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April 24, 2014

Stop Loss or Trailing Stop?

The market has moved higher, lower and higher again over the last month or so. Even though the market has rallied as of late, there’s still a potential for the market to move lower. Regardless, whether the market continues to move higher or lower once again it is always a good time to talk about stop losses. Traders may hear the terms trailing stop loss and stop loss order and wonder exactly what those terms mean and how a stop loss can potentailly enhance a trading strategy. Well, worry no more because that is exactly what we will review in this blog entry. To get more educational ideas like this, sign up for a free two-week trial of Market Taker Mentoring’s options newsletter.

Let’s start with the basics which is defining a stop loss order. Basically, a trader will tell the broker a certain price on a stock (or option) where the position will be closed; but it’s a little different than a typical closing order. For longs, the closing price is below the current market price and for shorts the stop loss closing order is above the current market. Let’s take a look.

Stop Loss Example

A trader could purchase a stock for $20.00 and set a stop-loss order at $18.50. This means that the position will be closed at the market price once the stock drops below $18.50, pretty simple right? It is called a stop loss order because it stops the trader from taking any more losses. Many traders use a set percentage of a trade for a stop loss order. If a trader wants to use a stop loss order for an option, the bid and ask prices would be monitored and then the same decisions as were made in the stock example are followed.

Trailing Stop Loss Example

A trader chooses a lower target price to keep losses in check and tells the broker to sell the contract once this price is violated. There is another stop loss strategy, the trailing stop loss. A trailing stop loss is either a fixed percentage or a fixed nominal increment from the current market price. Once the market price moves away from the stop, the stop moves, or trails, the market. It remains in place, though, if the market moves towards it.

Once the trailing stop loss is triggered the stock is sold, just like the regular stop loss. The benefit of the trailing stop loss is that it is flexible. If you purchase an option for $10 and set a trailing stop of 50 cents, the sell target is $9.50. Of course, as the stock increases in value, the 50-cent trailing stop will do follow (the stock trades at $10.50, the trailing stop becomes $10.00).

A trailing stop loss can be used very effectively in profit taking and it is a strategy I have used often myself. Let’s revisit the $10 stock with a 50-cent stop loss. If the company reports blow-out earnings, driving the price sharply higher, it might be time to adjust the trailing stop loss. In this example, let’s say the stock jumped to $12.00. A nice profit, but there could be some more room to the upside. Maybe the trader will adjust that trailing stop a little tighter to, say, 25 cents. Doing so allows the trader to lock in a profit of at least 1.75 (12 minus 10 = 2, 2 minus 0.25 = 1.75).

Consider the option next time you are in a profitable position!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 15, 2014

Ever Consider a Bear Put Spread?

The market has been on quite a run lower lately since the S&P 500 hit its all-time high earlier this month. Maybe the market will reverse and move higher at some point but traders need to be prepared like Boy Scouts just in case there is another move lower not only now, but for in the future as well. Options give traders a plethora of options so to speak for a trader with a bearish bias. Bearish directional option strategies are certainly an option but sometimes buying a put option can be a little bit more risky than maybe a trader wants because of potential price swings. A bearish option trader may want to be a little more cautious especially in this current volatile atmosphere.

An Alternative

A better alternative than the long put may be to buy a debit spread (bear put). A bear put spread involves buying a put option and selling a lower strike put option against it with the same expiration. The cost of buying the higher strike put option is somewhat offset by the premium received from the lower strike that was sold. The maximum gain on this spread is the difference in the strike prices minus the cost of the trade. The options trader will realize this maximum gain if the price of the stock is lower than the short put’s strike expiration. The most the options trader can lose is the cost of the spread. This maximum loss will occur if the stock is trading above the long put’s strike at expiration.

An Advantage

An advantage of a bear put spread is that if the stock pulls back, the spread will lose less than just being long puts because of the spread typically has smaller delta and initial costs due to being long and short options. The trade’s delta is smaller because the positive larger delta of the long put option is somewhat offset by the smaller negative delta of the short put option. For example, what if XYZ stock is trading at $40 a share and an option trader purchases an ATM put option ($40 strike) with a delta of 0.50. For every dollar XYZ goes up or down, the put option should increase or decrease by $0.50. If a bear put debit spread was created by adding a short put with a lower strike price of 35 and delta of 0.20, the delta for the spread would now be 0.30 (.50 – .20). Now the spread would gain or lose $0.30 for every dollar the stock went up or down.

