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June 25, 2015

Long Calls and Bull Call Spreads

With Nasdaq trading around all-time closing highs and the S&P 500 currently threatening its all-time highs recently, 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 $250, formed a bullish base and then closed above resistance at around $253. 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 June 255 call was purchased for 8.00 and one June 260 call was sold for 6.00 resulting in a net debit of $2 (8 – 6). The difference in the strike prices is $5 (260 – 255). 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 $257 (the strike price of the purchased call (255) 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 June 255 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

May 28, 2015

Option Gamma and AAPL

Many option traders will refer to option delta as the most important option greek. It is debatable but in my opinion the next most important greek for me is option gamma. Option gamma is a one of the so-called second-order option greeks. It is, in theory, a derivative of a derivative. Specifically, it is the rate of change of an option’s delta relative to a change in the underlying security.

Using option gamma can quickly become very mathematical and tedious for novice option traders. But, for newbies to option trading, here’s what you need to learn to trade using option gamma:

When you buy options you get positive option gamma. That means your deltas always change in your favor. You get longer deltas as the market rises; and you get short deltas as the market falls. For a simple trade like an AAPL June 131 long call that has an option delta of 0.56 and option gamma of 0.0588 , a trader makes money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and loses money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Positive option gamma is a good thing.

When you sell options you get negative option gamma. That means your deltas always change to your detriment. You get shorter deltas as the market rises; and you get longer deltas as the market falls. Here again, for a simple trade like a short call, that means you lose money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and make money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Negative option gamma is a bad thing.

Start by understanding option gamma from this simple perspective. Then, later, worry about figuring out the math, even if a calculator is still needed!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 14, 2015

Adjustments to Option Positions

Although I personally do not like using the word “adjustments” with options trading (I prefer new outlook), there are many times they need to be done. Adjusting option positions is an essential skill for options traders. Adjusting options positions helps traders repair strategies that have gone wrong (or are beginning to go wrong) and often turn losers into winners. Given that, it’s easy to see why it’s important to learn to adjust options positions.

Adjusting 101

Adjusting options positions is a technique in which a trader simply alters an existing options position to create a fundamentally different position. Traders are motivated to adjust options positions when the market physiology changes and the original trade no longer reflects the trader’s thesis. There is one golden rule of trading: ALWAYS make sure your position reflects your outlook.

This seems like a very obvious rule. And at the onset of any trade, it is. If I’m bullish, I’m going to take a positive delta position. If I think a stock will be range-bound, I’d take a close-to-zero delta trade that has positive theta to profit from sideways movement as time passes. But the problem is gamma. Gamma is the fly in the ointment of option trading.

Gamma

Gamma—particularly negative gamma—is the cause of the need for adjusting.

Gamma definition: Gamma is the rate of change of an option’s (or option position’s) delta relative to a change in the underling.

Oh, yeah. And, just in case you forgot…

Delta definition: Delta is the rate of change on an option’s (or option position’s) price relative to a change in the underlying.

In the case of negative gamma, trader’s deltas always change the wrong way. When the underlying moves higher, the trader gets shorter delta (and loses money at an increasing rate). When the underlying moves lower, negative gamma makes deltas longer (again, causing the trader to lose money at an increasing rate).

Finally

Option traders must learn to adjust options positions, especially income trades, in order to stave off adverse deltas created by the negative gamma that accompanies income trades. Once an option trader has a good grip on what changes need to be made based on his or her new outlook, potential profit can be an adjustment away!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 7, 2015

Historical and Implied Volatility

With the market supposedly heading towards the slower summer months, it is always important but probably even more so 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 especially when the volatility of the underlying may be reduced. But analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility is often an overlooked process making some trades losers from the start.

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 20 historical volatility is less volatile than a stock with a 25 historical volatility. Additionally, a stock with a historical volatility of 35 now is more volatile than it was when its historical volatility was, say, 20.

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.

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.

Volatility chart practitioners 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 sale; if it is below its normal level it may 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. 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 which is precisely what every trader needs!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 23, 2015

Determining Option Strategies on NFLX

Compared to trading equities, there are so many more option strategies available to an option trader. But more importantly: Do you know why there are so many different types of options strategies? This is the real root of our discussion and why getting a proper options education can help a trader better understand all of those strategies and when and how to use them.

Different options strategies exist because each one serves a unique purpose for a unique market condition. For example, take bullish NFLX traders. Now that the stock has recently gapped up big after earnings and has broken through several resistance areas and is now trading around its all-time high, there are traders who continue to be extremely bullish on the stock. Some option traders want to get more bang for their buck and buy short-term out-of-the-money calls. This might not be the most prudent way to capture profits but that is a discussion for another time. Less bullish traders might buy at- or in-the-money calls. Traders bullish just to a point may buy a limited risk/limited reward bull call spread. If implied volatility is high (which it currently is not but it has been rising) and the trader is bullish just to a point, the trader might sell a bull put spread (credit spread), and so on.

The differences in options strategies, no matter how apparently minor, help traders exploit something slightly different each time. Traders should consider all the nuances that affect the profitability (or potential loss) of an option position and, in turn, structure a position that addresses each difference. Traders need to consider the following criteria:

  • Directional bias
  • Degree of bullishness or bearishness
  • Conviction
  • Time horizon
  • Risk/reward
  • Implied volatility
  • Bid-ask spreads
  • Commissions
  • And more

Carefully defining your outlook and intentions and selecting the best options strategies makes all the difference in a trader’s long-term success. Leaving money on the table with winners, or taking losses bigger than necessary can be unfortunate byproducts of selecting inappropriate options strategies. With summer coming soon and supposedly the slow markets, now is a great time to spend optimizing your options strategies over the next few weeks to build the habit!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 12, 2015

Implied Volatility and Bull Put Spreads

Implied volatility (IV) has been relatively low in the market until recently. With recent downturn in the market, some implied volatility levels have increased of of their recent lows. Implied volatility by definition is the estimated future volatility of a stock’s price. More often than not, IV increases during a bearish market (or a sell off like we have been seeing) and decreases during a bullish market. The reasoning behind this comes from the belief that a bearish market is more risky than a bullish market. The jury is still out on whether this current bullish market can continue through the summer but regardless, now may be a good time to review a strategy that can take advantage of higher implied volatility even if it doesn’t happen this week. Option traders need to be prepared for all types of trading environments.

Reasoning and Dimensions

Selling bull put spreads during a period of high implied volatility can be a wise strategy, as options are more “expensive” and an option trader will receive a higher premium than if he or she sold the bull put spread during a time of low or average implied volatility. In addition, if the implied volatility decreases over the life of the spread, the spread’s premium will also decrease based on the option vega of the spread. Option vega measures the option’s sensitivity to changes in the volatility of the underlying asset. The implied volatility may decrease if the market or the underlying moves higher.

Outlook and the VIX

Let’s take a look at an example of selling a bull put spread during a time of high implied volatility. In this recent environment, the CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX) has recently moved from just below 14 percent to about 17 percent in about two weeks which was accompanied by a decline in the market over that same time period. The VIX measures the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options and it typically represents the market’s expectation of stock market volatility. Usually when the VIX rises, so does the implied volatility of options. Despite the drop, let’s say a trader is fairly bullish on XYZ stock. With the option premiums increased because of the implied volatility increasing, a trader decides to sell a bull put spread on XYZ, which is trading around $53 in this example.

Selling the Spread

To sell a bull put spread, the trader might sell one put option contract at the 52.5 strike and buy one at the 50 strike. The short 52.5 put has a price of 1.90, in this example, and the 50 strike is at 0.90. The net premium received is 1.00 (1.90 – 0.90) which is the maximum profit potential. Maximum profit would be achieved if XYZ closed above $52.50 at expiration. The most the trader can lose is 1.50 (2.50 – 1.00) which is the difference between the strike prices minus the credit received. The bull put spread would break even if the stock is at $51.50 ($52.50 – $1.00) at expiration. In other words, XYZ can fall $0.50 and the spread would still be at its maximum profit potential at expiration. If the VIX was still at 12 percent like it had been previously, the implied volatility of these options could be lower and the trader might only be able to sell the spread for 0.90 versus 1.00 when it was at 18%. Subsequently the max loss would be 0.10 higher too. In addition, if the IV decreases before expiration (like it has been known to do if the underlying rises), the spread will also decrease based on the option vega which could decrease the spread’s premium faster than if the IV stayed the same or if it rose.

Final Thoughts

When examining possible option plays and implied volatility is at a level higher than normal, traders may be drawn to credit spreads like the bull put spread. The advantage of a correctly implemented bull put spread is that it can profit from either a neutral or bullish move in the stock and selling premium that is higher than normal.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 22, 2015

Hedging Risk in Potential Take-Over Stocks

Several days ago, there was a rumor that Samsung was planning on acquiring smartphone maker BlackBerry Limited (BBRY) and the stock shot up over 25%. The rumors so far have failed to materialize. That being said, let’s look at an made-up example of a take-over and a way to use options to capture the possible move. A $50 stock is rumored to be taken out at $55. Looks like a nice spec trade right? You go to the option chain to look for some calls to buy and you notice that the options have gotten pretty expensive. Implied volatility has skyrocketed. Sometimes implied volatility can make options so expensive that even if the trade goes your way the profit is just not there–but the risk is. So, what’s an options trader to do?

One solution can be to buy a bull call spread instead of the outright call. The rationale? It’s called hedging–hedging volatility premium. Whenever you buy options, you’re getting long implied volatility. If implied volatility is expensive, the options are expensive too. And if implied volatility subsequently falls after you make the trade, those options drop in value too. So, what if you both buy and sell an option to create a spread? Let’s look at the two legs of a bull call spread

Bull Call Spread – Long Leg

A bull call spread is when a trader buys one call and sells another that has a higher strike price. Look at it as two trades. The long call would be the one you might buy if you were to spec on the take-over stock. In the case of a take over, this call likely has high implied volatility as the market scrambles to buy up calls, making it pricey.

Bull Call Spread – Short Leg

Because there is a target price in which the take-over target is expected to be bought, you only need exposure up to a certain point–the take-over price. Why not sell a call at or above the expected take-over price? You’re not giving up upside. But you are taking in (expensive) premium to hedge the (expensive) premium you’re buying with the long call leg. It’s a perfect spread.

Example

Let’s look at this in terms of absolute risk. A stock currently trading for $50 is rumored for take over at $55. News is expected within a couple of weeks.

Buy 1 February 50 call at $4

Sell 1 February 55 call at $2

Net debit $2

Max loss = $2 (That’s better than just buying the 50 calls outright)

Max gain = $3 (That’s the $5 spread minus the $2 premium)

Break even = $52 (That’s $50 strike plus $2 spread premium)

Here the max loss/max gain ratio of the spread is 2:3. The max loss/max gain ratio of the outright call would be 4:1 (Remember, you expect the stock only to rise to $55). The spread looks better so far. Let’s look at the break evens. The spread break-even is $52. The outright call’s break even is $54. Better still.

Wrap Up

With all option strategies, there are opportune times when they offer an advantage over an alternative strategy. Bull call spreads and take-over candidates are a natural fit. Traders always need to look for ways to construct the smartest position in terms of risk-reward.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 14, 2015

Implied Volatility May Continue to Swing

The last several months, the market has shown some good movement with some wild swings. The S&P 500 and Dow set their all-time highs once again, and then promptly moved lower. Now we are about to start the next 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. High is giid for selling and low is good for buying option premium.

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.

Now you know a little more about how implied volatility can affect options, it is time to put that knowledge to use and get the edge in your trades!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

November 25, 2014

Weekly Options and Theta

There are so many different characteristics of options that I talk a lot about with my options coaching students. But one of the more popular subjects is that premium sellers see the most dramatic erosion of the time value (option theta) of options they have sold during the last week of the options cycle. Most premium sellers strive to keep the options they have sold short (also known as options they have “written”) out-of-the-money (OTM) in order that the entirety of the premium they have sold represents time (extrinsic) premium and is subject to this rapid time decay.

With 12 monthly cycles, there historically have been only 12 of these final weeks per year in which premium sellers have seen the maximum benefit of their core strategy. The continued and expanding use of weekly options has changed the playing field. Options with one week durations are available on several indices and several hundred different stocks. These options have been in existence since October 2005 but only in the past couple of years have they gained widespread recognition and achieved sufficient trading volume to have good liquidity. Further now, there are even more weeklys that go for consecutive weeks (1 week options, 2 week options, 3 week options, 4 week options and 5 week options).

Standard trading strategies employed by premium sellers can be executed in these options. The advantage is to gain the “sweet spot” of the time decay of premium without having to wait through the entirety of the 4 to 5 week option cycle. In addition, it gives premium-selling option traders even more choices to take advantage of option theta. The party never ends for premium sellers using these innovative methods. Of course there is a trade-off because the shorter the time there is left until expiration, the smaller the option premiums are compared to an option with a longer expiration. As option traders, we are used to tradeoffs.

Option traders interested in using these weeklys MUST understand settlement procedures and be aware of last days for trading. An excellent discussion of weeklies given by Dan Passarelli is available at Learn to Trade Weeklys. enjoy the Holidays!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 25, 2014

The World Series and Exits for an Options Trader

The World Series playoffs are about to begin and it is the most exciting time of the year if you are a fan of baseball. But did you ever stop and think for a minute how these fantastic athletes got to be where they are? It took a lot of dedication, courage and a well thought out plan to make it to their elite level. If that sounds familiar it should because those same attributes are what it takes to learn to trade and become a successful options trader.

Need a Plan

You might be dedicated and have the courage to be an options trader, but do you have a trading plan that you follow? I talk to a lot of option traders and sadly it is true. Option traders spend a lot of time looking for solid trades that they often neglect probably the most important part: the management of the trade. If that is you take a little solace because you are not alone.

A simple way to combat this problem is by having a plan in place before even entering the trade. This is the psychological part of trading. Having a plan in place will remove emotions from getting in the way of decision making and possibly producing unwanted results. Should I stay in the trade or should I exit? Decisions like that should not be made after the trade is executed because many option traders can become too emotional when the trade is in progress especially when they are losing money on the trade. Here are a few things to consider about trade management.

Plan Should Include Determining Exits

Option traders should think about how they are determining their exits for profit and loss. Don’t forget to consider how the greeks and the implied volatility may be affected if the outlook or environment changes. In a volatile market like this, an options trader may need to make some adjustments especially about taking early profits or exiting for a loss.

I generally determine my exits two ways; a certain percentage or based on the chart. When using a certain percentage, I determine how much percentage-wise I am winning to risk on the trade and what percentage I am looking to take profits. When using the chart, I determine at what levels I will exit my position for a loss if that area is violated and I always look to take some profit off if the stock comes into an area I deem a target area (maybe a support or resistance level).

Option traders should also think about how they will exit if their targets are not met. How will the exit or stop be determined? Once again, don’t forget to use the greeks and implied volatility in your methods because it could make the difference between profiting or losing.

Finally

All trading including option trading can be very difficult at times just like training to be a professional athlete and appear in the World Series. Not having plan in place can make it exponentially more difficult and determining exits is just one part of that plan. It helps to have courage and be dedicated to reaching your goals but a solid trading plan can go a long way towards potential success. Athletes that train without a plan are similar to option traders letting their emotions make decisions for them. Once there is well thought out plan in place and most importantly the plan is followed, an option trader removes unwanted emotions which can hinder his or her chances of being successful.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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