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September 17, 2014

Long Calls and Bull Call Spreads

With the Dow and S&P 500 falling just off their all-time highs recently and yet refusing to move much lower at this point, it probably makes sense to keep at least a moderately bullish bias towards many stocks. The market is due for some type of pullback, but who knows when that will happen. Even if it does pullback sooner than later, there will be another bullish opportunity at some point rest assured. Traders often ask me is there a way that you can take advantage of this bullish investing scenario while limiting risk? Certainly, there are a few option strategies that can accomplish this goal. One that may be a better option compared to the rest is a debit call spread which is sometimes referred to as a bull call spread.

Definition

When implementing a bull call spread, an option trader purchases a call option at one strike and sells the same number of calls on the same stock at a higher strike with the same expiration date. Here is a trade idea we looked at in Group Coaching just a couple of weeks ago. Tesla Motors (TSLA) moved up to a resistance area right around $260, formed a bullish base and then closed above resistance at around $263. With implied volatility (IV) generally being low, which is advantageous for purchasing options as with a bull call spread, and a directional bias, a bull call spread can be considered.

The Math

The trader’s maximum profit in the bull call spread is limited; he can make as much as the difference between the strike prices less the net debit paid. For simplicity, let’s assume that at the time one September 265 call was purchased for 8.00 and one September 270 call was sold for 6.00 resulting in a net debit of $2 (8 – 6). The difference in the strike prices is $5 (270 – 265). He would subtract $2 from $5 to end up with a maximum profit of $3 per contract. So if he traded 10 contracts, you could make $3,000 (10 X 300).

Although he limited his upside, the trader also limited the downside to the net debit of $2 per contract. To simply breakeven, the stock would have to trade at $267 (the strike price of the purchased call (265) plus the net debit ($2)) at expiration.

Advantage Versus Purchasing a Call

When trading the long call, a trader’s downside is limited to the net premium paid. If he simply purchased the out-of-the-money September 265 call, he would have paid $8. The potential loss is, therefore, greater when implementing a call-buying strategy. If he had moved to a call with a longer time frame to expiration, he would have even paid more for the option. This would also increase his potential loss per option.

Conclusion

By implementing a bull call spread, traders can hedge their bets; limiting the potential loss. This is the advantage when comparing to purchasing a call outright. Remember that there are no sure-fire ways to make money by using options. However, knowing and understanding the strategy is a good way to limit losses.

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.

Conclusion

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

June 18, 2014

AAPL Butterfly After the Split

There has been more talk than usual about Apple Inc. (AAPL) before and now just after the split. Several traders have asked me about what type of AAPL option trade they can use if they think AAPL will rise to around $100 in a few short weeks. Truth be told, there is more than one option strategy that can profit. But an option trader should consider a directional butterfly spread particularly if he or she has a particular time frame in mind as well. Depending on how the butterfly spread is structured, the option trader can structure a high risk/reward ratio for the spread. Let’s take a look at this option strategy.

The long butterfly spread involves selling two options at one strike and then purchasing options above and below equidistant from the sold strikes. This is usually implemented with all calls or all puts. The long options are considered to be the wings and the short options are the body of the butterfly. The option strategy objective is for the stock to be trading at the sold strikes at expiration. The option strategy benefits 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 spread or higher strike put for a long put butterfly spread have intrinsic value.

As mentioned above, if an option trader thinks that AAPL will be trading around $100 in about three weeks, he can implement a long call butterfly spread with the sold strikes (body) right at $100. Put options could also be used but since the spread is being structured out-of-the-money (OTM), the bid/ask spreads of the options tend to be tighter versus in-the-money (ITM) options which would be the case with put options. The narrower the option trader makes the wings (long calls) the less the trade will cost but there will be less room to profit due to the breakevens. If the butterfly spread is designed with larger wings, the more it will cost but there will be a wider area between the breakevens.

At the time of this writing, AAPL is trading around $92. An option trader decides to buy a Jul-03 97/100/103 call butterfly for 0.15. The most the trader can lose is $0.15 if AAPL closes at or below $97 and at or above $103 at expiration. The breakevens on the trade are between $97.15 (97 + 0.15) and $102.85 (103 – 0.15). The maximum profit on the trade in the unlikely event AAPL closes exactly at $100 on expiration would be $2.85 (3 – 0.15). This gives this option strategy a 1 to 19 risk/reward ratio. Granted AAPL needs to move higher and be around $100 in three weeks but one could hardly argue about the risk/reward of the option strategy or the generous breakeven points of the spread.

This AAPL option trade may be a bit overwhelming for a new option trader to understand and there is more than one way to take a bite out of AAPL with a bullish bias. A directional call butterfly spread in this instance is just one way. A big advantage that the directional butterfly strategy may have over another option strategy is the high risk/reward ratio. The biggest disadvantage is the trader needs to be right about the time frame in which the stock will trading between the wings since maximum profit is earned as close to expiration as possible.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 22, 2014

When Investors Should Consider a Collar Strategy

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, it might be a good time to talk about them. 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 December of last year for about $28 a share. At the time of this writing the stock has climbed to $38.40 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 June 37 put for 0.75. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $37. At the same time the investor can sell a June 39 call for 1.00. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.25 (1 – .75). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $0.60 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.

Three Possible Outcomes

The stock finishes over $38 at June expiration. If this scenario happens, another $0.60 per share is realized on the stock and $25 on the net credit of the combination is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes between $37 and $39 at June expiration. In this case, both options expire worthless. The stock is retained and the $25 net credit is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes below $37 at June expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $37. Either way the $25 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