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November 8, 2012

Thoughts on AAPL Risk

Hurricane Sandy and the recent decline in Apple Inc. (AAPL) stock is a reminder of how “black swan” events can impact our lives in unforeseen and unforeseeable ways. Yogi Berra summed it up succinctly in his aphorism that “the future isn’t what it used to be.” It never is.

One helpful organizational concept of financial risk is to consider that risk comes in two categories. The usual type of risk is analyzed by the bell shaped curve of a Gaussian (log normal) distribution that most traders are familiar with. The other general category of risk is characterized by the unforeseen events that result in major alterations of the financial landscape. It is this category of risk to which Nassim Taleb has drawn attention in his books regarding the lack of predictability of consequential rare events.

How does this impact the world of the trader and the usefulness of options? The fact is that all funds invested in the market are totally at risk at all times and the comfort that stop losses may give can give a trader can be a false sense of security. From this concept, the ability to control stock with far less invested capital becomes inescapably attractive.

Such is one core function of options; control of stock with commitment of far less capital than outright purchase. To take a straightforward example, shares of AAPL which has taken center-stage on many traders and investors radars, currently trades around $560 after a major decline. The stock may now look attractive to buyers after its fall from around $700. To control 100 shares by outright stock purchase would require $56,000. A substantially delta equivalent position using deep in-the-money calls, the December 400 strike, could be purchased for approximately $16,200. As is characteristic of a deep in-the-money option, there is very little eroding time premium for which the trader is paying. In this example, there is substantially less risk buying the call option than purchasing the stock outright.

Should Armageddon arrive unannounced again and it might, which position is better: the total loss of the value of the stock position or the vaporization of the money paid for the option?

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring Inc.