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December 11, 2014

The Iron Condor

An iron condor occurs when a trader combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It is essentially combining two credit spreads as one trade. The trade is executed by buying a lower-strike out-of-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put with a higher strike. Then the trader sells an out-of-the-money call with a higher strike and buys another out-of-the-money call with an even higher strike. Learning to trade more advanced option strategies like an iron condor is not essential for option traders but it can give you more means in which to possibly extract money from the market.

A short iron condor consists of four legs as described above and results in a net credit received. As for profit potential, the maximum potential profit is the initial credit received upon entering the trade. This profit will occur if the underlying stock price, on expiration date, is between the two middle (short) strikes.

One of the rationales behind selling an iron condor is implied volatility (implied volatility is – simply defined – the volatility component of an option price). When IV is inflated (meaning the implied volatility has pushed the option price higher) it lifts the premium values for option sellers. In addition, the profitable range on the short iron condor can be rather large depending on how it is implemented. Certainly the larger the profitable range, the smaller the maximum profit and the greater the risk. The smaller the profitable range,  the larger the maximum profit will be and there will be less overall risk but there is less of a chance the underlying will remain in that range. Like many spreads in option trading, there is a trade-off.

One of the benefits of a short iron condor (and potentially options in general) is limited risk. For short condors, the maximum loss comes when the underlying stock price drops below the lowest strike (long put) or above the highest strike (long call). If you want an equation for max loss, think of it as the difference in strike prices of the two lower-strike options (or the two higher-strike options) less the initial credit for entering the trade.

Being that earnings season is mostly behind us, it is not a major concern at this time. But when the season does return (and it will),  it may be best to construct the iron condor to expire before the actual announcement. If not, then it may be best to exit the trade before the announcement especially if the trade is profitable up to that point.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

August 28, 2014

Short-Term Put Options

Last week we talked about short-term call options and this week I thought it would be appropriate to discuss short-term put options. The mentality behind short-term put options is probably different than the mentality behind short-term call options. Many times option traders consider short-term put options as a means of protection. With the market extended and the possibility of stocks moving lower in the near future, it might be a good time to talk about put options.

If a trader buys a put option, he or she has the right to sell the underlying at a particular price (strike price) before a certain time (expiration). If a trader owns 100 shares of stock and purchases a put option, the trader may be able to protect the position fully or to some degree because he or she will have the right to sell the stock at the strike price by expiration even if the shares lose value.

Some investors who are looking to protect an investment only consider buying short-term puts, or front-month puts for protection. The problem however, is that there is a flaw to the reasoning of purchasing short-term put options as protection. Similar to short-term call options, the contracts have a higher option theta (time decay) and relying on short-term puts to protect a straight stock purchase is not necessarily the best way to protect the stock.

Although short-term puts may be cheaper than longer expiration puts, if an option trader was to continually purchase short-term puts as protection, it could end up being a rather expensive way to insure the stock particularly if the stock never declines to the short-term puts strike price. If a put option with a longer expiration was purchased, it would certainly cost more initially, but time decay (premium eroding) would be less of a factor due to a smaller initial option theta. Here is an example using short-term put options.

Using a hypothetical trade, let’s say a stock is trading slightly above $13 and our hypothetical trader wants to by the stock because he or she thinks the stock will beat its earnings’ estimates in each of the next two quarters. This investment will take at least six months because the trader is counting on the earning reports to move the stock higher.

Being a smart options trader, our trader wants some insurance against a potential drop in the stock just in case. The trader decides to buy a slightly out-of-the-money September 13 put, which carries an ask price of 0.50 (rounded for simplicity purposes). That $0.50 premium represents almost 4 percent of the current stock price. In fact, if the option trader rolled the short-term put option month after month, it would create a big dent in the initial outlay of cash. After about seven months (assuming the stock hangs around $13 and each monthly put option costs 0.50) the trader would lose more than 25 percent on the $13 investment.

If the stock drops in price, then the ultimate rationalization for the strategy is realized; protection. The put provides a hedge. The value of the option will increase as the stock drops, which can offset the loss suffered as the stock drops.

Buying a put option is a hedge and can be considered a decent insurance policy for a stock investment. Buying short-term put options as a hedge can make it an extra expensive hedge due to time decay (option theta). Option traders and investors can usually find better ways to protect a stock. To learn new and different approaches, please visit the Learn to Trade section of our website.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

August 21, 2014

Short-Term Call Options

With the market once again considering a move higher as earnings wind down, it might be a good time to talk about call options. When an option trader buys a call option, he or she has the right to buy the underlying at a particular price (strike price) before a certain time (expiration). Keep in mind that just because the option trader has the right to buy the stock, doesn’t mean that he or she has to necessarily do so. The call option just like a put option can be sold anytime up until expiration for a profit or loss.

A lot of traders especially those who are just learning to trade options can fall in love with call options and especially short-term call options because they are cheaper than call options with longer expirations. We can classify short-term call options as call options that expire in less than thirty days for the sake of this discussion. But there is a potential problem with purchasing short-term call options. The shorter the amount of time that is purchased, the higher the option theta (time decay) will be. The higher the time decay, the quicker the premium will erode away the call option’s premium. The call option may be cheaper due to a shorter time until expiration, but it may not be worth it overall. Let us take a look.

With Tesla Motors (TSLA) trading around $260 last week, an option trader might have considered call options to profit from an expected move higher. He could have purchased the August 260 calls for 3.30 that expired in 3 days. Yes, the options are cheap and yes they will profit if TSLA moves up vigorously in the next couple of days. But the option theta is 0.70 on the call options meaning they will lose $0.70 for everyday that passes with all other variables being held constant, In fact if the stock trades sideways, the option theta will increase the closer it gets to expiration since there is currently no intrinsic value (the in-the-money portion of the option’s premium) on the call options.

If an option trader purchased the September 260 calls for TSLA, it would have cost him 12.00 and it would have made the at-expiration breakeven point of the trade $272 (260 + 12) versus only $263.30 (263 + 3.30) with the August call options. But the major benefit to buying further out is option theta. The September 260 calls had an option theta of 0.15 meaning for every day that passes, the option premium would decrease $0.15 based on the option theta and all other variables being held constant. This is certainly a smaller percentage of a loss based on option theta for the September options (1.25%) versus the August options (21.21%) especially if the stock trades sideways or moves very little.

Fast forward to August expiration, TSLA closed basically at $262. The August 260 call would have expired with an intrinsic value of $2 (262 – 260). If the option trader did nothing up until expiration, the long August 260 call would have lost $1.30 (3.30 – 2) because there would be no time value (option theta) left and only the intrinsic value. The September 260 call would have lost approximately $0.45 (3 X 0.15) in theta but also gained $1 (2 X 0.50) from delta based on a delta of 0.50 and a $2 (262 – 260) move higher. The September 260 calls would now be worth $12.55 (12 + 0.55) and profited $0.55 (12.55 – 12).

Having enough time until expiration is a critical element when an option trader is considering buying options like the call options we talked about above. Keep in mind that as a general rule, options lose value over time and the option theta starts to accelerate even more with 30 days or less left until expiration. Buying a call option with more time until expiration will certainly cost more than one with less time but the benefits, including having a smaller option theta, might be worth the more expensive price especially if the underlying fails to move higher.

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

June 12, 2014

Homeruns and OTM Call Options

This past week in Group Coaching, a student asked me about buying deep out-of-the money (OTM) options. Many option traders especially those that are new initially buy deep out-of-the-money options because they are cheap and can offer a huge reward. Unfortunately many times, these “cheap” options are rarely a bargain. Don’t get me wrong, at first glance an OTM call that costs $0.25 may seem like a steal. If it works out, it could turn into a real homerun as they say in baseball; maybe even a grand slam. But if the call’s strike price is say $20 or $30 (depending on the stock price) above the market and the stock has never rallied that much before in the amount of time until expiration, the option will likely expire worthless or close to it.

Negative Factors

Many factors work against the success of a deep OTM call from profiting. The call’s delta (rate of change of an option relative to a change in the underlying) will typically be so small that even if the stock starts to rise, the call’s premium will not increase much. In addition, option traders will still have to overcome the bid-ask spread (the difference between the buy and sell price) which might be anywhere from $0.05 to $0.15 or even more for illiquid options.

Option traders that tend to buy the cheapest calls available are probably calls that have the shortest time left until expiration. If an OTM call option expires in less than thirty days, its time decay measured by theta (rate of change of an option given a unit change in time) will be often larger than the delta especially for higher priced and more volatile stocks. Any potential gains from the stock rising in price can be negated by the time decay. Plus each day the OTM call option premium will decrease if the stock drops, trades sideways or rallies just a tad.

Final Thoughts

A deep OTM call option can become profitable only if the stock unexpectedly jumps much higher. If the stock does rise sharply, an OTM call option can hit the proverbial homerun and post impressive gains. The question option traders need to ask themselves is how much are they willing to lose waiting for the stock to rise knowing that the odds are unlikely for it to happen in the first place? Trades like these have very low odds and may be better suited for the casino then the trading floor.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 22, 2014

When Investors Should Consider a Collar Strategy

A collar strategy is an option strategy that can particularly benefit investors. In this blog we have a lot more options education for traders and less for long-term investors so here is a strategy both can consider. A collar is simply holding shares of stock and buying a put and selling a call. Usually both the call and the put are out-of-the money (OTM) when establishing this option combination. A basic single collar represents one long put and one short call along with 100 shares of the underlying stock. A collar strategy is frequently implemented after stock (investment) has increased in price. The main objective of a collar is to protect profits that have accrued from the shares of stock rather than increasing returns. Is that an option strategy you might consider? Let’s take a look.

Why a Collar?

Since the market has been on a rather a bullish run and there are a plethora of stocks that have increased in value, it might be a good time to talk about them. One option strategy is to buy a put. The investor has some protection for the unrealized profits in case the stock declines. The other part of the combination is selling the OTM call. By doing this, the investor is prepared to sell his or her shares of stock if the call is exercised because the stock has moved above the call’s strike price.

Advantages

The advantage of a collar strategy over just buying a protective put is being able to pay for some or the entire put by selling the call. In essence, an investor buys downside stock protection for free or almost free of charge. Until the investor exercises the put, sells the stock or has the call assigned, he or she will retain the stock.

Volatility and Time Decay

Even though implied volatility (IV) has been really low over the last several months in the market, volatility and also time decay are not usually big issues when it comes to a collar strategy. The simple explanation is because the investor is long one option and short another so the effects of volatility and time decay will generally offset each other.

An example:

An investor could have bought 100 shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) in December of last year for about $28 a share. At the time of this writing the stock has climbed to $38.40 a share and the investor is worried about the current market conditions being extended to the upside and protecting his unrealized gains. The investor can utilize a collar strategy.

The investor can buy a June 37 put for 0.75. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $37. At the same time the investor can sell a June 39 call for 1.00. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.25 (1 – .75). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $0.60 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.

Three Possible Outcomes

The stock finishes over $38 at June expiration. If this scenario happens, another $0.60 per share is realized on the stock and $25 on the net credit of the combination is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes between $37 and $39 at June expiration. In this case, both options expire worthless. The stock is retained and the $25 net credit is the investors to keep.

The stock finishes below $37 at June expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $37. Either way the $25 net credit is the investors to keep.

Conclusion

The nice thing about a collar strategy is that an investor knows the potential losses and gains right from the start. If the stock climbs higher, the profits may be curbed due to the short call but if the stock takes a dive, the investor has protection due to the long put and protection might not be such a bad idea if the market corrects itself. Even an investor can benefit from some options education!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

March 6, 2014

Weekly Options and Time Decay

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 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 widespread 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 weeklys that go for consecutive weeks (1 week options, 2 week options, 3 week options, 4 week options and 5 week options) that were just late last year.

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. 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.

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.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 16, 2014

A Short Iron Condor

A short condor occurs when a trader combines a bear call spread and a bull put spread. It is essentially combining two credit spreads as one trade. The trade is executed by buying a lower-strike out-of-the-money put and selling an out-of-the-money put with a higher strike. Then the trader sells an out-of-the-money call with a higher strike and buys another out-of-the-money call with an even higher strike. Learning to trade more advanced option strategies like an iron condor is not essential for option traders but it can give you more means in which to possibly extract money from the market.

One of the rationales behind selling an iron condor is implied volatility (implied volatility is – simply defined – the volatility component of an option price). When IV is inflated (meaning the implied volatility has pushed the option price higher) it lifts the premium values for option sellers. In addition, the profitable range on the short iron condor is can be rather large depending on how it is implemented.

A short iron condor consists of four legs and results in a net credit received. As for profit potential, the maximum potential profit is the initial credit received upon entering the trade. This profit will occur if the underlying stock price, on expiration date, is between the two middle (short) strikes.

One of the benefits of a short iron condor (and potentially options in general) is limited risk. For short condors, the maximum loss comes when the underlying stock price drops below the lowest strike or above the highest strike. If you want an equation for max loss, think of it as the difference in strike prices of the two lower-strike options (or the two higher-strike options) less the initial credit for entering the trade.

Being that we are in the mist of earnings season, it may be best to construct the iron condor to expire before the actual announcement. If not, then it may be best to exit the trade before the announcement especially if the trade is profitable up to that point.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

January 9, 2014

Butterflies, Expiration, the Importance of Time and Christie Brinkley

One of the major differences when learning to trade options as opposed to equity trading is the impact of time on the various trade instruments. Remember that option premiums reflect the total of both intrinsic (if any) and extrinsic (time) value. Equities are not affected by the passing of time unlike many movie stars. Even though Christie Brinkley is still considered to be still quite attractive by many, her look is not the same as it was decades ago when she was a top model and cover-girl. Also remember that while very few things in trading are for certain, one certainty is that the time value of an option premium goes to zero at the closing bell on expiration Friday.

While this decay of time premium to a value of zero is reliable and undeniable in the world of option trading, it is important to recognize that the decay is not linear. It is during the final weeks of the option cycle that decay of the extrinsic premium begins to race ever faster to oblivion. In the vocabulary of the options trader, the rate of theta decay increases as expiration approaches. It is from this quickening of the pace that many examples of option trading vehicles gain their maximum profitability during this final week of their life.

Some of the most dramatic changes in behavior can be seen in the trading strategy known as the butterfly. For those new to options, consideration of the butterfly represents the move from simple single legged strategy such as simply buying a put or a call to multi-legged strategies that include both buying and selling options in certain patterns.

To review briefly, a butterfly consists of a vertical debit spread and vertical credit spread sharing the same strike price constructed together in the same underlying in the same expiration. It may be built using either puts or calls and its directional bias derives from strike selection rather than the particular type of option used for construction. For a (long) butterfly, maximum profit is always achieved at expiration when the underlying closes at the short strike shared by the two vertical spreads.

The butterfly has the interesting characteristic in that it responds sluggishly to price movement early in its life. For example in the first two weeks of a four week option cycle, time decay or theta is slow to erode. However, as expiration approaches, the butterfly becomes increasingly sensitive to price movement as the time premium erodes and the spread becomes increasingly subject to delta as a result of increasing gamma. It is for this reason that many butterfly traders restrict their use to the more responsive part of the options cycle. For a butterfly, the greatest sensitivity to time (and, therefore, profit potential) is reaped in the final week of the life cycle of the butterfly, i.e. expiration week. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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