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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

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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

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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

October 12, 2012

Volatility Events, Predictions and a Piece of Cake

Option trading is easy. Well, let me qualify that statement just a bit. To be fair, options are more complicated than more simple, linear assets like stocks. But there are some elements to options’ pricing that actually make them a little easier to trade from a valuation standpoint. To find out more about this feel free to visit the options information section of our website.

The most important thing to consider is predictability. You probably receive many unsolicited emails telling you how so-and-so can predict the market with 100% certainty and make you a billionaire overnight. On the other side of that coin, there is not a professor alive who will tell you that it is possible to predict the direction of the stock market with any statistical significance. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. But one thing for sure: predicting the direction of a stock is though, and you’ll be wrong often.

But, aside from directional implications of the underlying stock, there is an important pricing factor to options that is much more predictable: volatility shifts resulting from expected volatility events. All options have an imbedded component to their pricing relating to expected-future volatility. This is called implied volatility. It can be thought of as the expected future volatility implied by the market.

Sometimes volatility is quite predictable, and therefore, fluctuations in option prices resulting from implied volatility changes can be likewise predictable. So-called volatility events include earnings, Fed announcements, CPI, PPI, Retail Sales, Payrolls, GDP and more. Volatility events are often scheduled far in advance. Just google a financial calendar and see when CPI is scheduled to be released six months from now—you’ll easily find that information. Unemployment figures are always the first Friday of the month. And so on.

When volatility events are imminent, options get more expensive. Why? Hedgers and speculators brace for a potential move by buying options, creating price-pressuring demand. Look at a chart of implied volatility for a typical stock option class and take a look at its value in the few days leading up to earnings. Typically, it will increase right before earnings. Then afterwards, it tends to fall right back to its normal range.

Scheduled volatility events help option traders analyze the ebb and flow of option premium levels with the precision of predicting the moon cycle. But all volatility events are not predictable—only those that are regularly scheduled. Sometimes, volatility events come out of nowhere. Takeovers, CFOs cooking the books, these sort of things can take a trader by surprise.

Though not all volatility events are predictable, the fact that some are provides great value to option traders. Imagine knowing that a stock

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would almost always rise at a certain date every quarter! This makes option trading a little easier than stock trading in my opinion. Maybe not quite a piece of cake; but still advantageous over trading stocks.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 25, 2010

It Happens Every Quarter

Classic parables of warning are often offered to traders considering exploring the world of option trading by those who do not understand the physiology of the various option “beasts”. These “instructive” stories have various iterations, but one frequently repeated story has a core point of “wisdom” that can be illustrated by the following frequently encountered sequence of events: A trader buys call options shortly ahead of correctly predicting better than expected earnings and the expected price rise of the underlying. When the options open following this increase in price of the underlying, he has gained little if any profit from his long call. The “obvious” conclusion? The market makers are thieves, the options game is rigged, and I need to look elsewhere for trading opportunities.

Perhaps we should not throw the baby out with the bath water quite yet. Is there some rational explanation for this behavior? In a word, yes, there is. In order to understand the phenomenon, we need to consider the physiology of an option.

One of the major determinants of the magnitude of the option time premium (aka extrinsic premium) is the implied volatility (IV). There are various available databases available to track the history of this value, and a reproducibly observed phenomenon is that IV almost always stereotypically correlated with earnings releases. It typically spikes in anticipation of the release and the uncertainty surrounding this information and collapses very quickly following the release and the resultant price reaction of the underlying to this information.

It is this rapid, predictable decline in IV that results in the commonly observed sequence of events related in our parable. If the purchased option contained significant time premium, it will have been devastated

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by the collapse of IV and the trader’s anticipated profits will have been erased or significantly reduced.

Armed with this knowledge, is there any way to immunize the trade against this sequence of events? As you may have guessed, the answer is yes. While description of the various strategies is beyond the scope of this brief post, suffice it to say that the category of vega negative or vega neutral trades holds the key to dealing successfully with this situation.

Bill Burton, Market Taker Mentoring LLC