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September 11, 2014

Calendar Spreads

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

In late August, Marriot International (MAR) was trading just over $69. The stock has been slowly rising over the last year. The trader forecasts that the stock will still be about the same price or maybe a tad higher by September expiration. This scenario makes it worthwhile to look at a calendar spread. MAR has September and October expiration’s available. The trader can buy the October 70 call for 1.25 and sell the September 70 call for 0.55. The total cost of the calendar spread is 0.70 (1.25 – 0.55) and that also represents the most that can be lost.

If the stock remains relatively flat as September expiration approaches, the calendar spread’s value should increase. Hypothetically, with about a week left until September expiration the October 70 call might be worth 1.00 and the September 70 call might drop to 0.15. The spread now would be 0.85. A profit could now be made of $0.15 (1.25 – 0.55). That doesn’t sound like much but a $0.15 profit on a $0.70 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 $70, the short September 70 call will partially or fully offset the increase in the long October 70 call depending on how much the stock rises.


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

August 14, 2014

AAPL and Option Gamma

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 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 September 95 long call that has an option delta of 0.55 and option gamma of 0.0478 , 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.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 31, 2014

A Credit Spread can be Similar to Insurance

Selling a credit spread involves selling an option while purchasing a higher or lower strike option (depending on bullish or bearish) with the same expiration and with the short option being more expensive than the long option. For example, selling a put credit spread involves selling a put and buying a lower strike put with the same expiration. Maximum profit would occur if the underlying is trading at or above the sold put strike at expiration; the spread would expire worthless. Selling a call spread involves selling a call and buying a higher strike call with the same expiration. Maximum profit would be realized if the stock is trading at or below the sold call strike at expiration; the spread would expire worthless.

The long options are there to protect the position from the potential losses associated with selling options. With a spread, the most the position can lose is the difference between the strikes minus the initial credit received. This would occur if the stock is trading above at or above the long call or at or below the long put. Using a call credit spread as an example, if a trader sold a 50 call and bought a 55 call, creating a credit of $1, the most the trader can lose is $4 (5 – 1) if the underlying closed at or above $55.

The Objective

The objective of a credit spread is to profit from the short options’ time decay while protecting gains with further out-of-the-money (OTM) long options. The goal is to buy back the spread for less than what it was sold for or not at all (meaning it expires worthless). Just like selling short stock, a trader wants to sell something that is expensive and buy it back for cheaper. The same holds true for credit spreads.

An Example

Here is a credit spread trade idea we recently looked at in . When Amazon Inc. (AMZN) was trading around $348 towards the middle of July, a July 335/340 put spread could have been sold for 0.55. This means the July 340 put strike was sold and the July 335 put strike was purchased for a credit of 0.55. The maximum profit in the spread was the credit received (0.55) and would be realized if AMZN was trading at or above $340 at July expiration. Remember that a profit would be realized if the spread could be bought back (closed out) for less than the credit of 0.55. The most that can be lost on the spread is 4.45 (5 – 0.55) and that would be realized if the stock was to close at or below $335 at July expiration.

What’s the Point?

The risk/reward ratio of this credit spread begs the question why would anyone want to risk maybe eight times or more on what they stand to make in the example above? The simple answer is probability. Given the ability to repeat the trade over and over again with different outcomes, the trader will make $55 many, many more times than he or she will take the $445 loss. This was a hypothetical situation, but let’s say that the strategies winning percentage was close to 85% like in the example above. The trader needs to look at prior historical price action of the stock to determine probability of success.


How does this seem similar to insurance you ask? The credit spread strategy is similar to the insurance business because insurance companies get to keep premiums if people don’t get sick or if people don’t have accidents, etc. Traders turn themselves into something like an insurance company when they implement credit spreads and keep premium as long as something doesn’t go drastically wrong.

Just like an insurance company has to decide if the risk is worth the potential reward, option traders that trade vertical credit spreads have to analyze how much can they collect, how much can they lose and the probability of having a profitable trade. In a future blog, we’ll discuss how a trader can use options implied volatility to help put probability on his or her side.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring


July 10, 2014

Option Delta and Option Gamma

The option “greeks” help explain how and why option prices move. Option delta and option gamma are especially important because they can determine how movements in the stock can affect an option’s price. Let’s take a brief look at how they can affect each other.

Delta and Gamma

Option delta measures how much the theoretical value of an option will change if the stock moves up or down by $1. For example, if a call option is priced at 3.50 and has an option delta of 0.60 and the stock moves higher by $1, the call option should increase in price to 4.10 (3.50 + 0.60). Long calls have positive deltas meaning that if the stock gains value so does the option value all constants being equal. Long puts have negative deltas meaning that if the stock gains value the options value will decrease all constants being equal.

Option gamma is the rate of change of an option’s delta relative to a change in the stock. In other words, option gamma can determine the degree of delta move. For example, if a call option has an option delta of 0.40 and an option gamma of 0.10 and the stock moves higher by $1, the new delta would be 0.50 (0.40 + 0.10).

Think of it this way. If your option position has a large option gamma, its delta can approach 1.00 quicker than with a smaller gamma. This means it will take a shorter amount of time for the position to move in line with the stock. Stock has a delta of 1.00. Of course there are drawbacks to this as well. Large option gammas can cause the position to lose value quickly as expiration nears because the option delta can approach zero rapidly which in turn can lower the option premium. Generally options with greater deltas are more expensive compared to options with lower deltas.


