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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

June 26, 2014

Outright Call Options and Put Options

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

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

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

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

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

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 27, 2014

Directional Butterfly

Many option traders use butterfly spreads for a neutral outlook on the underlying. The position is structured to profit from time decay but with the added benefit of a “margin of error” around the position depending on what strike prices are chosen. Butterflies can be great market-neutral trades. However, what some traders don’t realize is that butterflies can also be great for trading directionally.

A Butterfly

The long butterfly spread involves selling two options at one strike and the purchasing options above and below equidistant from the sold strikes. This is usually implemented with all calls or all puts. The long options are referred to as the wings and the short options are the body; thus called a butterfly.

The trader’s objective for trading the long butterfly is for the stock to be trading at the body (short strikes) at expiration. The goal of the trade is to benefit from time decay as the stock moves closer to the short options strike price at expiration. The short options expire worthless or have lost significant value; and the lower strike call on a long call butterfly or higher strike put for a long put butterfly have intrinsic value. Maximum loss (cost of the spread) is achieved if the stock is trading at or below the lower (long) option strike or at or above the upper (long) option strike.

Directional Butterfly

What may not be obvious to novice traders is that butterfly spreads can be used directionally by moving the body (short options) of the butterfly out-of-the-money (OTM) and maybe using slightly wider strike prices for the wings (long options). This lets the trader make a directional forecast on the stock with a fairly large profit zone depending on the width of the wings.

To implement a directional butterfly, a trader needs to include both price and time in his outlook for the stock. This can be the most difficult part for either a neutral or directional butterfly; picking the time the stock will be trading in the profit zone. Sometimes the stock will reach the area too soon and sometimes not until after expiration. If the trader picks narrow wings (tighter strikes), he can lower the cost of the spread. If the trader desires a bigger profit zone (larger strikes), he can expand the wings of the spread and the breakevens but that also increases the cost of the trade. It’s a trade-off.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages of a directional butterfly spread is that it can be a relatively low risk and high reward strategy depending on how the spread is designed. Maybe one of the biggest disadvantages of a directional butterfly spread is that its maximum profit potential is reached close to expiration. But being patient can be very good for a trader…most of the time!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 3, 2013

Keeping Options Simple

At first, options can be a very complex entity to understand. But if a trader looks at things from a fundamental perspective, it may become clearer. The options world is ruled by three basic forces consisting of: price of the underlying, time to options expiration, and implied volatility (IV). Trades are most profitably constructed when the trader considers the impact each of these three forces has when designing the architecture of the options trade under consideration.

For the new options traders, learning about options and the impact of these three fundamental forces may be confusing and the magnitude of the influence of each on the profitability of trades is easily under-appreciated. Failure to consider each of these forces and its individual effect will reduce the probability of a successful trade. Since most option traders start out as being stock traders where “only price pays” the initial reluctance and hesitation to consider additional factors impacting a trade is easily understood.

In order to help understand the initially confusing manner in which options respond to their outside and inside forces, it is helpful to breakdown an option’s price into its two components: extrinsic value and intrinsic value. Remember that the quoted price of an option reflects the sum of the intrinsic (if any) and extrinsic values. Intrinsic value of an option is that portion of the premium which is in-the-money and is impacted solely by the price of the underlying. Extrinsic value is also known as time premium and is impacted by both time to expiration and IV.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

August 8, 2013

The Fed’s Bernanke is Having His Cake and Eating It Too

OK. I want to hire Ben Bernanke to run my PR (not that I have a PR guy, but if I did…). He’s a gosh-darn brilliant spin-doctor. What am I talking about? OK. Here’s the trading world we’re living in these days:

There is good economic news… The market goes up. It’s good news, after all!

There is bad economic news… The market goes up. The Fed won’t taper and will keep propping the market up!

How can you lose?!

These, of course, are famous last words. If I had a nickel for every time an over-confident novice trader told me how he just can’t lose… Well, let’s just say I’d have a lot of nickels.

The fact is you can lose. This market-news paradigm cannot last forever (and, yes. I know that right now I’m alienating those cocky, over confident novice traders. But I’m only trying to help you keep that money you’ve made with your “can’t lose system”!)

The market simply can’t keep going up forever with disregard to economic news. Sorry. It just can’t. At some point, it is time to pay the piper.

Solution?

Be the piper.

It’s all timing. Early in my career, I worked (as a clerk, before I became a floor trader) for a trading firm run by a brilliant man. In the 90s, his model said the market was over priced. There were internet companies that flat out told investors they would not make money in the foreseeable future that doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled in share price. Were they overpriced? Yes. But that didn’t stop the stocks from rising violently. But one day (as we market historians know) that bubble burst. After fighting the market for a few years, the boss was finally right. By that point, he’d lost millions and had to abandon his strategy and never recouped what he lost. Once his ship finally came in, he missed the boat.

So the question of the day is, when will this market pull back? We’re starting to see signs now. I was just chatting with a CME Group floor-trader friend of mine today. He told me about how the Fed Funds contract was pricing in higher interest rates in the near future. Translation: The fix is in! The Fed Funds contract is an excellent predictor of future interest rates. Higher interest rates means the market will end its climb to the nose-bleed seats and sit and rest.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily predicting a bursting bubble like we saw with the internet stocks. I’m just saying the sweet ride long-term stock investors have enjoyed is coming to a close soon.

But, we’re option traders. What do we care?! Option traders can make money either way. Once the market starts pulling back, there are going to be call credit spread opportunities galore. The implied volatility will likely return some—probably to the mid-teens. And the market will probably drift somewhat lower—or at least not rise.

And so, we start to wait with a watchful eye. We start looking for some of these call credit spread opportunities now (like the WYNN trade John talked about in Group Coaching this week). And we wait as more set ups transpire.

Bernanke might not be long for being able to continue enjoying his cake, but we option traders can always get a piece of the pie.

Dan Passarelli

CEO

Market Taker Mentoring

May 30, 2013

Waiting for a Top: Is There a Bear Market Coming?

Filed under: Options Education — Tags: , , , , , , — Dan Passarelli @ 12:57 pm

It’s been a good run this year so far. The market is up over 17 percent as I write this post. Many traders would say that market conditions are not fundamentally much different than they were on January 1. But the market apparently is not aware of that fact. Most of the professional traders I’ve talked to are looking for a market pullback, if not a bonifide retracement.

But, do you know what these same bear market seeking traders are not doing? They are not getting short. That’s right. These smart money traders who believe the market is too high and should come down won’t touch a put with a 10-foot pole. Why? There is no bear market technical set up.

In order to properly craft a downside option trade, the bear market set up has to be there. Right now, we have an SPX chart that has no resistance to speak of. There are no lower lows. There are no signs of being strongly over extended with any indicator. There are no bear market patterns. Technically, there is no reason to sell.

Of course, that is not to say these traders are buying however. They are trading very cautiously, as if they are planning which block to remove from an already rickety Jenga tower.

This, I believe, is one of the reasons why we’re seeing such weird VIX trading lately. Typically VIX and SPX move in opposite directions. Or at least, 87 percent of the time they do, historically. But not lately. We’ve seen plenty of times over the past few weeks where as the market rises, so does the VIX. Why? I think it’s because when the market rises, the smart money doesn’t step in and put their money down on stocks. They instead buy limited-risk calls and keep the bulk of their cash in a protected money market account. One could look at a call as a hedge. Traders can hedge against missing out on a rally, while keeping most of their cash safe by buying a call instead of buying stock.

So, when is it time to get short? When will there be a REAL bear market? We’ll have to wait for the technicals to give us something to trade. IF, and when, that happens, it could be a doozie.

Dan Passarelli

CEO

Market Taker Mentoring

May 9, 2013

Stock Option Picks Require Analyzing the Overall Market as Well as Individual Stock Assessment

Making stock option picks with huge profit potentials, whether the market is up or down, depends on diligent market research and a thorough understanding of stock option fundamentals.

Finding profitable trading opportunities can be tough. But you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Some professional trader services, such as Market Taker’s Group Options Coaching, make stock option picks that they share with protégés, saving individual traders time and effort.

But whether you do your own research or rely on a seasoned professional for your stock option picks, its essential to understand some basic facts about options trading.

Making stock option picks based on individual stock assessment requires an understanding of specific fundamental parameters. Traders may learn how to read an annual report and 10K stockholders report for income statements, past earnings, sales, assets, new products, and overall industry trends.

Stock option picks based on technical analysis is essential for success and requires the investor to examine the historical price movement and volume in order to determine price patterns and extrapolate future price movements. The single most important technical analysis technique is the simplest: Support and resistance lines. Specifically, horizontal support and resistance lines at the same price level in two or more time frames.

Stock option picks based on broad market analysis examines overall activity based on performance indices. Is the overall market bullish (moving up), bearish (moving down) or neutral (moving sideways)? The broad market will affect individual equities.

Stock option picks based on psychological market indicators attempts to interpret the facts and gauge whether a change from bullish to bearish (or vice versa) is in the wind. Successful options traders are frequently contrarians who buy puts in a bullish market and purchase calls in a bearish market — against convention.

Bottom line, a lot goes into stock option picks. The help of a professional with experience in “putting it all together” can make the process easier and can result in better trade ideas with greater profit potential.

Enroll today and take a step towards better trading.

May 2, 2013

Delta Explained in Simple Terms

If you have been on an options trading floor, you may have heard comments like these for example. “What’s your delta of of the Cubs winning today?” (not good of course) or “What’s the delta the broker comes back and buys more of these?” Option traders have probably used the word delta in this context every single day of their life and if you learn to trade options like a professional, you may too.

It’s the “traders’ definition” of delta—that is, delta is the likelihood of an option expiring in-the-money. Though this definition actually has a few mathematical and theoretical shortcomings, making it not entirely technically correct, every professional option trader I know or Dan knows thinks about delta this way. Many if not most traders borrow the concept of delta being the likelihood of success and adapt into their every-day speech.

The idea is every option has an associated delta figure attached to it. Like, at the time of this writing, the Google Inc. (GOOG) May 830 calls have a 0.30 delta. That means that they change in value 30 percent like the GOOG stock. But it can also be interpreted by traders to mean that the GOOG May 830 calls have a 30-percent chance of expiring in-the-money.

This practical and “traders” use of delta helps guide traders’ expectations and helps them make better trading decisions by factoring probability into their decision-making process. I encourage retail traders to think about option delta this way. You should start today and see if it affects how you think about options and the possible different strategies that can be implemented. I’m 100 delta that you’ll be happy you did.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 4, 2013

Historical and Implied Volatility

Dan mentioned recently in a blog that VIX (CBOE Implied Volatility Index) was hovering around a six year low. With the market seemingly on the edge lately due to global events like North Korea and Cyprus, 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.

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 20implied 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

March 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Passarelli

CEO

Market Taker Mentoring

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