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November 12, 2015

AAPL and Controlled Stops

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. Just this past week, the stock dropped significantly lower after Credit Suisse made an announcement about the company allegedly cutting components orders for the iPhone6. 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 120 puts. A trader could establish a position consisting of 10 long contracts with a position delta of -660 for approximately $5,750 as I write this.

At the time of this writing, the stock is trading around $116; these puts 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 as a stop loss if AAPL is at or above $118 at expiration. The options expiration risk is $3,750 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 $118 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

October 15, 2015

Outright Call 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 November 29 call for 2.50 when the stock was trading at $29. 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 November 32 call for 1.30. This reduces the option trade’s maximum loss to 1.20 (2.50 – 1.30) 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

September 3, 2015

Option Collars are Still in Fashion

Fashion comes and goes but there are some items that never go out of style. They simply are classics. The same could be said of some option strategies which never go out of style. Although the market has dropped lately and maybe your investments have gone down in value, it may still make sense to consider a collar.

A collar strategy is an option strategy that can particularly benefit investors. In this blog we generally have a lot more options education for traders and less for long-term investors. So a collar is a strategy that 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 declined after trading relatively sideways for several months, there are a plethora of stocks that have decreased in value but are still profitable on the P/L ledger. But what if the market and your investments continue to decline? 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

Implied volatility (IV) has been really high over the last several weeks in the market with this recent decline. Although it is advantageous to sell options when implied volatility is high (selling the OTM call), 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 October of last year for about $32 a share. Like many equities, the stock declined but at the time of this writing, the stock has climbed back to about $46 a share and the investor is still worried about the current market conditions and protecting his unrealized gains. The investor can utilize a collar strategy.

The investor can buy an October 42 put for 1.20. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $42 up until October expiration. At the same time the investor can sell an October 48 call for 1.45. The $48 area has provided some resistance in the past for the stock. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.25 (1.45 – 1.20). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $2 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.

Three Possible Outcomes

The stock finishes over $48 at October expiration. If this scenario happens, another $2 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 $42 and $48 at October 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 $42 at October expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $42. 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 some protection due to the long put and having protection might not be such a bad idea if the market continues to be weak. See…even an investor can benefit from some options education!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

July 2, 2015

Short-Term Put Options

A couple of weeks ago we talked about short-term call options and this week I thought it would be appropriate to discuss short-term put options especially with this recent move lower in the market. 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

January 8, 2015

Make Mine a Double!

With earnings season unbelievably upon us in a few short weeks, it might be a good time to talk about a subject that is brought up quite often in MTM Group Coaching and Online Education and is often debated by option traders learning to trade advanced strategies; double calendars vs. double diagonals.

Double Calendars vs. Double Diagonals
Both double calendars and double diagonals have the same fundamental structure; each is short option contracts in nearby expirations and long option contracts in farther out expirations in equal numbers. As implied by the name, this complex spread is comprised of two different spreads. These time spreads (aka known as horizontal spreads and calendar spreads) occur at two different strike prices. Each of the two individual spreads, in both the double calendar and the double diagonal, is constructed entirely of puts or calls. But the either position can be constructed of puts, calls, or both puts and calls. The structure for each of both double calendars or double diagonals thus consists of four different, two long and two short, options. These spreads are commonly traded as “long double calendars” and “long double diagonals” in which the long-term options in the spread (those with greater value) are purchased, and the short-term ones are sold. The profit engine that drives both the long double calendar and the long double diagonal is the differential decay of extrinsic (time) premium between shorter dated and longer dated options. The main difference between double calendars and double diagonals is the placement of the long strikes. In the case of double calendars, the strikes of the short and long contracts are identical. In a double diagonal, the strikes of the long contracts are placed farther out-of-the-money) OTM than the short strikes.

Why should an option trader complicate his or her life with these two similar structures? The reason traders implement double calendars and double diagonals is the position response to changes in IV; in other words, the vega of the position. Both trades are vega positive, theta positive, and delta neutral—presuming the price of the underlying lies between the two middle strike prices—over the range of profitability. However, the double calendar positions, because of the placement of the long strikes being closer to ATM, responds favorably more rapidly to increases in IV while the double diagonal responds more slowly. Conversely, decreases in IV of the long positions has a negative impact on double calendars more strongly than it does on double diagonals.

If you have only traded a single-legged calendar or diagonal through earnings season even not during earnings season, it might just be time to give them a look. Maybe you have never traded a calendar or a diagonal. This might be the time to find out about these time spreads.  Once a single position spread makes sense, a double might make even more sense and be more profitable too.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

November 13, 2014

Consider a 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

September 11, 2014

Calendar Spreads

A calendar spread, or what it is sometimes referred to as a time spread or horizontal spread can be a simple and quite useful option strategy. The calendar spread is designed to work somewhat like a covered call but without the potentially huge outlay of cash that can accompany buying shares of stock. The spread profits from time decay (option theta) and can make money in any direction depending on the strikes that are chosen. The spread can be set-up with a bullish, bearish or neutral outlook on the underlying either using call options or put options.

How to Create a Calendar Spread

Creating a calendar spread involves buying and selling options on the same underlying with the same strikes but different expirations. The best case-scenario is for the stock to finish at the strike price allowing the short-term option to expire worthless and still have the long option retain much of its value.

For the sake of this example, close to at-the-money (ATM) options will be used but out-of-the-money (OTM) and in-the-money (ITM) options can also be used depending if there is a bullish or bearish bias. As a general guideline, if I have a bullish outlook on the underlying I use call options and put options for a bearish bias. The reasoning is that OTM options generally have tighter bid/ask spreads than options that are currently trading ITM. Initially being down less money entering any option trade due to a tighter bid/ask spread is always a good thing.

Simple to Follow Example

In late August, Marriot International (MAR) was trading just over $69. The stock has been slowly rising over the last year. The trader forecasts that the stock will still be about the same price or maybe a tad higher by September expiration. This scenario makes it worthwhile to look at a calendar spread. MAR has September and October expiration’s available. The trader can buy the October 70 call for 1.25 and sell the September 70 call for 0.55. The total cost of the calendar spread is 0.70 (1.25 – 0.55) and that also represents the most that can be lost.

If the stock remains relatively flat as September expiration approaches, the calendar spread’s value should increase. Hypothetically, with about a week left until September expiration the October 70 call might be worth 1.00 and the September 70 call might drop to 0.15. The spread now would be 0.85. A profit could now be made of $0.15 (1.25 – 0.55). That doesn’t sound like much but a $0.15 profit on a $0.70 investment in a couple of weeks is not a bad return in my opinion.

The whole key to the success of the calendar spread is the stock must not have huge price swings. If the stock falls more than anticipated, the spread’s value will decline along with the stock. If the stock rises well above $70, the short September 70 call will partially or fully offset the increase in the long October 70 call depending on how much the stock rises.

Conclusion

There are other factors that can affect a calendar spread like implied volatility skews that can both help and hurt the spread. It is advantageous for the implied volatility to be higher for the short option versus the long option. This way the more expensive premium is sold and the cheaper is purchased. This component will be discussed in greater detail at a later time.

The beauty of the calendar spread is that it almost functions like a credit spread without the added risk. The risk with a credit spread is that it may suffer a substantially greater loss than a calendar spread if the stock moves in the opposite direction of the outlook due to high risk and low reward scenario that accompanies most out-of-the-money (OTM) credit spreads.

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

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

June 18, 2014

AAPL Butterfly After the Split

There has been more talk than usual about Apple Inc. (AAPL) before and now just after the split. Several traders have asked me about what type of AAPL option trade they can use if they think AAPL will rise to around $100 in a few short weeks. Truth be told, there is more than one option strategy that can profit. But an option trader should consider a directional butterfly spread particularly if he or she has a particular time frame in mind as well. Depending on how the butterfly spread is structured, the option trader can structure a high risk/reward ratio for the spread. Let’s take a look at this option strategy.

The long butterfly spread involves selling two options at one strike and then purchasing options above and below equidistant from the sold strikes. This is usually implemented with all calls or all puts. The long options are considered to be the wings and the short options are the body of the butterfly. The option strategy objective is for the stock to be trading at the sold strikes at expiration. The option strategy benefits 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 spread or higher strike put for a long put butterfly spread have intrinsic value.

As mentioned above, if an option trader thinks that AAPL will be trading around $100 in about three weeks, he can implement a long call butterfly spread with the sold strikes (body) right at $100. Put options could also be used but since the spread is being structured out-of-the-money (OTM), the bid/ask spreads of the options tend to be tighter versus in-the-money (ITM) options which would be the case with put options. The narrower the option trader makes the wings (long calls) the less the trade will cost but there will be less room to profit due to the breakevens. If the butterfly spread is designed with larger wings, the more it will cost but there will be a wider area between the breakevens.

At the time of this writing, AAPL is trading around $92. An option trader decides to buy a Jul-03 97/100/103 call butterfly for 0.15. The most the trader can lose is $0.15 if AAPL closes at or below $97 and at or above $103 at expiration. The breakevens on the trade are between $97.15 (97 + 0.15) and $102.85 (103 – 0.15). The maximum profit on the trade in the unlikely event AAPL closes exactly at $100 on expiration would be $2.85 (3 – 0.15). This gives this option strategy a 1 to 19 risk/reward ratio. Granted AAPL needs to move higher and be around $100 in three weeks but one could hardly argue about the risk/reward of the option strategy or the generous breakeven points of the spread.

This AAPL option trade may be a bit overwhelming for a new option trader to understand and there is more than one way to take a bite out of AAPL with a bullish bias. A directional call butterfly spread in this instance is just one way. A big advantage that the directional butterfly strategy may have over another option strategy is the high risk/reward ratio. The biggest disadvantage is the trader needs to be right about the time frame in which the stock will trading between the wings since maximum profit is earned as close to expiration as possible.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

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