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March 27, 2014

Directional Butterfly

Many 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

March 20, 2014

Aint’ Nothin’ Like the Real Thing, Baby!

When it comes to learning to trade, there really isn’t anything like the real thing. You can read hundreds of books, watch thousands of videos, but without having someone to show you the way to actually DO IT, learning to trade can be tough.

Imagine trying to learn a complex game like chess by reading a book or watching a video. You’ll get some good pointers, but can you really learn to master the game? There is logic, psychology, player interaction, time-tested moves and other intangibles that a book or video can only teach you so much about. You can practice playing the game over and over again as well, but without someone showing you move-by-move, piece-by-piece how to play the game, you’ll never achieve mastery of the game. You need someone to show you how to play, the way to counter certain moves, the way to set up attacks three moves ahead, the way to read your opponent.

That’s the way I learned to trade: Face-to-face, and often toe-to-toe, down on the trading floor. I learned the old fashioned way: By having people around me to show me how to do it. The benefit of being able to ask the experts standing next to me on the trading floor the burning questions that I needed answered. This helped me to reach the level of competency I need to become a successful a trader. It proved to be the biggest contributor to a long and rewarding trading career.

It’s hard for people to learn to trade without access to the knowledge center that I was fortunate enough to have which was smack dab in the middle of the trading floor; and I appreciated that. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown up in Chicago and to have gotten a break, getting a job on the trading floor after college. I was able to springboard that opportunity into a successful trading career. I get it. And that’s why, for two days, I am going to help recreate some of that experience for YOU.

We are planning an intensive (but fun) two-day class in Chicago. It will be held at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), where I first learned to trade.

We’ve got a GREAT curriculum planned and a really fun social event in the plans as well. Right now, this class has not been made officially public. We’re still in the final stages of planning and we’ll announce all the details next week. Right now, we’d like your input so we can finish off the amazing itinerary we have planned. Please help us create the kind of class you’d love to be a part of—your DREAM CLASS—by answering this short, four-question survey.

Dan Passarelli

CEO, Market Taker Mentoring, Inc.

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March 13, 2014

AAPL Options and Moneyness

Dan Passarelli often uses the word “moneyness” and he even has a section about it in his books. Moneyness isn’t a word, is it? It won’t be found on spell-check, but moneyness is a very important term when it comes to learning to trade options. There are three degrees, if you will, of moneyness for an option, at-the-money (ATM), in-the-money (ITM) and out-of-the-money (OTM). Let’s take a look at each of these terms, using tech behemoth Apple (AAPL) as an example. At the time of writing, Apple was hovering around the $535 level, so let’s define the moneyness of Apple options using $535 as the price.

At-the-Money
An at-the-money AAPL option is a call or a put option that has a strike price about equal to $535. The ATM options (in Apple’s case the 535-strike put or call) have only time value (a factor that decreases as the option’s expiration date approaches, also referred to as time decay). These options are greatly influenced by the underlying stock’s volatility and the passage of time.

In-the-Money
An option that is in-the-money is one that has intrinsic value. A call option is ITM if the strike price is below the underlying stock’s current trading price. In the case of AAPL, ITM options include the 530 strike and every strike below that. One will notice that option positions that are deeper ITM have higher premiums. In fact, the further in-the-money, the deeper the premium.

A put option is considered ITM when the strike price is above the current trading price of the underlying. For our example, an ITM AAPL put carries a strike price of 540 or higher. As with call options, puts that are deeper ITM carry a greater premium. For example, a March AAPL 545 put has a premium of $11.50 compared to a price of $7.95 for a March 540 put.

If an option expires ITM, it will be automatically exercised or assigned. For example, if a trader owned a AAPL 515 call and AAPL closed at $520 at expiration, the call would be automatically exercised, resulting in a purchase of 100 shares of AAPL at $515 a share.

Out-of-the-Money
An option is out-of-the-money when it has no intrinsic value. Calls are OTM when their strike price is higher than the market price of the underlying, and puts are OTM when their strike price is lower than the stock’s current market value. Since the OTM option has no intrinsic value, it holds only time value. OTM options are cheaper than ITM options because there is a greater likelihood of them expiring worthless.

If this is the case, why purchase OTM options? If you have little investing capital, an OTM option carries a lower premium; but you are paying less because there is a higher possibility that the option expires worthless. OTM options are attractive because OTM calls can see their premium increase quickly. Of course, OTM options could see their premium decrease quickly as well. Remember that OTM options can log the highest percentage gain on the same move in the underlying, in comparison to ATM or ITM options.

Have a great week of trading!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 6, 2014

Weekly Options and Time Decay

There are so many different characteristics of options that I talk a lot about with my options coaching students. But one of the more popular subjects 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 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 late last year.

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 methods. Of course there is a trade-off because the shorter the time there is left until expiration, the smaller the option premiums are compared to an option with a longer expiration. As option traders we are used to tradeoffs.

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.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring