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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.

Insurance

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

 

June 26, 2014

Outright Call Options and Put Options

Another topic that is brought up often in my Group Coaching class is buying call options and put options outright. When option traders first get their feet wet trading options, they often just buy call options for a bullish outlook and put options for a bearish outlook. In their defense, they are new so they probably do not know many if not any advanced strategies which means they are limited in the option strategies they can trade. Buying call options and put options are the most basic but many times they may not be the best choice.

If an option trader only buys and for that matter sells options outright, he or she often ignores some of the real benefits of using options to create more flexible positions and offset risk.

Here is a recent example using Twitter Inc. (TWTR). If an option trader believed TWTR stock will continue to rise like it has been doing, he could buy a July 39 call for 1.80 when the stock was trading at $38.50. However the long call’s premium would suffer if TWTR stock fell or implied volatility (measured by vega) decreased. Long options can lose value and short options can gain value when implied volatility decreases keeping other variables constant.

Instead of buying a call on TWTR stock, an option trader can implement an option spread (in this case a bull call spread) by also selling a July 42 call for 0.75. This reduces the option trade’s maximum loss to 1.05 (1.80 – 0.75) and also lowers the option trade’s exposure to implied volatility changes because of being long and short options as part of the option spread. This option spread lowers the potential risk however it limits potential gains because of the short option.

In addition, simply buying call options and put options without comparing and contrasting implied volatility (vega), time decay (theta) and how changes in the stock price will affect the option’s premium (delta) can lead to common mistakes. Option traders will sometimes buy options when option premiums are inflated or choose expirations with too little time left. Understanding the pros and cons of an option spread can significantly improve your option trading.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 24, 2013

Implied Volatility and the Debt Ceiling Crisis

In the last couple of months, the market has shown some good movement. The S&P 500 and Dow set their all-time highs and then promptly moved lower. Washington struggled to find common ground which in turned partially shutdown the government and moved stocks all around. Now we are in the middle of earnings season and the roller-coaster ride may continue. It is important 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. But analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility is often an overlooked process making some trades losers from the start. An option trader needs to look back at the last couple of months of option trading to see how volatility played a crucial part in option pricing and how it will help them going forward.

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 30 historical volatility is less volatile than a stock with a 35 historical volatility. Additionally, a stock with a historical volatility of 45 now is more volatile than it was when its historical volatility was, say, 30.

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. A recent example of the implied volatility increasing was the debt ceiling crisis. There was some concern that the government would not hammer out a compromise and thus default which put fear into the market and increased implied volatility.

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.

Regular users of volatility charts 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 sell; if it is below its normal level it may still 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 like an expected earnings announcement or a general fear of the economy. 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 and that is precisely what every trader needs.

Just a heads up…there is another government deadline coming early next year that might provide for another implied volatility skew. Get ready!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 14, 2013

Six-Year Low in the VIX? What’s It Mean to YOUR Options Trading?

The VIX, or CBOE’s Implied Volatility Index, hit a six-year low this week. What’s that mean to options trading? Lots!

Options trading is greatly affected by implied volatility. At its most basic level, when the VIX is low, it tends to mean lousy options trading.

Option traders are not incented to trade when the VIX is low. Traders generally don’t want to sell options when premiums are so low. There is no reward and still there is always the specter of the risk of an unexpected market shock. And, option traders don’t want to buy options either. Why? Because when the VIX is low, the VIX low is for a reason: Because market volatility is low. Why would traders want to buy options (and endure time decay) is the market isn’t moving?

And so, as always, the devil is in the details. Right now, there actually exists a somewhat atypical pattern in many stock options. Many stocks have their implied volatility trading decidedly below historical volatility levels. Though this volatility set up can be seen here and there at any given time, it is more common than usual. That means cheap volatility trades (i.e., underpriced options) are more abundant.

Stocks like CRM, C, GE, F, and even the almighty AAPL all have implied volatility below their historical volatility.

That means that even though overall stock volatility (as measured by historical volatility) is low, the options are priced at an even lower level. That means time decay is very cheap per the level of price action in these stocks. And, implied volatility in these stocks (and probably the VIX as well) is likely to rise to catch up to historical volatility levels—assuming the current price action continues as it is.

So, traders should be careful not to sell too many option spreads (i.e., credit spreads) at these fire-sale levels. Instead, traders should look to positive vega spreads (i.e., debit spreads), at least until implied volatility rises offering worthy premiums to option sellers.

Dan Passarelli

CEO

Market Taker Mentoring

February 21, 2013

Expiration Week: Butterflies

One of the major differences when learning to trade options as opposed to equity trading is the impact of time on the various trade vehicles. Remember that quoted option premiums reflect the sum of both intrinsic (if any) and extrinsic (time) value. Also remember that while very few things in trading are for certain, one certainty is that the time value of an option premium goes to zero at the closing bell on expiration Friday.

While this decay of time premium to a value of zero is reliable and inescapable in our world of option trading, it is important to recognize that the decay is not linear. It is during the final weeks of the option cycle that decay of the extrinsic premium begins inexorably to race ever faster to oblivion. In the vocabulary of the options trader, the rate of theta decay increases as expiration approaches. It is from this quickening of the pace that many examples of option trading vehicles gain their maximum profitability during this final week of their life.

Some of the most dramatic changes in behavior can be seen in the trading vehicle known as the butterfly. For those new to options, consideration of the butterfly represents the move from simple single legged strategy such as simply buying a put or a call to multi-legged strategies that include both buying and selling options in certain patterns.

To review briefly, a butterfly consists of a vertical debit spread and vertical credit spread sharing the central strike price constructed together in the same underlying in the same month. It may be built using either puts or calls and its directional bias derives from strike selection rather than the particular type of option used for construction. For a (long) butterfly, maximum profit is always achieved at expiration when the underlying closes at the short strike shared by the two vertical spreads.

The butterfly has the interesting functional characteristic that it responds sluggishly to price movement early in its life, for example in the first two weeks of a four week option cycle. However, as expiration approaches, the butterfly becomes increasingly sensitive to price movement as the time premium erodes and the beast becomes increasingly subject to delta as a result of increasing gamma. It is for this reason that many butterfly traders restrict their use to the more responsive part of the options cycle. For a butterfly, the greatest sensitivity to time (and, therefore, profit potential) is reaped in the final week of the life cycle of the butterfly, i.e. expiration week.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

November 1, 2012

The Naked AAPL Call

The naked call is defined as an option strategy where an option player sells (writes) call options without owning the underlying security. Some may refer to this strategy as an “uncovered call” or “short call.”

The goal of the naked call is for the trader to collect premiums if the option expires worthless. A trader could sell an out-of-the-money (OTM) naked call each month and pocket premiums, provided the stock price either stays flat or drops. This process could continue as long as the stock remains below the strike. For those interested in learning all the ins and outs of naked calls and possibly safer alternatives, please visit the Learn To Trade section of our website.

The Specifics

The maximum gain for selling a naked call is limited to the premium received for the call option. That said, the loss potential is unlimited – as the stock can rise indefinitely. If the underlying stock’s price is above the strike price at expiration, it will result in the trader having to sell the stock at the strike price (which will be lower than the market price).

A loss can occur if the stock price rises. If the price of the underlying stock is greater than the short call’s strike price plus the premium received at expiration the option should be bought in to close the trade. Otherwise, when the option is assigned and a short-stock position is acquired, further losses are possible. On the flip side, the maximum profit is achieved when the underlying stock is less than or equal to the strike price of the sold call at its expiration.

An Example

For this specific example, we will take a look at Apple (AAPL) – which is trading right around $600 at the time of this writing. A December 650 call carries a bid price of 7.00. If the stock remains below the strike price by expiration, the call expires worthless and the call seller keeps the 7.00 in premium (less any commissions). The problem is if the stock rallies through the strike price at expiration, the call will be assigned, resulting in a short sale of 100 shares at $650. With the stock at $670, that would represent a loss of $20 a share, or $2,000. Subtract the $700 received in premium and the total loss comes to $1,300.

With unlimited loss potential, the naked call is considered one of the riskiest option strategies. A, perhaps, safer way to structure a trade with a similar risk profile is to sell a call credit spread. We’ll have a short blog posting on this in the future.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 19, 2012

Expiration Week: Butterflies

One of the major differences when learning to trade options as opposed to equity trading is the impact of time on the various trade vehicles. Remember that quoted option premiums reflect the sum of both intrinsic (if any) and extrinsic (time) value. Also remember that while very few things in trading are for certain, one certainty is that the time value of an option premium goes to zero at the closing bell on expiration Friday.

While this decay of time premium to a value of zero is reliable and inescapable in our world of option trading, it is important to recognize that the decay is not linear. It is during the final weeks of the option cycle that decay of the extrinsic premium begins inexorably to race ever faster to oblivion. In the vocabulary of the options trader, the rate of theta decay increases as expiration approaches. It is from this quickening of the pace that many examples of option trading vehicles gain their maximum profitability during this final week of their life.

Some of the most dramatic changes in behavior can be seen in the trading vehicle known as the butterfly. For those new to options, consideration of the butterfly represents the move from simple single legged strategy such as simply buying a put or a call to multi-legged strategies that include both buying and selling options in certain patterns.

To review briefly, a butterfly consists of a vertical debit spread and vertical credit spread sharing the central strike price constructed together in the same underlying in the same month. It may be built using either puts or calls and its directional bias derives from strike selection rather than the particular type of option used for construction. For a (long) butterfly, maximum profit is always achieved at expiration when the underlying closes at the short strike shared by the two vertical spreads.

The butterfly has the interesting functional characteristic that it responds sluggishly to price movement early in its life, for example in the first two weeks of a four week option cycle. However, as expiration approaches, the butterfly becomes increasingly sensitive to price movement as the time premium erodes and the beast becomes increasingly subject to delta as a result of increasing gamma. It is for this reason that many butterfly traders restrict their use to the more responsive part of the options cycle. For a butterfly, the greatest sensitivity to time (and, therefore, profit potential) is reaped in the final week of the life cycle of the butterfly, i.e. expiration week.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring