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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

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 4, 2014

Thoughts on Being a Great Trader Part I

With September already here and volatility and volume expected to rise, it might be a good time to give yourself a mental break and reflect on your trading before Fall. You might start by asking yourself are you the great options trader you thought you would be by now or have you ever wondered what truly makes a great options trader? I mean not a options trader that does pretty well, but one that you envy and want to be? Are great options traders just born that way? Does being smarter necessarily give you an advantage in options trading? Is studying charts until you are bleary-eyed from looking at them the secret; or is it just dumb luck on who succeeds and who fails? How does one learn to trade options?

Must-Have Qualities

The qualities that you will need to succeed in my opinion are a commitment to success, having an options trading plan and the most important, mastering your emotions—or the psychology of options trading. I believe that options trading is one of the hardest jobs in the world (quite possibly the best, but one of the hardest aside from motherhood). This is a good explanation why it will probably take you a lot longer than you think before you really get a solid grip on it.

Commitment to Success

So let’s first talk about your commitment to success. This essentially sounds like the easiest of the three qualities to master doesn’t it? Why does anyone want to become a options trader in the first place? Probably, because they want to become wealthy and very successful. Who isn’t committed to that, right? All you need is some money, charts, and a platform and you are on your way. Almost everyone says they are committed but most people are not because when they find out options trading is work—and it is. They tend to lose their focus and their original goals when the going gets though.

Reaching Your Goals

If you are committed to success then you must be committed to reaching your goals. The most important part of having goals is to write them down. If you never write them down they are simply just dreams. We don’t want to dream we are a great trader we want to realize that we are! Only about 2% of Americans write down their goals. Is it really shocking to know that most people never achieve what they want out of life? As “corny” as it may seem, when you write something down no matter what, your thoughts are transformed from the subconscious to the conscious and are now tangible. Your goals have become something you can see and say out loud. If you never write them down they never exist outside of your thoughts.

Last Thoughts for Now

Let me leave you with this before I end this introduction on how we are going to build a great options trader out of you. I think everyone can agree whether you are a beginning options trader or a more experienced options trader that there are several key components you will need to do to become a standout. Having said this I also know that most of you will not be committed to do this at first. I know I wasn’t. I thought to myself I am too smart and I know how to options trade. I knew it would not be easy but I was unprepared for the results that followed. I’ll give you a hint, they weren’t good. After I decided to fully commit myself and write down my goals did my results finally change.

Let’s face it; options trading is a realm like no other. Options trading looks easy and which in turn makes you lazy to work at it. Be committed to your success and write down your goals right from the start will only help you achieve the success you are after that much quicker.

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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

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