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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

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

May 29, 2014

Implied Volatility is a Big Factor for Bull Put Spreads

Even though implied volatility has been relatively low in the market, there will be a day when it does rise again. Implied volatility (IV) by definition is the estimated future volatility of a stock’s price. More often than not, IV increases during a bearish market 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 make-believe environment, the CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX) has recently moved from 12 percent to about 18 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, 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

December 26, 2013

Gamma and AAPL

Many option traders will refer to the trifecta of option greeks as delta, theta and vega. But the next most important greek is gamma. Options gamma is a one of the so-called second-order options greeks. It is, if you will, 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 options 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 gamma:

When you buy options you get positive 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 January 565 long call that has a delta of 0.51 and gamma of 0.0115 , a trader makes money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and loses money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Positive gamma is a good thing.

When you sell options you get negative 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 gamma is a bad thing.

Start by understanding options gamma from this simple perspective. Then, later, worry about working in the math.

Happy New Year!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 18, 2013

Fractal Position Management

Option traders have to manage risk. Want a job description? That’s about it. Every trade has a risk and reward associated with it and traders must realize that especially when first learning how to trade. Because options are instruments of leverage, it is very easy to let risk get out of control, if you’re not careful. Traders must manage risk carefully, instituting tight reins on their options, spreads and portfolio. The management technique of each is essentially the same because position management is fractal.

Something that is fractal has a recurring pattern that has continuity within its scale. For example, a tree is fractal. A tree has a trunk with limbs extending from it; limbs with smaller branches extending from it; smaller branches with yet smaller branches; and leaves with veins that branch off within each leaf. The pattern is repetitive within each iteratively smaller extension of the last. This is found in option position management too.

Individual options have risk that must be managed. They have direction, time and volatility risk which are managed by setting thresholds for each of the corresponding greeks which measure them. When individual options are a part of a spread, the resulting spread has these same risks of direction time and volatility. The spread’s risk must consequently be managed likewise. A trader’s complete option portfolio, which may be comprised of many spreads has systematic risk in accordance to the market. These risks are the same as for individual options or individual spreads: direction, time and volatility. Traders should treat their all encompassing portfolio as a single spread and use the portfolio greeks to set parameters to minimize the total risk of the portfolio.

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

September 6, 2012

Butterflies and Weekly Options

The weekly options have been the topic of our blog many times before. Despite this topic being the trendy subject and in the forefront of many discussions, it is helpful to recognize the functional flexibility this dramatically shortened lifespan brings to a variety of option strategies. If you need to find out more about weekly options or other option strategies, feel free to visit the options education section on our website.

As an example, consider the case of a frequently traded spread vehicle, the butterfly. For those first encountering this strategy, it is helpful to consider briefly its components. It is constructed by establishing both a credit and a debit spread sharing a central strike price. It can be constructed in either all puts or all calls.

Butterflies can be designed to be either a non-directional or directional trade strategy. Functional characteristics include: negative vega, variable delta and accelerating gamma and theta during its life span. In the case of the long standing monthly duration option cycles which had heretofore been available, these characteristics developed over weeks to months and reached their final expression during the week of option expiration.

These functional characteristics have limited the utility of butterflies over brief duration moves occurring early in the options cycle. Many butterfly traders have had the experience of correctly predicting price action early in the cycle only to have the butterfly deliver little, if any, profit.

The short nine day duration of the weekly options has dramatically accelerated the pace of butterfly trading as the changes begin to occur literally over the extent of a few hours. As such, it is possible to gain the advantage of this trade structure over brief directional moves or in the case of non-directional traders to have market exposure for briefer periods of time.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

August 23, 2012

Fractal Position Management

Option traders manage risk. Want a job description? That’s about it. Every trade has a risk and reward associated with it and traders must realize that especially when first learning how to trade. But because options are instruments of leverage, it is very easy to let risk get out of control, if you’re not careful. Traders must manage risk carefully, instituting tight reins their options, spreads and portfolio. The management technique of each is essentially the same because position management is fractal.

Something that is fractal has a recurring pattern that has continuity within its scale. For example, a tree is fractal. A tree has a trunk with limbs extending from it; limbs with smaller branches extending from it; smaller branches with yet smaller branches; and leaves with veins that branch off within each leaf. The pattern is repetitive within each iteratively smaller extension of the last. This is found in option position management too.

Individual options have risk that must be managed. They have direction, time and volatility risk which are managed by setting thresholds for each of the corresponding greeks which measure them. When individual options are a part of a spread, the resulting spread has these same risks of direction time and volatility. The spread’s risk must consequently be managed likewise. A trader’s complete option portfolio, which may be comprised of many spreads has systematic risk in accordance to the market. These risks are the same as for individual options or individual spreads: direction, time and volatility. Traders should treat their all encompassing portfolio as a single, macro spread and use the portfolio greeks to set parameters to minimize the total risk of the portfolio.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 13, 2011

Options Gamma and You

Filed under: Options Education — Tags: , , , , , — Dan Passarelli @ 11:30 am

The trifecta of option greeks are delta, theta and vega. But the next most important greek is gamma. Options gamma is a one of the so-called second-order options greeks. It is, if you will, 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 options gamma can quickly become very mathematical and tedious for novice option traders. But, for newbies to option trading, here’s what you need to know:

When you buy options you get positive 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 a long call, that means you make money at an increasing rate as the stock rises and lose money at a decreasing rate as the stock falls. Positive gamma is a good thing.

When you sell options you get negative 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 gamma is a bad thing.

Start by understanding options gamma from this simplistic perspective. Then, later, worry about working in the math.