Trade-Off

It is probably obvious to a great many of you how a smaller delta might be a disadvantage for the trade. If the trader is correct on the movement and the stock decreases in value, potentially a larger profit could be realized with just being long the put option because of the potential higher delta. But once again a trader needs to determine if a lower overall cost using the bear put and possibly a lower overall risk is worth the trade-off versus the long put.

Finally

Understanding current market conditions (especially now) and applying and managing the proper options strategy is crucial for success at all times. Deciding when to implement a bear put spread instead of buying puts for a bearish bias is just one example of this.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 10, 2014

Double Your Pleasure

With earnings season just kicking off once again, it might be a good time to talk about a subject that is brought up quite often in MTM Group Coaching and Online Education and is often debated by option traders learning to trade advanced strategies; double calendars vs. double diagonals.

Double Calendars vs. Double Diagonals
Both double calendars and double diagonals have the same fundamental structure; each is short option contracts in nearby expirations and long option contracts in farther out expirations in equal numbers. As implied by the name, this complex spread is comprised of two different spreads. These time spreads (aka known as horizontal spreads and calendar spreads) occur at two different strike prices. Each of the two individual spreads, in both the double calendar and the double diagonal, is constructed entirely of puts or calls. But the either position can be constructed of puts, calls, or both puts and calls. The structure for each of both double calendars or double diagonals thus consists of four different, two long and two short, options. These spreads are commonly traded as “long double calendars” and “long double diagonals” in which the long-term options in the spread (those with greater value) are purchased, and the short-term ones are sold. The profit engine that drives both the long double calendar and the long double diagonal is the differential decay of extrinsic (time) premium between shorter dated and longer dated options. The main difference between double calendars and double diagonals is the placement of the long strikes. In the case of double calendars, the strikes of the short and long contracts are identical. In a double diagonal, the strikes of the long contracts are placed farther out-of-the-money) OTM than the short strikes.

Why should an option trader complicate his or her life with these two similar structures? The reason traders implement double calendars and double diagonals is the position response to changes in IV; in optionspeak, the vega of the position. Both trades are vega positive, theta positive, and delta neutral—presuming the price of the underlying lies between the two middle strike prices—over the range of profitability. However, the double calendar positions, because of placement of the long strikes closer to ATM responds favorably more rapidly to increases in IV while the double diagonal responds more slowly. Conversely, decreases in IV of the long positions impacts negatively double calendars more strongly than it does double diagonals.

In future writings, the selection of strike prices and position management based on the volatility of the stock will be discussed. In addition, other option strategies will be introduced and guidelines will be discussed to help the trader select among these similar strategies when considering trades and alternatives.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 3, 2014

Different Option Strategies on AAPL

Compared to trading stocks, there are so many more strategies available to an option trader. But more importantly: Do you know why there are so many different types of options strategies? This is the real reason of our discussion and why 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. The stock has recently moved higher after declines in January and February. There are traders who continue to be extremely bullish on AAPL as it heads closer to its earnings announcement and want to get more bang for their buck and buy short-term out-of-the-money calls. This might not be the most prudent way to capture profits but that is a discussion for another time. 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 (which it currently is not but it has been rising) and the trader is bullish just to a point, the trader might sell a bull put spread (credit spread), and so on.

The differences in options strategies, no matter how apparently minor, 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 difference. Traders need to consider the following criteria:

  • Directional bias
  • Degree of bullishness or bearishness
  • Conviction
  • Time horizon
  • Risk/reward
  • Implied volatility
  • Bid-ask spreads
  • Commissions
  • And more

Carefully defining your outlook and intentions and selecting the best 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 spring hopefully ending soon (cold and snowy winter here in Chicago)and supposedly the volatile markets, now is a great time to spend optimizing your options strategies over the next few weeks to build the habit heading into the summer season!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring