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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

April 15, 2015

Fractal Position Management

Option traders have to manage risk. Want a job description? That’s about it. In fact that is a job description for every trader; even ones that don’t trade options. Every trade has a risk and reward associated with it and traders must realize that especially when first learning how to trade. Because options are instruments of leverage, it is very easy to let risk get out of control, if you’re not careful. Traders must manage risk carefully, instituting tight leashes on their options, spreads and portfolio. The management technique of each is essentially the same because position management is fractal.

Something that is fractal has a recurring pattern that has continuity within its scale. For example, a tree is fractal. A tree has a trunk with limbs extending from it; limbs with smaller branches extending from it; smaller branches with yet smaller branches; and leaves with veins that branch off within each leaf. The pattern is repetitive within each iteratively smaller extension of the last. This is found in option position management too.

Individual options have risk that must be managed. They have direction, time and volatility risk which are managed by setting thresholds for each of the corresponding “greeks” which measure them. When individual options are a part of a spread, the resulting spread has these same risks of direction time and volatility. The spread’s risk must consequently be managed likewise. A trader’s complete option portfolio, which may be comprised of many spreads has systematic risk in accordance to the market. These risks are the same as for individual options or individual spreads: direction, time and volatility. Traders should treat their all encompassing portfolio as a single spread and use the portfolio “greeks” to set parameters to minimize the total risk of the portfolio.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 10, 2015

Developing a Trading Watch List

If you are a hockey fan, you probably know that we are getting ready to start the NHL playoffs. Teams are gathering information about their opponents and trying to gain the upper hand over them which ultimately could lead to a victory. Just like in option trading, a well though out and well kept watch list can help a trader in a variety of ways including scoring profits. First and foremost it can help keep track of the underlyings and keep them all in one place so it is easy to reference them. Potential trade opportunities are often discovered by scanning and searching charts and options from stocks that are on a watch list just like determining potential strengths and weaknesses of a hockey opponent. Here are a couple of ways a trader might go about building a watch list or creating a better one.

Familiar Ones

If a person is relatively new to trading there are probably a few stocks that he or she is familiar with. To gather more names to add to the list, a trader can scan through an index (like the S&P 500 for example) and find more stocks to potentially add to the list. Some of the stocks listed may not be conducive for a variety of reasons. It makes perfect sense to check out the symbols and see if the charts and the options are at acceptable levels for the trader’s personality and plan. Things a trader might want to consider when deciding whether to put a stock on his watch list are the stock price, the stock’s volatility, option prices, bid/ask spreads and option volume just to name a few. When this process is complete, a trader should have a decent watch list in which to work with. This list may grow and sometimes shrink over time depending on the trader.

Services

There are numerous trading services (free and paid) out there that not only might introduce traders to stocks to add to the watch list which may lead to potential trade opportunities. The Market Taker Live Advantage Group Coaching is one such service that MTM offers. As mentioned above, the reason a watch list is created in the first place is to find potential trades. A service can not only introduce traders to new symbols but also provide trade ideas that can turnout to be profitable. But if the trade concept is unclear or deviates from a trader’s plan regardless of the source, it should be avoided until the concept is understood. In any case, if the trader thinks there may be an opportunity on the stock in the future it can be added the list.

List Categories

Once a trader has a watch list of stocks, it may be prudent to separate the list into different categories. There can be a list for stocks that are ready to trade now or very soon. Keeping this list the shortest might make sense for a couple of reasons. First a trader should probably not be trading more stocks than he or she can handle and secondly if there are too many on this list, some trade ideas might get lost in the mix. A short list makes it easier to monitor potential trade opportunities. There can also be a category for stocks that have trade potential in the near future (a day to a week for example). This list can be monitored maybe a little less frequently than the previous list. Another category to consider for the watch list are stocks that have no potential now but may in the future. For example, maybe a stock is trading in the middle of a channel and if it ever trades down to support a bullish opportunity may arise. Stocks should be moved up and down in these different categories as needed.

What’s Important

These were just a few ideas about how a trader can go about developing and monitoring a watch list and searching for potential trade opportunities. The most important part about having a watch list is not how it was acquired but that there is one. A well-refined and updated watch list can yield plenty of potential money making opportunities in option trading. Go Blackhawks!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 2, 2015

Options and Earnings Season

With Alcoa expected to announce their earnings this coming week and a plethora of companies shortly afterwards, it is probably a good time to review how an option price can be influenced.

Perhaps the most easily understood of the option price influences is the price of the underlying. All stock traders are familiar with the impact of the underlying stock price alone on their trades. The technical and fundamental analyses of the underlying stock price action are well beyond the scope of this discussion, but it is sufficient to say it is one of the three pricing factors and probably the most familiar to traders learning to trade.

The option price influence of time is easily understood in part because it is the only one of the forces restricted to unidirectional movement. The main reason that time impacts option positions significantly is a result of the existence of time (extrinsic) premium. Depending on the risk profile of the option strategy established, the passage of time can impact the trade either negatively or positively.

The third option price influence in relation to earnings season is perhaps the most important. It is without question the most neglected and overlooked component; implied volatility. Because we will be in the midst of earnings season soon, it can become even a greater influence over the price of options than usual. Implied volatility taken together with time defines the magnitude of the extrinsic option premium.

