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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

May 21, 2015

Call Options Instead of Apple Stock

Although Apple Inc. (AAPL) is much cheaper to purchase now then it was before the split, it is still rather pricey. You believe that this stock, despite its high price, continues to have tremendous upside potential and could easily make it to $150 soon. The problem is that you don’t want to shell out $130 for one share of the technology giant. What can you do to maximize your money and cash in on the perceived upside? Easy, buy a call option rather than the stock.

Quick Definition

A call option is a bullish strategy wherein a trader purchases the right (but not the obligation) to purchase a stock at a specified price within a specific time period. One advantage to buying a call option rather than purchasing a stock is that you can gain a much larger percentage return on your investment. To learn more advantages, please check out the Options Education section on our website.

The Example

If you want to purchase 100 shares of AAPL stock at $130 it is going to cost you (100 X $130) $13,000. However, let’s say that you decide to purchase 1 call option on AAPL (each option represents 100 shares) with a strike price of, say, 120 with a July expiration (gives the buyer the right to purchase 100 shares for $120 a share), which carries a price tag of $11. Rather than dishing out $13,000 for 100 AAPL stock shares, you instead pay $1,100 for the options – a rather nice difference of $11,900 that you can use for something else or to purchase other options.

The Money

The cost efficiency of purchasing call options can be far greater than simply purchasing shares of a stock, especially when you are dealing with high-priced stocks like AAPL. Remember that one option contract is the right to purchase 100 shares of a stock at that price. So, rather than purchasing 100 AAPL shares at $130 at the massive cost of $13,000; you have dished out a more reasonable $1,100 for the transaction. Of course this is the scenario if you want to be simply bullish on AAPL stock.

Conclusion

As you can see, it is possible to lay out far less money to purchase call options on a stock that to by the call itself. In fact, the earlier the expiration you choose, the lower the price you could pay. No matter what math you use, paying $1,100 is far better than paying $13,000 for the same product. What if you want to sell these options to someone who is willing to pay a higher ask price than you paid? That is another subject for another time. Remember, there is no fool-proof way to make money in the market – there is risk involved in any trading strategy. One way to make sure you maximize your cash is to make sure you study your subject, remember that knowledge is power.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 14, 2015

Adjustments to Option Positions

Although I personally do not like using the word “adjustments” with options trading (I prefer new outlook), there are many times they need to be done. Adjusting option positions is an essential skill for options traders. Adjusting options positions helps traders repair strategies that have gone wrong (or are beginning to go wrong) and often turn losers into winners. Given that, it’s easy to see why it’s important to learn to adjust options positions.

Adjusting 101

Adjusting options positions is a technique in which a trader simply alters an existing options position to create a fundamentally different position. Traders are motivated to adjust options positions when the market physiology changes and the original trade no longer reflects the trader’s thesis. There is one golden rule of trading: ALWAYS make sure your position reflects your outlook.

This seems like a very obvious rule. And at the onset of any trade, it is. If I’m bullish, I’m going to take a positive delta position. If I think a stock will be range-bound, I’d take a close-to-zero delta trade that has positive theta to profit from sideways movement as time passes. But the problem is gamma. Gamma is the fly in the ointment of option trading.

Gamma

Gamma—particularly negative gamma—is the cause of the need for adjusting.

Gamma definition: Gamma is the rate of change of an option’s (or option position’s) delta relative to a change in the underling.

Oh, yeah. And, just in case you forgot…

Delta definition: Delta is the rate of change on an option’s (or option position’s) price relative to a change in the underlying.

In the case of negative gamma, trader’s deltas always change the wrong way. When the underlying moves higher, the trader gets shorter delta (and loses money at an increasing rate). When the underlying moves lower, negative gamma makes deltas longer (again, causing the trader to lose money at an increasing rate).

Finally

Option traders must learn to adjust options positions, especially income trades, in order to stave off adverse deltas created by the negative gamma that accompanies income trades. Once an option trader has a good grip on what changes need to be made based on his or her new outlook, potential profit can be an adjustment away!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 7, 2015

Historical and Implied Volatility

With the market supposedly heading towards the slower summer months, it is always important but probably even more so for option traders to understand one of the most important steps when learning to trade options; analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility. This is the way option traders can gain edge in their trades especially when the volatility of the underlying may be reduced. But analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility is often an overlooked process making some trades losers from the start.

Implied Volatility and Historical Volatility
Historical volatility (HV) is the volatility experienced by the underlying stock, stated in terms of annualized standard deviation as a percentage of the stock price. Historical volatility is helpful in comparing the volatility of a stock with another stock or to the stock itself over a period of time. For example, a stock that has a 20 historical volatility is less volatile than a stock with a 25 historical volatility. Additionally, a stock with a historical volatility of 35 now is more volatile than it was when its historical volatility was, say, 20.

