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July 29, 2015

Thoughts on Being a Great Trader Part II

Last week we talked about option traders really being committed to reaching their trading goals. This time we’ll go over why an option trader needs a trading plan and a few general guidelines to follow. If you really want to improve your trading heading into this fall trading season, you should absolutely have and follow a trading plan. But be forewarned; this is the part nobody wants to do. Most option traders think that their trading plan is in their head and that all they need is a proper options education. “I know what I need to do and when I need to do it” most beginning and some veteran options traders will exclaim. If it was just that easy, everyone would be a great options trader. Unfortunately it is simple not the case. That is specifically why you need a written options trading plan. Just because you know what to do doesn’t mean you will do it. And that is the key!

Before you even begin to write your options trading plan, you must take an inventory of yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? You must take the time to truly examine yourself and be honest about whom you are. Your options trading plan must match your personality. You will probably discover more about yourself that you were bargaining for.

The first thing you need to do to start your options trading plan is to write down your goals like we talked about in the previous blog. Once you do this, it brings everything into perspective. The same reason you need to write down your goals is the same reason you need to write down your options trading plan-so your thoughts are transformed from the subconscious to the conscious. It does not matter if you write the plan on a nice piece of paper or a cocktail napkin. It just needs to be written down in your own words.

The next section of your options trading plan will be money management. This is one of the most crucial and often overlooked components of successful options trading. How much are you going to risk per trade? What are your weekly or monthly profit targets? What are the maximum losses you are comfortable with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? All of these questions need to be answered right in this section. A great tip for this money management section is to not worry about monetary goals at first. Concentrate on taking and managing the best possible trades and then after some consistency has been established goals can be set.

Strategies will be the next component of your options trading plan. This will be the meat and potatoes of the plan so to speak. A thing to consider is to start with relatively a few simple strategies (long calls and puts) and master them before you write in more complex option strategies into your plan. You need to describe in as much detail as possible the strategy you intend to use. You will probably be making constant changes to this part until you get exactly what you want.

The last section will be the follow up and review. This is when an option trader needs to print out the charts and the option chains and review them. Did I follow my written options trading plan like I said I would? This needs to be done when the market is closed so all your attention can be on the review. You must keep a trading journal and must always acknowledge your winners and more importantly learn from your losing trades. Understanding and watching how the option prices change in regards to time and the underlying is a big bonus that can be also gained by observing past trades. This in my opinion is invaluable for progressing as an option trader.

Feel free to use this as a general outline of an options trading plan to get you started. If you need more help or more direction, feel free to contact me.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 22, 2015

Thoughts on Being a Great Trader Part I

With August right around the corner and trading volume expected to rise as we move towards the fall, it might be a good time to give yourself a mental break and reflect on your trading. 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

July 15, 2015

Option Theta and Weekly Options

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 (option theta) 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 continued and expanding 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 even more weeklys that go for consecutive weeks (1 week options, 2 week options, 3 week options, 4 week options and 5 week options).

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. In addition, it gives premium-selling option traders even more choices to take advantage of option theta. 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.

Option 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. Have a profitable week!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 8, 2015

It Could be a Double Play

With Alcoa announcing its earnings this past week and a plethora more of them to soon follow, it might be a good time to talk about a subject that is brought up quite often in MTM Group Coaching and Online Education; 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 other words, 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 the placement of the long strikes being 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 has a negative impact on double calendars more strongly than it does on double diagonals.

If you have only traded a single-legged calendar or diagonal through earnings season even not during earnings season, it might just be time to give them a look. Maybe you have never traded a calendar or a diagonal. This might be the time to find out about these time spreads.  Once a single position spread makes sense, a double might make even more sense and be more profitable too.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 2, 2015

Short-Term Put Options

A couple of weeks ago we talked about short-term call options and this week I thought it would be appropriate to discuss short-term put options especially with this recent move lower in the market. The mentality behind short-term put options is probably different than the mentality behind short-term call options. Many times option traders consider short-term put options as a means of protection. With the market extended and the possibility of stocks moving lower in the near future, 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.

Some investors who are looking to protect an investment only consider buying short-term puts, or front-month puts for protection. The problem however, is that there is a flaw to the reasoning of purchasing short-term put options as protection. Similar to short-term call options, the contracts have a higher option theta (time decay) and relying on short-term puts to protect a straight stock purchase is not necessarily the best way to protect the stock.

Although short-term puts may be cheaper than longer expiration puts, if an option trader was to continually purchase short-term puts as protection, it could end up being a rather expensive way to insure the stock particularly if the stock never declines to the short-term puts strike price. If a put option with a longer expiration was purchased, it would certainly cost more initially, but time decay (premium eroding) would be less of a factor due to a smaller initial option theta. Here is an example using short-term put options.

Using a hypothetical trade, let’s say a stock is trading slightly above $13 and our hypothetical trader wants to by 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 because the trader is counting on the earning reports to move the stock higher.