Option gamma is usually highest for near-term and at-the-money (ATM) strike prices and it usually declines if the strike price moves more in-the-money (ITM) or out-of-the-money (OTM). As the stock moves up or down, option gamma drops in value because option delta may be either approaching 1.00 or zero. Because option gamma is based on how option delta moves, it decreases as option delta approaches its limits of either 1.00 or zero.

An Example

Here is a theoretical example. Assume an option trader owns a 30 strike call when the stock is at $30 and the option has one day left until expiration. In this case the option delta should be close to if not at 0.50. If the stock rises the option will be ITM and if it falls it will be OTM. It really has a 50/50 chance of being ITM or OTM with one day left until expiration.

If the stock moves up to $31 with one day left until expiration and is now ITM, then the option delta might be closer to 0.95 because the option has a very good chance of expiring ITM with only one day left until expiration. This would have made the option gamma for the 30 strike call 0.45.

Option delta not only moves as the stock moves but also for different expirations. Instead of only one day left until expiration let’s pretend there are now 30 days until expiration. This will change the option gamma because there is more uncertainty with more time until expiration on whether the option will expire ITM versus the expiration with only one day left. If the stock rose to $31 with 30 days left until expiration, the option delta might rise to 0.60 meaning the option gamma was 0.10. As discussed before in this blog, sometimes market makers will look at the option delta as the odds of the option expiring in the money. In this case, the option with 30 days left until expiration has a little less of a chance of expiring ITM versus the option with only one day left until expiration because of more time and uncertainty; thus a lower option delta.

Closing Thoughts

Option delta and option gamma are critical for option traders to understand particularly how they can affect each other and the position. A couple of the key components to analyze are if the strike prices are ATM, ITM or OTM and how much time there is left until expiration. An option trader can think of option delta as the rate of speed for the position and option gamma as how quickly it gets there.

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 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 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

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 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 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 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 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.

It’s hard for people to learn to trade without access to the knowledge center that I was fortunate enough to have which was smack dab in the middle of the trading floor; and I appreciated that. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown up in Chicago and to have gotten a break, getting a job on the trading floor after college. I was able to springboard that opportunity into a successful trading career. I get it. And that’s why, for two days, I am going to help recreate some of that experience for YOU.

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.

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.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.


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

February 20, 2014

Socrates and Another Famous Greek

We all know options are derivatives, and their prices are derived from the underlying stock, index, or ETF. But with other factors at work such as implied volatility, time decay, etc. Have you ever wondered how can you know how much an option is going to move with respect to say the underlying? Very simple – check out its delta.

Delta is arguably the most heavily identifiable Greek (unless you count Socrates or Aristotle) especially by individuals learning to trade options. It offers a quick and relatively easy way to tell us what to expect from our option positions as we watch the price action of the underlying. Calls have positive deltas, as they typically move higher on a rise in the stock, and puts have negative deltas, as they typically move lower when the stock rises.

While some investors view delta as the percentage chance an option has of expiring in-the-money, it is really more of a way to project expected appreciation or depreciation. A delta of 0.50 for an AAPL call suggests the option should move 50 cents higher when the AAPL jumps a dollar, and lose 50 cents for every dollar loss in AAPL.

But delta is only foolproof when all other factors are held constant, which is rarely the case (and certainly never the case for time decay). If an option is moving more (or less) than its delta would suggest, it is likely because other variables are shifting. For example, buying demand might be pushing implied volatility higher, raising the price of the options. Still, this king of all Greeks is a good starting point for gauging how your options are likely to move.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 23, 2014

Thoughts on Front-Month Puts

With the market threatening to move lower after a bullish run last year and earning’s season upon us,it might be a good time to talk about put options. If a trader buys a put option, he or she has the right to sell the underlying at a particular price (strike price) before a certain time (expiration). If a trader owns 100 shares of stock and purchases a put option, the trader may be able to protect the position fully or to some degree because he or she will have the right to sell the stock at the strike price by expiration even if the shares lose value.

A lot of traders especially those who are just learning to trade options can be smitten by put options especially buying the shortest-term, or front month put for protection. The problem, however, is that there is a flaw to the reasoning of purchasing front-month puts as protection. Front-month contracts have a higher theta (time decay) and relying on front-month puts to protect a straight stock purchase is not necessarily the best way to protect the stock. If you were to continually purchase front-month puts as protection, that can end up being a rather expensive way to by insurance.

Although front month options are often cheaper, they are not always your best bet. The idea may be sound, the trader purchases a number of shares of the stock and purchases out-of-the-money puts to protect his or her position; but sound reasoning does not always lead to good practice. Here’s an example.

We will use a hypothetical trade. The stock is trading a slightly above 13 and our hypothetical trader wants to own the stock because he or she thinks the stock will beat its earnings’ estimates in each of the next two quarters. This investment will take at least six months as the trader wants to allow the news events to move the stock higher.

Being a smart options trader, our stock trader wants some insurance against a potential drop in the stock just in case. The trader decides to buy a slightly out-of-the-money July 13 put, which carries an ask price of $0.50 (rounded for simplicity purposes). That 0.50 premium represents almost 4 percent of the current stock price. In fact, if the investor rolled option month after month, it would create a big dent in the initial outlay of cash. To be sure, after about seven months (assuming the stock hangs around $13) the trader would lose more than 25 percent on the $13 investment.

If the stock drops in price, then the ultimate rationalization for the strategy is realized; protection. The put provides a hedge. The value of the option will increase as the stock drops, which can offset the loss suffered as the stock drops. Buying the put is a hedge and and a solid insurance policy – though, albeit, an expensive one. Investors can usually find better ways to protect a stock.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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