In contrast to historical volatility, which looks at actual stock prices in the past, implied volatility (IV) looks forward. Implied volatility is often interpreted as the market’s expectation for the future volatility of a stock. Implied volatility can be derived from the price of an option. Specifically, implied volatility is the expected future volatility of the stock that is implied by the price of the stock’s options. For example, the market (collectively) expects a stock that has a 20 implied volatility to be less volatile than a stock with a 30 implied volatility. The implied volatility of an asset can also be compared with what it was in the past. If a stock has an implied volatility of 40 compared with a 20 implied volatility, say, a month ago, the market now considers the stock to be more volatile.

Analyzing Volatility
Implied volatility and historical volatility is analyzed by using a volatility chart. A volatility chart tracks the implied volatility and historical volatility over time in graphical form. It is a helpful guide that makes it easy to compare implied volatility and historical volatility. But, often volatility charts are misinterpreted by new or less experienced option traders.

Volatility chart practitioners need to perform three separate analyses. First, they need to compare current implied volatility with current historical volatility. This helps the trader understand how volatility is being priced into options in comparison with the stock’s volatility. If the two are disparate, an opportunity might exist to buy or sell volatility (i.e., options) at a “good” price. In general, if implied volatility is higher than historical volatility it gives some indication that option prices may be high. If implied volatility is below historical volatility, this may mean option prices are discounted.

But that is not where the story ends. Traders must also compare implied volatility now with implied volatility in the past. This helps traders understand whether implied volatility is high or low in relative terms. If implied volatility is higher than typical, it may be expensive, making it a good a sale; if it is below its normal level it may be a good buy.

Finally, traders need to complete their analysis by comparing historical volatility at this time with what historical volatility was in the recent past. The historical volatility chart can indicate whether current stock volatility is more or less than it typically is. If current historical volatility is higher than it was typically in the past, the stock is now more volatile than normal.

If current implied volatility doesn’t justify the higher-than-normal historical volatility, the trader can capitalize on the disparity known as the skew by buying options priced too cheaply.

Conversely, if historical volatility has fallen below what has been typical in the past, traders need to look at implied volatility to see if an opportunity to sell exists. If implied volatility is high compared with historical volatility, it could be a sell signal.

The Art and Science of Implied Volatility and Historical Volatility
Analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility on volatility charts is both an art and a science. The basics are shown here. But there are lots of ways implied volatility and historical volatility can interact. Each volatility scenario is different. Understanding both implied volatility and historical volatility combined with a little experience helps traders use volatility to their advantage and gain edge on each trade which is precisely what every trader needs!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 30, 2015

Risk/Reward is Ever Changing in AAPL

There are quite a few option strategies have defined maximum rewards that are approached as a result of the passage of time, changes in implied volatility (IV), and/or movement or lack of movement in price of the stock. Examples of such strategies include the sale of naked options and vertical spreads.

As the positions “mature” or moves closer to expiration by virtue of various combinations of changes or lack of change in these three main variables, the initial risk/reward calculation often changes and sometimes even dramatically. The successful options trader with a proper options education is aware of these changes, because the risk to gain the last bit of potential profit is often dramatically out of whack to the magnitude of the profit he or she seeks to obtain. Let us consider the hypothetical example of a trader who has elected to open a position as a naked put seller. This trader has chosen to sell out-of-the-money (OTM) puts, the June 120 strike, on AAPL which currently trades at $130 after earnings in this example. His risk in the trade is that he is obligated to buy AAPL at the strike price at any time between opening the trade and June expiration. For taking the risk of writing these puts, his account receives a credit of $0.40 and margin is encumbered based on SEC rules. The credit received when the trade is opened is the maximum amount of money that can or will be received as a result of the trade.

As June expiration approaches, the stock remains around the $130 level and the market price of the puts he has sold decreases as a result of time (theta) decay. As the price of the puts decreases and the profits increase, the risk/reward increases. As the price declines below the often used 20% re-evaluation benchmark (although I like to use 50% as well) of the initial credit received, the risk incurred to gain the remaining residual premium is potentially substantial and may no longer be appropriate given the reward.

The experienced options trader will many times take profits and find opportunities to invest his or her money in other trades that appear to be much more attractive from a risk/reward standpoint than to remain in the existing position.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 23, 2015

Determining Option Strategies on NFLX

Compared to trading equities, there are so many more option 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 root 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 NFLX traders. Now that the stock has recently gapped up big after earnings and has broken through several resistance areas and is now trading around its all-time high, there are traders who continue to be extremely bullish on the stock. Some option traders 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 summer coming soon and supposedly the slow markets, now is a great time to spend optimizing your options strategies over the next few weeks to build the habit!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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