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August 20, 2015

Choosing Between Different Risk/Reward Scenarios

As an option trader, you have so many different strategies and risk/reward scenarios to think about before initializing a trade. Many of my 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 as one example. Let’s take a look at a scenario below and some things for an option trader to think about.

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 depending on how it is initiated. 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 usually initiated out-of-the-money (OTM) in anticipation the spread will expire worthless or close to worthless with the underlying barely moving. Here is a recent example I talked about with a student less than a week ago. LinkedIn Corp (LNKD) was trading around $187.50 last week. The stock looked like it could drop lower. The trader could consider buying a bear put or selling a bear call spread.

If the option trader expected a move lower into the close of Friday, he or she could have considered buying a 185/187.5 debit spread for August expiration (4 days). If the 187.5 put cost the trader 2.25 and 1.15 was received for selling the 185 put, the bear put (debit) spread would cost the trader $1.10 (also the maximum loss if the stock is at $187.50 or higher at expiration) and have a maximum profit of $1.40 (2.50 (strike difference) – 1.10 (cost)) if the stock was trading at or below $185 at expiration. Thus the risk/reward ratio would be 1/1.27.

If the option trader was unsure if the $187.50 stock was going to move lower but felt the stock would at least stay below a resistance area around $190 by August expiration, the trader could sell a 190/192.5 credit spread with August expiration. If a credit of 1.00 was received for selling the 190 call and it cost the trader 0.50 to buy the 192.5, a net credit would be received of $0.50 for selling the bear call (credit) spread. The maximum gain for the spread is $0.50 if the stock is trading at $190 or lower at expiration and the maximum loss is $2 (2.50 (strike difference) – 0.50 (premium received)) if the stock is trading at or above $192.50 at expiration. Thus the risk reward ratio would be 4/1.

Probability

The risk/reward ratio on the credit spread (4/1) 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 lower at some point to profit. If the stock stays around $187.50 or moves higher, the puts will expire worthless and a loss is incurred from the initial debit ($1.10). With the credit spread, the stock can effectively do three things and it would still be able to profit. The stock can move below $187.50, trade sideways and even rise to just below breakeven at $190.50 (190 (sold call) + 0.50 (initial credit)) at expiration and the credit spread would profit. Of course if it closes at $190 or lower, the maximum profit of $0.50 is achieved because the spread expires worthless. A loss is only realized if the stock closes above the breakeven level of $190.50. I like to say OTM credit spreads have three out of four ways of making money and debit spreads usually have one way of profiting especially if the underlying is basically around the long option when the spread is initialized.

Conclusion

There are several more factors to consider when choosing between a debit spread and a credit spread like time until expiration, implied volatility and bid/ask spreads just to mention a few. We will talk about these other factors in future blogs. The risk/reward of the spread and the probability of the trade profiting are just a few to consider mentioned above. A trader always wants to put the odds on his or her side to increase the chances of extracting money from the market. The credit spread can put the odds substantially on the trader’s side but it comes at a cost of a higher risk/reward ratio.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

December 11, 2014

The Iron Condor

An iron condor occurs when a trader combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It is essentially combining two credit spreads as one trade. The trade is executed by buying a lower-strike out-of-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put with a higher strike. Then the trader sells an out-of-the-money call with a higher strike and buys another out-of-the-money call with an even higher strike. Learning to trade more advanced option strategies like an iron condor is not essential for option traders but it can give you more means in which to possibly extract money from the market.

A short iron condor consists of four legs as described above and results in a net credit received. As for profit potential, the maximum potential profit is the initial credit received upon entering the trade. This profit will occur if the underlying stock price, on expiration date, is between the two middle (short) strikes.

One of the rationales behind selling an iron condor is implied volatility (implied volatility is – simply defined – the volatility component of an option price). When IV is inflated (meaning the implied volatility has pushed the option price higher) it lifts the premium values for option sellers. In addition, the profitable range on the short iron condor can be rather large depending on how it is implemented. Certainly the larger the profitable range, the smaller the maximum profit and the greater the risk. The smaller the profitable range,  the larger the maximum profit will be and there will be less overall risk but there is less of a chance the underlying will remain in that range. Like many spreads in option trading, there is a trade-off.

One of the benefits of a short iron condor (and potentially options in general) is limited risk. For short condors, the maximum loss comes when the underlying stock price drops below the lowest strike (long put) or above the highest strike (long call). If you want an equation for max loss, think of it as the difference in strike prices of the two lower-strike options (or the two higher-strike options) less the initial credit for entering the trade.

Being that earnings season is mostly behind us, it is not a major concern at this time. But when the season does return (and it will),  it may be best to construct the iron condor to expire before the actual announcement. If not, then it may be best to exit the trade before the announcement especially if the trade is profitable up to that point.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 16, 2014

A Short Iron Condor

A short condor occurs when a trader combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It is essentially combining two credit spreads as one trade. The trade is executed by buying a lower-strike out-of-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put with a higher strike. Then the trader sells an out-of-the-money call with a higher strike and buys another out-of-the-money call with an even higher strike. Learning to trade more advanced option strategies like an iron condor is not essential for option traders but it can give you more means in which to possibly extract money from the market.

One of the rationales behind selling an iron condor is implied volatility (implied volatility is – simply defined – the volatility component of an option price). When IV is inflated (meaning the implied volatility has pushed the option price higher) it lifts the premium values for option sellers. In addition, the profitable range on the short iron condor is can be rather large depending on how it is implemented.

A short iron condor consists of four legs and results in a net credit received. As for profit potential, the maximum potential profit is the initial credit received upon entering the trade. This profit will occur if the underlying stock price, on expiration date, is between the two middle (short) strikes.

One of the benefits of a short iron condor (and potentially options in general) is limited risk. For short condors, the maximum loss comes when the underlying stock price drops below the lowest strike or above the highest strike. If you want an equation for max loss, think of it as the difference in strike prices of the two lower-strike options (or the two higher-strike options) less the initial credit for entering the trade.

Being that we are in the mist of earnings season, it may be best to construct the iron condor to expire before the actual announcement. If not, then it may be best to exit the trade before the announcement especially if the trade is profitable up to that point.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

August 18, 2011

If I’d Meant That, I’d Have Said That

To the new option trader, it often seems as if he has entered into the terra incognita of the derivatives world through Alice’s looking glass. Engaging the natives in conversation quickly results in encountering colorful characters who appear not to recognize the same reality from which the traveler has arrived. For those who have chosen to enter this new world, Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty seems particularly familiar wherein he declares: `WhenIuse a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

The nomenclature of options is boundlessly confusing. While the casual visitor may only notice the broad categories of puts and calls, the serious student soon will come to realize that the detailed nomenclature is confusing and results from the inescapable fact that options have more moving parts than do stocks. When initiating a stock position, the choices are two: buy or sell the issue. When initiating an options position, the choices are numerous and not mutually exclusive. The selection of the particular series to trade and the anatomic structure in which to place it is often nuanced.

An individual option’s value is a function of three main factors: price of the underlying, time to expiration, and implied volatility. Furthermore the individual options can be combined into complex spreads composed of multiple positions in an almost limitless variety. It is from this abundance of choice that the word salad of option terminology arises.

I find the terminology paradoxically to find its maximum point of obfuscation when used to describe one of the basic building blocks of options, the vertical spread. Verticals represent a two-legged category of spreads in which one option is bought and an option of a different strike is sold; both positions are taken in the same series month and in the same type, either puts or calls. Strike selection determines the directional bias of the trade as well as the credit or debit status. Bullish and bearish trades are easily constructed in both puts and calls.

This simple spread results in a chaotic and confusing panoply of names including: bull call spread, call debit spread, bear call spread, call credit spread, bear put spread, put credit spread, bull put spread, bull call vertical, bear call vertical, bull put vertical, and bear put vertical. As if this collection of a dozen names describing four basic trades were not sufficiently opaque, many traders use an implied shorthand description. For example, they may refer to opening a call credit spread as “selling a call vertical”; conversely opening a call debit spread is often referenced as “buying a call vertical”. The directional bias of the trade is apparent to those having been shown the “secret handshake” by the spread type, call or put, used and the credit or debit status of the opening cash flow.

Unfortunately there is no easy resolution to this nomenclature nightmare. Various traders use the terms inconsistently and variably for no apparent logical reason. Such is everyday life in the world of options.