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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

 

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.

ATM, ITM and OTM

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

July 2, 2014

A Butterfly Spread to Lock in Profits

There are several ways to make adjustments or lock in profits on a profitable long call or long put position. One of my favorites has to be converting the option position to a long butterfly spread. It may sound funny, but probably the hardest part about an option trader converting his position to lock in profits with a butterfly spread is getting to a profitable position in the first place; the rest is relatively easy! Let’s take a look at a scenario and an outlook in which this butterfly spread can be considered.

Butterfly Spread on BIDU

Let’s assume an option trader has been watching Baidu Inc. (BIDU) stock and noticed the stock pulled back slightly from the uptrend in which it has been trading. When Baidu stock was trading around $175 in the middle of June, he decides to buy the July 175 call options for 7. Lo and behold about a week later the stock moves higher and it’s trading around $185. The $185 level is potential resistance for the stock because is has previously traded to that area twice before and the trader is concerned it might happen once again. The trader thinks there may be a chance that Baidu stock may trade sideways at that level. Converting a long call position to a butterfly spread is advantageous if a neutral outlook is forecast (as in this case). A long butterfly spread has its maximum profit attained if the stock is trading at the short strikes (body of the butterfly) at expiration.

The option trader is already long the July 175 call which constitutes one wing of the butterfly so he needs to sell two July 185 calls which is the body of the butterfly and where the option trader thinks the stock may trade until expiration. $185 represents where the maximum profit can be earned at expiration. A July 195 call (other wing) would need to be purchased to complete the long call butterfly spread.

The original cost of the July 175 call was 7. The two short July 185 calls sell for 5.25 a piece and the long July 195 call costs 2. The converted 175/185/195 long call butterfly spread produces a credit of 1.50 (-7 + 10.50 – 2). Now here’s a look at the possible scenarios that could happen and some possibilities that can be considered.

 Take Profit

With Baidu stock trading around $185, the July 175 call option has increased in value to 11.25. That means the trader can sell the call and make a profit of $4.25 (11.25 – 7). Certainly this is a viable option and should be considered on some of the contracts before adjusting the position.

Maximum Loss

Maximum loss for a long butterfly spread is realized if the stock is trading at or below the lowest strike (lower wing) or at or above the highest strike (higher wing). In this case the maximum loss is not a loss at all but a credit of $1.50. In essence, the original $7 potential risk from buying the July 175 call is now erased and has turned into a guaranteed profit even if Baidu stock completely collapses. If the stock continues to move higher and past the 195 strike at expiration, the maximum loss is still achieved; albeit a $1.50 profit. But more could have been made by simply keeping the original position intact. That is why it may be prudent if there is more than one contract (long call) to maybe not convert all the positions to a butterfly spread, particularity if the trader thinks that the stock can still climb higher. Keeping the long call would have more profitable if this scenario played out.

Maximum Profit

Maximum profit is achieved if the trader is right and stock closes right at $185 at expiration. The current profit on the trade is $4.25 as discussed above. If Baidu stock continues to trade sideways or ends up at $185 at expiration, that $4.25 profit has now grown to an $11.50 profit. The maximum profit for a butterfly spread is derived from taking the difference between the bought and sold strikes which in this case is $10, and adding premium received from converting the position to a butterfly spread ($1.50). Not too bad of a result if Baidu stock trades sideways or ends up at $185 at expiration. It seems pretty clear that the long butterfly spread is very beneficial when a sideways outlook is forecast after the long option has profited.

As long as the strike prices align with the trader’s outlook, converting a long call or a long put to a butterfly spread can be very effective after gains are realized. If there are multiple contracts, it allows an option trader to take profits now and also potentially earn more if the stock essentially goes nowhere and ends up close to the short strikes at expiration.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

June 5, 2014

Reviewing Your Trades Like Roger Ebert

In my opinion, one of the most helpful things to do to improve your option trading is reviewing 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

February 6, 2014

Option Prices and Earnings

With earnings season in full gear and major players like Priceline.com and Tesla ready to announce soon, it is probably a good time to review how option prices are influenced.

Perhaps the most easily understood of the options 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 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 price influence is perhaps the most important. It is without question the most neglected and overlooked component; implied volatility. Because we are in the midst of earnings season, 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 price of the underlying

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and represents the aggregate trader’s view of the future volatility of the underlying. Because implied volatility responds to the subjective view of

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future volatility, values can ebb and flow as a result of upcoming events expected to impact price (e.g. earnings, FDA decisions, etc.).

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 options pricing influences. The options markets can be ruthlessly unforgiving to those who choose to ignore them especially over an earnings announcement.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 2, 2014

A Few Pennies Can Make a Difference

One of the more difficult problems with which to deal for an options trader has historically been the broad bid-ask spreads quoted for options. I often refer to them in class and depending on how large the spread, it may keep me out of a potential trade. Experienced traders have routinely negotiated the bid-ask spreads downward with varying success when trading individual positions, but the non-economic price has been the significant effort and time required to achieve these negotiated results.

Beginning in January 2007, Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) initiated a Pilot Program to reduce bid-ask spreads to as

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low as 1¢. As of the beginning of this year, there are currently around 360 in the series (including such big names as Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and more) quoted in these penny increments. CBOE maintains an Excel file of option series currently included

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within this “Penny Pilot” program.

Because option positions are frequently constructed with several individual legs, the impact of the ability to trade with tighter bid-ask spreads can

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have significant impact on the aggregate slippage of positions. Combined with the falling commission rates resulting from the increasingly intense competition among brokers specializing in options, significant trading efficiencies have resulted. Looks like a great situation for an option trader to be in.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

December 11, 2013

Options and Math

One of the greatest advantages of options trading is its extreme flexibility in both the initial construction of positions and in the ability to adjust a position to match the new outlook of the underlying. The trader who limits his or her world to that of simply trading equities and ETF’s can only deal in terms of short or long. A change in an outlook often requires starting a new position or exiting the old one. The

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options trader can usually accommodate the newly developed outlook with much more fluidly, often with minor adjustments on the position in order to achieve the right fit with the new outlook.

One concept with which the trader needs to be familiar in order to construct the necessary adjustments is that of the synthetic relationships. Most options traders neglect to familiarize themselves with the 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/ETF 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 and modifying as needed.

For those who remember high school algebra, 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 positions or to modify existing positions either in whole or part. You might have not liked algebra when you were in school, but applying some of the formulas can help an options trader exponentially!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 10, 2013

What Makes a Great Trader Part II

A few weeks ago we talked about traders really being committed to reaching their trading goals. This time we’ll go over why an options trader needs a trading plan and a few general guidelines. If you really want to improve your trading in heading into this fall trading season, you should absolutely to do this but be forewarned; this is the part nobody wants to do. Most options 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 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 not. 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 in a 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

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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 options 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 options 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

July 18, 2013

Earnings and Other Influences of Option Prices

With earnings season in full gear and major players like Apple and Netflix ready to announce soon, it is probably a good time to review how option prices are influenced.

Perhaps the most easily understood of the options 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 price influence of

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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 price influence is perhaps the most important. It is without question the most neglected and overlooked component; implied volatility. Because we are in the midst of earnings season, 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

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of implied volatility is generally inversely correlated to 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 (e.g. earnings, FDA decisions, etc.).

New traders beginning to become familiar with the world of options trading should spend a fair amount of time learning the impact of

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each of these options pricing influences. The options markets can be ruthlessly unforgiving to those who choose to ignore them especially over an earnings announcement.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

February 14, 2013

Baseball, Buying a Car and Iron Condors

With spring training right around the corner, traders should ask themselves this question; have you ever noticed a baseball player warming up before a game? Or watched footage of a baseball player at practice? What are they doing? Swinging a bat. Throwing and catching balls. Running bases. Working on the fundamentals. To be good at anything requires learning the fundamentals and constantly working on them throughout your career.

Option trading is no different. Even traders who have traded for years, who trade complex strategies return to the fundamentals to make their trading decisions. Take trading iron condors. Trading iron condors requires utilizing the fundamentals. Traders who are trading iron condors are trading a fairly complex, four-legged option strategy. They need to be able to visualize the strategy in order to analyze it and ultimately decide whether or not they should be trading iron condors or something else.

Traders trading iron condors should consider the spread from several different perspectives. Specifically, they should consider it as combinations of other spreads. When a trader is trading iron condors, the trader is in fact trading a pair of credit spreads. An iron condor is a put credit spread combined with a call credit spread. That’s one way to look at it.

Trading iron condors can also be considered from the strangle-trading perspective. An iron condor is a short strangle combined with a long strangle with wider strikes. The profit (and risk) comes from the short strangle, while the long one provides protection.

An iron condor can also be thought of as four individual option positions. Traders trading iron condors have a position in a long put, in a short put, in a short call and in a long call. Thinking of trading iron condors from this perspective, in particular, can help traders make adjustment and closing decision more effectively.

And, of course, an iron condor is, well, an iron condor! It is a single strategy in which the risk can be observed on a P&(L) diagram or through the greeks.

This strategy-break-down technique is not just suited for trading iron condors, but for trading all multi-legged strategies. It is an effective analysis technique akin to how car shoppers consider buying a car. They look at the front; then walk around to the side, then the back; they look under the hood and at the interior. All the while, they are considering this one purchase, but just from many different perspectives.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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