The value of implied volatility is generally inversely correlated to the price of the underlying and represents the aggregate trader’s view of the future volatility of the underlying. Because implied volatility responds to the subjective view of future volatility, values can ebb and flow as a result of upcoming events expected to impact price like a quarterly earnings announcement. In addition, FDA decisions, potential takeovers and sometimes product announcements can also effect the implied volatility and option prices just to name a few more.

New traders beginning to become familiar with the world of options trading should spend a fair amount of time learning the impact of each of these option price influences. The options markets can be ruthlessly unforgiving to those who choose to ignore them especially over earnings season.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 26, 2015

Reviewing Your Trades Like Roger Ebert

In my opinion, one of the most helpful things to do to improve your option trading or any type of trading is to review your trades. You need to pretend that you are the late, great Roger Ebert of option trading and give your trades a thumbs up or down. This is a fantastic way to gauge how you are developing as a trader and incorporate it into your trading plan. A lot of option traders are disheartened when they examine their profit and loss statements, but this can be deceiving. Why? Many good trades lose money and a lot of bad trades make money. Your goal as an option trader is to follow your trading plan and take the best trades that make sense to you and put the odds are your side for a successful trade. Easier said then done you might say but reviewing your trades is a very important step to take in order to become consistently profitable and putting the odds on your side.

Capture Your Trades

The first thing an option trader should consider doing is to capture his trades with some type of screen capture software. Every trader should have this in his or her trading plan. There are a plethora of options out there and many are free. An option trader should have a record of the chart, option chain, implied volatility and any other tangible that may be pertinent to the trade. If the trade is in effect for several days, screens shots can be taken periodically to help a trader understand what is happening on the charts and to the options. Once the trade is exited, screen shots should be taken again to compare the start and end of the trade.

Review

Now that the option trader has the concrete evidence in his hands or on his computer, it’s time to look at the damage or lack there of. When reviewing your trades, it is advantageous to do this part after the close of the market so full attention can be on the reviewing process. Label the chart and option chain with what strategy was used. Where did the trading plan call for entry, stop and target? Then where was the trade actually entered and exited? Were there any discrepancies? If there were, a trader needs to find out why and correct them in the future.

Correct and Make Adjustments

If the trade suffered a loss in particular, and the trading plan was followed, was it just part of the odds or is there something that can be done to improve the odds for next time? It really doesn’t matter what the violation or mistake was, it just needs to be recognized and taken into account for next time. Sometimes the loss is not the fault of the trader but many more times it probably was. Changes and adjustments both mentally and physically need to be made and corrected to improve trading performance. Once a trader has recognized and corrected his errors and adjusted the trading plan, trading can become a whole lot easier.

Last Thoughts

Reviewing your trades like Roger Ebert used to review movies for so many years can be an essential ingredient to becoming the option trader you want to be. The key to becoming successful and growing as an options trader is to learn to acknowledge your winners, but cherish and learn from your losses because that is what will make you profitable in the end. You will absolutely learn more from your losses than from your winners… thumbs up!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 19, 2015

Consider a Collar for Profitable Investments

A collar strategy is an option strategy that can particularly benefit investors. In this blog we have a lot more options education for traders and less for long-term investors so here is a strategy both can consider. A collar is simply holding shares of stock and buying a put and selling a call. Usually both the call and the put are out-of-the money (OTM) when establishing this option combination. A basic single collar represents one long put and one short call along with 100 shares of the underlying stock. A collar strategy is frequently implemented after stock (investment) has increased in price. The main objective of a collar is to protect profits that have accrued from the shares of stock rather than increasing returns. Is that an option strategy you might consider? Let’s take a look.

Why a Collar?

Since the market has been on a rather a bullish run and there are a plethora of stocks that have increased in value and it might be a good time to talk about some strategies that can help protect those gains. One option strategy is to buy a put. The investor has some protection for the unrealized profits in case the stock declines. The other part of the combination is selling the OTM call. By doing this, the investor is prepared to sell his or her shares of stock if the call is exercised because the stock has moved above the call’s strike price.

Advantages

The advantage of a collar strategy over just buying a protective put is being able to pay for some or the entire put by selling the call. In essence, an investor buys downside stock protection for free or almost free of charge. Until the investor exercises the put, sells the stock or has the call assigned, he or she will retain the stock.

Volatility and Time Decay

Even though implied volatility (IV) has been really low over the last several months in the market, volatility and also time decay are not usually big issues when it comes to a collar strategy. The simple explanation is because the investor is long one option and short another so the effects of volatility and time decay will generally offset each other.

An example:

An investor could have bought 100 shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) in October of last year for about $32 a share. At the time of this writing the stock has climbed to about $46 a share and the investor is worried about the current market conditions being extended to the upside and protecting his unrealized gains. The investor can utilize a collar strategy.

The investor can buy a April 43 put for 0.90. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $43. At the same time the investor can sell a April 48 call for 1.00. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.10 (1 – .90). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $2 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.

Three Possible Outcomes

The stock finishes over $48 at April expiration. If this scenario happens, another $2 per share is realized on the stock and $10 on the net credit of the combination is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes between $43 and $48 at April expiration. In this case, both options expire worthless. The stock is retained and the $10 net credit is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes below $43 at April expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $43. Either way the $10 net credit is the investors to keep.

Conclusion

The nice thing about a collar strategy is that an investor knows the potential losses and gains right from the start. If the stock climbs higher, the profits may be curbed due to the short call but if the stock takes a dive, the investor has protection due to the long put and protection might not be such a bad idea if the market corrects itself. Even an investor can benefit from some options education!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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