreads can have significant impact on the aggregate slippage of positions. Combined with the falling commission rates resulting from the increasingly intense competition among brokers specializing in options, significant trading efficiencies have resulted. Looks like a great situation for an option trader to be in.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring