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November 25, 2014

Weekly Options and Theta

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 (option theta) 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 continued and expanding 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 even more weeklys that go for consecutive weeks (1 week options, 2 week options, 3 week options, 4 week options and 5 week options).

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. In addition, it gives premium-selling option traders even more choices to take advantage of option theta. 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.

Option 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. enjoy the Holidays!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

November 13, 2014

Consider a 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

November 6, 2014

AAPL and Risk Control

Now that Apple’s earnings announcement is behind us, it may be a good time to take another look at the technology giant. With the volatility event over, you might be looking to implement an option position. Even though the company announced its earnings, there may still be some volatile action ahead as the market heads towards the holidays.  Here are a few thoughts that should be considered on AAPL or any other position you may enter.

Learning to trade options offers a number of unique advantages to an option trader, but perhaps the single most attractive characteristic is the ability to control risk rather precisely in many instances. Much of this advantage comes from the ability to control positions that are similar to stock with far less capital outlay.

One particular form of risk control that is often dismissed among option traders is the time stop. Time stops take advantage of the time decay (theta) and can help control risk. It is important to understand that this time decay is not linear by any means.

As a direct result, it may not be apparent the course the time decay curve will follow. An option trader has to take into account that the option modeling software that most online brokers have is essential to plan the trade and decide the appropriate time at which to place a time stop. This of course is dependent on how much risk the option trader is willing to take concede due to time decay as part of the whole risk element of the trade. Other risk factors include delta, gamma and theta just to name a few.

As an example, consider the case of a bullish position in AAPL implemented by buying in-the-money December 105 calls. A trader could establish a position consisting of 10 long contracts with a position delta of +700 for approximately $5,000 as I write this.

At the time of this writing, the stock is trading around $109; these call options are therefore $4 in-the-money. Let’s assume a trader analyzes the trade with an at-expiration P&(L) diagram and wants to exit the trade if AAPL is at or abelow $106 (where potential support is at) at expiration. The options expiration risk is $4,000 or more. However, if the option trader takes the position that the expected or feared move will occur quickly—long before expiration—he could implement a time stop as well.

Using a stop to close the position if the stock gets to $106 at a point in time around halfway to expiration would reduce the risk significantly. Because the option would still have some time value, the trader could sell the option for a loss prior to expiration, therefore retaining some time value and and the option having a higher price. In this scenario, closing the position prior to expiration helps the trader lose less when the stop triggers. This is especially true if there is a fair amount of time until expiration and time decay hasn’t totally eroded away the option premium.

As one can see, options offer a variety of ways to control risk. An option trader needs to learn several that match his or her risk/reward criteria and personality.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 23, 2014

Math is Beneficial for Option Trading

One of the greatest advantages for an option trader is the initial flexibility of the position and the ability to adjust a position to match the new outlook of the underlying. The option trader who limits his or her world to that of simply trading equities also limits the position and outlook to either long (bullish) or short (bearish) positions. A change in an outlook regardless of the reason often requires starting a new position or closing out the old one. The options trader can usually change with  the newly developed outlook with much more ease, often with a minor option adjustment on the position in order to achieve the right fit for the new outlook.

Option Adjustments

One concept with which the option trader needs to be familiar in order to construct a necessary option adjustment is that of the synthetic relationship. Most options traders neglect to familiarize themselves with this concept when learning to trade options. This concept arises from the fact that appropriately structured option positions are virtually indistinguishable in function from the corresponding long or short equity position. One approach to remembering the relationships is to memorize all of the relationships. It may be easier to do this by remembering the mathematical formula below and modifying as needed.

Synthetic Formula

For those who remember algebra probably that was taught back in high school, the fundamental equation expressing this relationship is S=C-P. The variables are defined as S=stock, C=call, and P=put. This equation states that stock is equivalent to a long call and a short put.

Using high school algebra to formulate this equation, the various equivalency relationships can easily be determined. Remember that we can maintain the validity of the equation by performing the same action to each of the two sides. This fundamental algebraic adjustment allows us, for example, to derive the structure of a short stock position by multiplying each side by -1 and maintain the equality relationship. In this case (S)*-1 =(C-P)*-1 or –S=P-C; short stock equals long put and short call.

Such synthetic positions are frequently used to establish option positions or to make an option adjustment either in whole or part. You might have not liked or did well with algebra when you were in school, but applying some of the formulas can help an option trader exponentially!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 15, 2014

Debit Spread Versus Credit Spread

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? This is inherently a discussion that could fill a thick book so I will just try to give you a few thoughts to consider.

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. 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 many times initiated out-of-the-money (OTM) in anticipation the spread will expire worthless or close to worthless. For example, if a stock is trading at $50 and an option trader expects the stock to move about $5 higher the trader could buy a 50 call and sell a 55 call. If the 50 call cost the trader $5 and $3 was received for selling the 55 call, the bull call (debit) spread would cost the trader $2 (also the maximum loss) and have a maximum profit of $3 (5 (strike difference) – 2 (cost)) if the stock was trading at or above $55 at expiration. Thus the risk/reward ratio would be 1/1.5.

