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January 23, 2014

Thoughts on Front-Month Puts

With the market threatening to move lower after a bullish run last year and earning’s season upon us,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.

A lot of traders especially those who are just learning to trade options can be smitten by put options especially buying the shortest-term, or front month put for protection. The problem, however, is that there is a flaw to the reasoning of purchasing front-month puts as protection. Front-month contracts have a higher theta (time decay) and relying on front-month puts to protect a straight stock purchase is not necessarily the best way to protect the stock. If you were to continually purchase front-month puts as protection, that can end up being a rather expensive way to by insurance.

Although front month options are often cheaper, they are not always your best bet. The idea may be sound, the trader purchases a number of shares of the stock and purchases out-of-the-money puts to protect his or her position; but sound reasoning does not always lead to good practice. Here’s an example.

We will use a hypothetical trade. The stock is trading a slightly above 13 and our hypothetical trader wants to own 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 as the trader wants to allow the news events to move the stock higher.

Being a smart options trader, our stock 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 July 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 investor rolled option month after month, it would create a big dent in the initial outlay of cash. To be sure, after about seven months (assuming the stock hangs around $13) 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 the put is a hedge and and a solid insurance policy – though, albeit, an expensive one. Investors can usually find better ways to protect a stock.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

October 31, 2013

Controlled Stops and AAPL

If you are like a lot of other option traders, you probably avoided trading Apple Inc. (AAPL) during its recent earnings announcement. Now that the volatility event is over, you might be looking to take an option position. Even though the company announced its earnings, there may still be some volatile action ahead. 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 the trader, but perhaps the single most attractive characteristic is the ability to control risk precisely in many instances. Much of this advantage comes from the ability to control positions that are equivalent to stock with far less capital outlay.

However, a less frequently discussed aspect of risk control is the ability to moderate risk by the careful and precise use of time stops as well as the more familiar price stops more generally known to traders. Because time stops take advantage of the time decay of extrinsic premium to help control risk, it is important to recognize that this time decay is not linear by any means.

As a direct result, it may not be obviously apparent the time course that the decay curve will follow. An option trader has to take into account that the option modeling software that most brokers have is essential to plan the trade and decide the appropriate time at which to place a time stop.

As a simple example, consider the case of a short position in AAPL established by buying in-the-money December 530 puts. A trader could establish a position consisting of 10 long contracts with a position delta of -540 for approximately $25,000 as I write this.

At the time of this writing, the stock is trading around $522; these puts are therefore $8 in-the-money. Let’s assume a trader analyzes the trade with an at-expiration P&(L) diagram and wants to exit the trade as a stop loss if AAPL is at or above $525 at expiration. The options expiration risk is $20,000 or more. However, if the 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 $525 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 fetch a higher price. In this event, closing prior to expiration helps the trader lose less when the stop executes, especially if there is a fair amount of time until expiration and time decay hasn’t totally eroded away.

Options offer a variety of ways to control risk. An option trader needs to learn several that match his or her risk/reward criteria.

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


Market Taker Mentoring