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May 8, 2014

Developing a Watch List

If you are a hockey fan you probably know that we are smack dab in the middle of the NHL playoffs. Teams are gathering information about their opponents and trying to gain the upper hand over them which ultimately could lead to a victory. Just like in option trading, a well though out and well kept watch list can help a trader in a variety of ways including scoring profits. First and foremost it can help keep track of the underlyings and keep them all in one place so it is easy to reference them. Potential trade opportunities are often discovered by scanning and searching charts and options from stocks that are on a watch list just like determining potential strengths and weaknesses of a hockey opponent. Here are a couple of ways a trader might go about building a watch list or creating a better one.

Familiar Ones

If a person is relatively new to trading there are probably a few stocks that he or she is familiar with. To gather more names to add to the list, a trader can scan through an index (like the S&P 500 for example) and find more stocks to potentially add to the list. Some of the stocks listed may not be conducive for a variety of reasons. It makes perfect sense to check out the symbols and see if the charts and the options are at acceptable levels for the trader’s personality and plan. Things a trader might want to consider when deciding whether to put a stock on his watch list are the stock price, the stock’s volatility, option prices, bid/ask spreads and option volume just to name a few. When this process is complete, a trader should have a decent watch list in which to work with. This list may grow and sometimes shrink over time depending on the trader.

Services

There are numerous trading services (free and paid) out there that not only might introduce traders to stocks to add to the watch list which may lead to potential trade opportunities. The Market Taker Live Advantage Group Coaching is one such service that MTM offers. As mentioned above, the reason a watch list is created in the first place is to find potential trades. A service can not only introduce traders to new symbols but also provide trade ideas that can turnout to be profitable. But if the trade concept is unclear or deviates from a trader’s plan regardless of the source, it should be avoided until the concept is understood. In any case, if the trader thinks there may be an opportunity on the stock in the future it can be added the list.

List Categories

Once a trader has a watch list of stocks, it may be prudent to separate the list into different categories. There can be a list for stocks that are ready to trade now or very soon. Keeping this list the shortest might make sense for a couple of reasons. First a trader should probably not be trading more stocks than he or she can handle and secondly if there are too many on this list, some trade ideas might get lost in the mix. A short list makes it easier to monitor potential trade opportunities. There can also be a category for stocks that have trade potential in the near future (a day to a week for example). This list can be monitored maybe a little less frequently than the previous list. Another category to consider for the watch list are stocks that have no potential now but may in the future. For example, maybe a stock is trading in the middle of a channel and if it ever trades down to support a bullish opportunity may arise. Stocks should be moved up and down in these different categories as needed.

What’s Important

These were just a few ideas about how a trader can go about developing and monitoring a watch list and searching for potential trade opportunities. The most important part about having a watch list is not how it was acquired but that there is one. A well-refined and updated watch list can yield plenty of potential money making opportunities in option trading. Go Black Hawks!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 2, 2014

Understanding Settlement

One topic that is probably not discussed enough when learning to trade options is that of the various settlement issues. Many option traders limit their universe of option trading to two broad categories of underlyings. One group consists of individual equities and the similar group of exchange traded funds (ETFs). The other group is composed of a multitude of broad based index products. These two groups are not entirely mutually exclusive since a number of very similar products exist in both categories, for example the broad based SPX index and its corresponding ETF, the SPY.

The first category, the individual equities and ETFs, trade until the close of market on the third Friday of each month for the monthly series contracts. These days there are more and more ETFs and equities that also have weekly settlements too. These contracts are of American type and as such can be exercised by the owner of the contracts for any reason whatsoever at any time until their expiration. If the contract is in-the-money at expiration by just one cent, clearing firms will also exercise these automatically for the owners unless specifically instructed not to do so in many cases. The settlement price against which these decisions are made is the price of the underlying at the close of the life of the option contract.

When this first group we are discussing settles, it is by the act of buying or selling shares of the underlying equity/ETF at the particular strike price. As such, the trader owning a long call will acquire a long position in the underlying and the owner of a put a short position. Conversely, the trader short these options will incur the offsetting action in his account. Obviously, existing additional positions in the equity/ETF itself may result in different final net positions.

The second category, the broad based index underlyings, are also termed “cash settled index options”. This category would include a number of indices, for example RUT and SPX. As the name implies, these series settle by movement of cash into and out of the trader’s account. The last day to trade these options is the Thursday before the third Friday; they settle at prices determined during that Friday morning. Like ETFs and equities, these index options also have weekly settlements as well.

One critically important fact with which the trader needs to be familiar with is the unusual method of determining the settlement price of many of the underlyings; it is NOT the same as settlement described above. Settlement for this category of underlyings has the following two characteristics important for the trader to understand: 1.The settlement value is a calculated value published by the exchange and is determined from a calculation of the Friday opening prices of the various individual equities, and 2. This value has no obligate relationship to the Thursday closing value for the underlying.

Many option traders choose never to allow settlement for the options they hold, either long or short. For those who do allow positions to settle, careful evaluation of the potential impact on capital requirements of the account must be a routinely monitored to avoid any surprises.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Different options strategies exist because each one serves

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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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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