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September 25, 2014

The World Series and Exits for an Options Trader

The World Series playoffs are about to begin and it is the most exciting time of the year if you are a fan of baseball. But did you ever stop and think for a minute how these fantastic athletes got to be where they are? It took a lot of dedication, courage and a well thought out plan to make it to their elite level. If that sounds familiar it should because those same attributes are what it takes to learn to trade and become a successful options trader.

Need a Plan

You might be dedicated and have the courage to be an options trader, but do you have a trading plan that you follow? I talk to a lot of option traders and sadly it is true. Option traders spend a lot of time looking for solid trades that they often neglect probably the most important part: the management of the trade. If that is you take a little solace because you are not alone.

A simple way to combat this problem is by having a plan in place before even entering the trade. This is the psychological part of trading. Having a plan in place will remove emotions from getting in the way of decision making and possibly producing unwanted results. Should I stay in the trade or should I exit? Decisions like that should not be made after the trade is executed because many option traders can become too emotional when the trade is in progress especially when they are losing money on the trade. Here are a few things to consider about trade management.

Plan Should Include Determining Exits

Option traders should think about how they are determining their exits for profit and loss. Don’t forget to consider how the greeks and the implied volatility may be affected if the outlook or environment changes. In a volatile market like this, an options trader may need to make some adjustments especially about taking early profits or exiting for a loss.

I generally determine my exits two ways; a certain percentage or based on the chart. When using a certain percentage, I determine how much percentage-wise I am winning to risk on the trade and what percentage I am looking to take profits. When using the chart, I determine at what levels I will exit my position for a loss if that area is violated and I always look to take some profit off if the stock comes into an area I deem a target area (maybe a support or resistance level).

Option traders should also think about how they will exit if their targets are not met. How will the exit or stop be determined? Once again, don’t forget to use the greeks and implied volatility in your methods because it could make the difference between profiting or losing.

Finally

All trading including option trading can be very difficult at times just like training to be a professional athlete and appear in the World Series. Not having plan in place can make it exponentially more difficult and determining exits is just one part of that plan. It helps to have courage and be dedicated to reaching your goals but a solid trading plan can go a long way towards potential success. Athletes that train without a plan are similar to option traders letting their emotions make decisions for them. Once there is well thought out plan in place and most importantly the plan is followed, an option trader removes unwanted emotions which can hinder his or her chances of being successful.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 17, 2014

Long Calls and Bull Call Spreads

With the Dow and S&P 500 falling just off their all-time highs recently and yet refusing to move much lower at this point, it probably makes sense to keep at least a moderately bullish bias towards many stocks. The market is due for some type of pullback, but who knows when that will happen. Even if it does pullback sooner than later, there will be another bullish opportunity at some point rest assured. Traders often ask me is there a way that you can take advantage of this bullish investing scenario while limiting risk? Certainly, there are a few option strategies that can accomplish this goal. One that may be a better option compared to the rest is a debit call spread which is sometimes referred to as a bull call spread.

Definition

When implementing a bull call spread, an option trader purchases a call option at one strike and sells the same number of calls on the same stock at a higher strike with the same expiration date. Here is a trade idea we looked at in Group Coaching just a couple of weeks ago. Tesla Motors (TSLA) moved up to a resistance area right around $260, formed a bullish base and then closed above resistance at around $263. With implied volatility (IV) generally being low, which is advantageous for purchasing options as with a bull call spread, and a directional bias, a bull call spread can be considered.

The Math

The trader’s maximum profit in the bull call spread is limited; he can make as much as the difference between the strike prices less the net debit paid. For simplicity, let’s assume that at the time one September 265 call was purchased for 8.00 and one September 270 call was sold for 6.00 resulting in a net debit of $2 (8 – 6). The difference in the strike prices is $5 (270 – 265). He would subtract $2 from $5 to end up with a maximum profit of $3 per contract. So if he traded 10 contracts, you could make $3,000 (10 X 300).

Although he limited his upside, the trader also limited the downside to the net debit of $2 per contract. To simply breakeven, the stock would have to trade at $267 (the strike price of the purchased call (265) plus the net debit ($2)) at expiration.