Being a smart options trader, our 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 September 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 option trader rolled the short-term put option month after month, it would create a big dent in the initial outlay of cash. After about seven months (assuming the stock hangs around $13 and each monthly put option costs 0.50) 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 a put option is a hedge and can be considered a decent insurance policy for a stock investment. Buying short-term put options as a hedge can make it an extra expensive hedge due to time decay (option theta). Option traders and investors can usually find better ways to protect a stock. To learn new and different approaches, please visit the Learn to Trade section of our website.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

June 25, 2015

Long Calls and Bull Call Spreads

With Nasdaq trading around all-time closing highs and the S&P 500 currently threatening its all-time highs recently, 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 $250, formed a bullish base and then closed above resistance at around $253. 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 June 255 call was purchased for 8.00 and one June 260 call was sold for 6.00 resulting in a net debit of $2 (8 – 6). The difference in the strike prices is $5 (260 – 255). 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 $257 (the strike price of the purchased call (255) 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 June 255 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

June 17, 2015

Short-Term Call Options

When an option trader buys a call option, he or she has the right to buy the underlying at a particular price (strike price) before a certain time (expiration). Keep in mind that just because the option trader has the right to buy the stock, doesn’t mean that he or she has to necessarily do so. The call option just like a put option can be sold anytime up until expiration for a profit or loss.

A lot of traders especially those who are just learning to trade options can fall in love with call options and especially short-term call options because they are cheaper than call options with longer expirations. We can classify short-term call options as call options that expire in less than thirty days for the sake of this discussion. But there is a potential problem with purchasing short-term call options. The shorter the amount of time that is purchased, the higher the option theta (time decay) will be. The higher the time decay, the quicker the premium will erode away the call option’s premium. The call option may be cheaper due to a shorter time until expiration, but it may not be worth it overall. Let us take a look.

With Tesla Motors (TSLA) trading around $260 last week, an option trader might have considered call options to profit from an expected move higher. He could have purchased the June 260 calls for 2.80 that expired in 3 days. Yes, the options are cheap and yes they will profit if TSLA moves up vigorously in the next couple of days. But the option theta is 0.70 on the call options meaning they will lose $0.70 for everyday that passes with all other variables being held constant, In fact if the stock trades sideways, the option theta will increase the closer it gets to expiration since there is currently no intrinsic value (the in-the-money portion of the option’s premium) on the call options.

If an option trader purchased the July 260 calls for TSLA, it would have cost him 10.00 and it would have made the at-expiration breakeven point of the trade $270 (260 + 10) versus only $262.80 (260 + 2.80) with the June call options. But the major benefit to buying further out is option theta. The July 260 calls had an option theta of 0.15 meaning for every day that passes, the option premium would decrease $0.15 based on the option theta and all other variables being held constant. This is certainly a smaller percentage of a loss based on option theta for the July options (1.5%) versus the June options (25%) especially if the stock trades sideways or moves very little.

Fast forward to June expiration and let’s pretend TSLA closed basically at $262. The June 260 call would have expired with an intrinsic value of $2 (262 – 260). If the option trader did nothing up until expiration, the long June 260 call would have lost $0.80 (2.80 – 2) because there would be no time value (option theta) left and only the intrinsic value. The July 260 call would have lost approximately $0.45 (3 X 0.15) in theta but also gained $1 (2 X 0.50) from delta based on a delta of 0.50 and a $2 (262 – 260) move higher. The July 260 calls would now be worth $12.55 (12 + 0.55) and profited $2.55 (12.55 – 10).

Having enough time until expiration is a critical element when an option trader is considering buying options like the call options we talked about above. Keep in mind that as a general rule, options lose value over time and the option theta starts to accelerate even more with 30 days or less left until expiration. Buying a call option with more time until expiration will certainly cost more than one with less time but the benefits, including having a smaller option theta, might be worth the more expensive price especially if the underlying fails to move higher.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

June 9, 2015

Debit Spread versus Credit Spread

Students in my Group Coaching class as well as my one-on-one students ask me all the time how do you decide between buying a debit spread and selling a credit spread? This is inherently a discussion that could fill a thick book so I will just try to give you a few thoughts to consider.

Risk and Reward

A debit spread such as a bull call spread or a bear put spread is considered to have a better risk/reward ratio then a credit spread such as a bull put spread or a bear call spread. Usually the reason is because the debit spread is implemented close to where the stock is currently trading with an expected move higher or lower. A credit spread is many times initiated out-of-the-money (OTM) in anticipation the spread will expire worthless or close to worthless. For example, if a stock is trading at $50 and an option trader expects the stock to move about $5 higher the trader could buy a 50 call and sell a 55 call. If the 50 call cost the trader $5 and $3 was received for selling the 55 call, the bull call (debit) spread would cost the trader $2 (also the maximum loss) and have a maximum profit of $3 (5 (strike difference) – 2 (cost)) if the stock was trading at or above $55 at expiration. Thus the risk/reward ratio would be 1/1.5.

If the option trader was unsure if the $50 stock was going to move higher but felt the stock would at least stay above a support area around $45 the trader could sell a 45 put and buy a 40 put. If a credit of $1 was received for selling the 45 put and it cost the trader $0.50 to buy the 40 put, a net credit would be received of $0.50 for selling the bull put (credit) spread. The maximum gain for the spread is $0.50 if the stock is trading at $45 or higher at expiration and the maximum loss is $4.50 (5 (strike difference) – 0.50 (premium received)) if the stock is trading at or below $40 at expiration. Thus the risk reward ratio would be 9/1.

Probability

The risk/reward ratio on the credit spread does not sound like something an option trader would strive for does it? Think of it this way though, the probability of the credit spread profiting are substantially better than the debit spread. The debit spread most certainly needs the stock to move higher at some point to profit. If the stock stays at $50 or moves lower, the calls will expire worthless and a loss is incurred from the initial debit ($2). With the credit spread, the stock can effectively do three things and it would still be able to profit. The stock can move above $50, trade sideways and even drop to $45 at expiration and the credit spread would expire worthless and the trader would keep the initial premium received ($0.50). I like to say OTM credit spreads have three out of four ways of making money and debit spreads usually have one way depending on how the spread is initiated.

Implied Volatility

Another thing to consider when considering either a debit or credit spread is the implied volatility of the options. In general, when implied volatility is low, options are “cheap” which may be advantageous for buying options including debit spreads. When options are “expensive”, it may be advantageous to sell options including credit spreads. Option traders that are considering selling a credit spread should also take into account if the implied volatility is perceived as being high. Just the opposite, option traders that are considering buying a debit spread prefer the implied volatility to be low. As a general rule of thumb, I look at the 30-day IV over the last year and make note of the 52-week high and 52-week low. If the current 30-day IV is below 50% (closer to the 52-week low), I look at it is more of an advantage to do a debit spread over a credit spread. If the current 30-day IV is above 50% and closer to the 52-week high, I look at it as an advantage to implement a credit spread over a debit spread. I will not change my outlook like switching to a debit spread from a credit spread because the IV is relatively low. If this is the case, an option trader should maybe consider looking somewhere else for profit.

There are several factors to consider when choosing between a debit spread and a credit spread. The risk/reward of the spread, the probability of the trade profiting, the implied volatility of the options and the outlook for the underlying are just a few to consider. A trader always wants to put the odds on his or her side to increase the chances if extracting money from the market.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

June 4, 2015

Timely Calendar Spreads

The market has been very choppy and with implied volatility still relatively low, it has been difficult for credit spread traders to find opportunities. 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

At the beginning of June, Halliburton Co. (HAL) was trading just over $46. The stock has been slowly rising and falling over the last year. The trader forecasts that the stock will still be about the same price or maybe a tad lower by June expiration because of the 50-day simple moving average which is in the area and might act as a magnet. This scenario makes it worthwhile to look at a calendar spread. HAL has June and July expiration’s available. The trader can buy the July 46 call for 1.80 and sell the June 46 call for 1.20. The total cost of the calendar spread is 0.60 (1.80 – 1.20) and that also represents the most that can be lost.

If the stock remains relatively flat as June expiration approaches, the calendar spread’s value should increase. Hypothetically, with about a week left until June expiration the July 46 call might be worth 1.30 and the June 46 call might drop to 0.35. The spread now would be 0.95. A profit could now be made of $0.35 (0.95 – 0.60). That doesn’t sound like much but a $0.35 profit on a $0.60 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 $46, the short June 46 call will partially or fully offset the increase in the long July 46 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

May 28, 2015

Option Gamma and AAPL

Many option traders will refer to option delta as the most important option greek. It is debatable but in my opinion the next most important greek for me is option gamma. Option gamma is a one of the so-called second-order option greeks. It is, in theory, a derivative of a derivative. Specifically, it is the rate of change of an option’s delta relative to a change in the underlying security.

Using option gamma can quickly become very mathematical and tedious for novice option traders. But, for newbies to option trading, here’s what you need to learn to trade using option gamma:

When you buy options you get positive option gamma. That means your deltas always change in your favor. You get longer deltas as the market rises; and you get short deltas as the market falls. For a simple trade like an AAPL June 131 long call that has an option delta of 0.56 and option gamma of 0.0588 , a trader makes money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and loses money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Positive option gamma is a good thing.

When you sell options you get negative option gamma. That means your deltas always change to your detriment. You get shorter deltas as the market rises; and you get longer deltas as the market falls. Here again, for a simple trade like a short call, that means you lose money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and make money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Negative option gamma is a bad thing.

Start by understanding option gamma from this simple perspective. Then, later, worry about figuring out the math, even if a calculator is still needed!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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