If the option trader was unsure if the $50 stock was going to move higher but felt the stock would at least stay above a support area around $45 the trader could sell a 45 put and buy a 40 put. If a credit of $1 was received for selling the 45 put and it cost the trader $0.50 to buy the 40 put, a net credit would be received of $0.50 for selling the bull put (credit) spread. The maximum gain for the spread is $0.50 if the stock is trading at $45 or higher at expiration and the maximum loss is $4.50 (5 (strike difference) – 0.50 (premium received)) if the stock is trading at or below $40 at expiration. Thus the risk reward ratio would be 9/1.


The risk/reward ratio on the credit spread 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 higher at some point to profit. If the stock stays at $50 or moves lower, the calls will expire worthless and a loss is incurred from the initial debit ($2). With the credit spread, the stock can effectively do three things and it would still be able to profit. The stock can move above $50, trade sideways and even drop to $45 at expiration and the credit spread would expire worthless and the trader would keep the initial premium received ($0.50). I like to say OTM credit spreads have three out of four ways of making money and debit spreads usually have one way depending on how the spread is initiated.

Implied Volatility

Another thing to consider when considering either a debit or credit spread is the implied volatility of the options. In general, when implied volatility is low, options are “cheap” which may be advantageous for buying options including debit spreads. When options are “expensive”, it may be advantageous to sell options including credit spreads. Option traders that are considering selling a credit spread should also take into account if the implied volatility is perceived as being high. Just the opposite, option traders that are considering buying a debit spread prefer the implied volatility to be low. As a general rule of thumb, I look at the 30-day IV over the last year and make note of the 52-week high and 52-week low. If the current 30-day IV is below 50% (closer to the 52-week low), I look at it is more of an advantage to do a debit spread over a credit spread. If the current 30-day IV is above 50% and closer to the 52-week high, I look at it as an advantage to implement a credit spread over a debit spread. I will not change my outlook like switching to a debit spread from a credit spread because the IV is relatively low. If this is the case, an option trader should maybe consider looking somewhere else for profit.

There are several factors to consider when choosing between a debit spread and a credit spread. The risk/reward of the spread, the probability of the trade profiting, the implied volatility of the options and the outlook for the underlying are just a few to consider. A trader always wants to put the odds on his or her side to increase the chances if extracting money from the market.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 8, 2014

Thoughts on Being a Great Trader Part II

About a month ago we talked about option traders really being committed to reaching their trading goals. This time we’ll go over why an option trader needs a trading plan and a few general guidelines to follow. If you really want to improve your trading heading into this fall trading season, you should absolutely have and follow a trading plan. But be forewarned; this is the part nobody wants to do. Most option traders think that their trading plan is in their head and that all they need is a proper options education. “I know what I need to do and when I need to do it” most beginning and some veteran options traders will exclaim. If it was just that easy, everyone would be a great options trader. Unfortunately it is simple not the case. That is specifically why you need a written options trading plan. Just because you know what to do doesn’t mean you will do it. And that is the key!

Before you even begin to write your options trading plan, you must take an inventory of yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? You must take the time to truly examine yourself and be honest about whom you are. Your options trading plan must match your personality. You will probably discover more about yourself that you were bargaining for.

The first thing you need to do to start your options trading plan is to write down your goals like we talked about in the previous blog. Once you do this, it brings everything into perspective. The same reason you need to write down your goals is the same reason you need to write down your options trading plan-so your thoughts are transformed from the subconscious to the conscious. It does not matter if you write the plan on a nice piece of paper or a cocktail napkin. It just needs to be written down in your own words.

The next section of your options trading plan will be money management. This is one of the most crucial and often overlooked components of successful options trading. How much are you going to risk per trade? What are your weekly or monthly profit targets? What are the maximum losses you are comfortable with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? All of these questions need to be answered right in this section. A great tip for this money management section is to not worry about monetary goals at first. Concentrate on taking and managing the best possible trades and then after some consistency has been established goals can be set.

Strategies will be the next component of your options trading plan. This will be the meat and potatoes of the plan so to speak. A thing to consider is to start with relatively a few simple strategies (long calls and puts) and master them before you write in more complex option strategies into your plan. You need to describe in as much detail as possible the strategy you intend to use. You will probably be making constant changes to this part until you get exactly what you want.

The last section will be the follow up and review. This is when an option trader needs to print out the charts and the option chains and review them. Did I follow my written options trading plan like I said I would? This needs to be done when the market is closed so all your attention can be on the review. You must keep a trading journal and must always acknowledge your winners and more importantly learn from your losing trades. Understanding and watching how the option prices change in regards to time and the underlying is a big bonus that can be also gained by observing past trades. This in my opinion is invaluable for progressing as an option trader.

Feel free to use this as a general outline of an options trading plan to get you started. If you need more help or more direction, feel free to contact me.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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

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