Advantage Versus Purchasing a Call

When trading the long call, a trader’s downside is limited to the net premium paid. If he simply purchased the out-of-the-money September 265 call, he would have paid $8. The potential loss is, therefore, greater when implementing a call-buying strategy. If he had moved to a call with a longer time frame to expiration, he would have even paid more for the option. This would also increase his potential loss per option.

Conclusion

By implementing a bull call spread, traders can hedge their bets; limiting the potential loss. This is the advantage when comparing to purchasing a call outright. Remember that there are no sure-fire ways to make money by using options. However, knowing and understanding the strategy is a good way to limit losses.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 11, 2014

Calendar Spreads

A calendar spread, or what it is sometimes referred to as a time spread or horizontal spread can be a simple and quite useful option strategy. The calendar spread is designed to work somewhat like a covered call but without the potentially huge outlay of cash that can accompany buying shares of stock. The spread profits from time decay (option theta) and can make money in any direction depending on the strikes that are chosen. The spread can be set-up with a bullish, bearish or neutral outlook on the underlying either using call options or put options.

How to Create a Calendar Spread

Creating a calendar spread involves buying and selling options on the same underlying with the same strikes but different expirations. The best case-scenario is for the stock to finish at the strike price allowing the short-term option to expire worthless and still have the long option retain much of its value.

For the sake of this example, close to at-the-money (ATM) options will be used but out-of-the-money (OTM) and in-the-money (ITM) options can also be used depending if there is a bullish or bearish bias. As a general guideline, if I have a bullish outlook on the underlying I use call options and put options for a bearish bias. The reasoning is that OTM options generally have tighter bid/ask spreads than options that are currently trading ITM. Initially being down less money entering any option trade due to a tighter bid/ask spread is always a good thing.

Simple to Follow Example

In late August, Marriot International (MAR) was trading just over $69. The stock has been slowly rising over the last year. The trader forecasts that the stock will still be about the same price or maybe a tad higher by September expiration. This scenario makes it worthwhile to look at a calendar spread. MAR has September and October expiration’s available. The trader can buy the October 70 call for 1.25 and sell the September 70 call for 0.55. The total cost of the calendar spread is 0.70 (1.25 – 0.55) and that also represents the most that can be lost.

If the stock remains relatively flat as September expiration approaches, the calendar spread’s value should increase. Hypothetically, with about a week left until September expiration the October 70 call might be worth 1.00 and the September 70 call might drop to 0.15. The spread now would be 0.85. A profit could now be made of $0.15 (1.25 – 0.55). That doesn’t sound like much but a $0.15 profit on a $0.70 investment in a couple of weeks is not a bad return in my opinion.

The whole key to the success of the calendar spread is the stock must not have huge price swings. If the stock falls more than anticipated, the spread’s value will decline along with the stock. If the stock rises well above $70, the short September 70 call will partially or fully offset the increase in the long October 70 call depending on how much the stock rises.

Conclusion

There are other factors that can affect a calendar spread like implied volatility skews that can both help and hurt the spread. It is advantageous for the implied volatility to be higher for the short option versus the long option. This way the more expensive premium is sold and the cheaper is purchased. This component will be discussed in greater detail at a later time.

The beauty of the calendar spread is that it almost functions like a credit spread without the added risk. The risk with a credit spread is that it may suffer a substantially greater loss than a calendar spread if the stock moves in the opposite direction of the outlook due to high risk and low reward scenario that accompanies most out-of-the-money (OTM) credit spreads.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 4, 2014

Thoughts on Being a Great Trader Part I

With September already here and volatility and volume expected to rise, it might be a good time to give yourself a mental break and reflect on your trading before Fall. You might start by asking yourself are you the great options trader you thought you would be by now or have you ever wondered what truly 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? How does one learn to trade options?

Must-Have Qualities

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

Commitment to Success

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 gets though.

Reaching Your Goals

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.

Last Thoughts for Now

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 myself I am too smart and I know how to options trade. I knew it would not 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

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring