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January 14, 2015

Implied Volatility May Continue to Swing

The last several months, the market has shown some good movement with some wild swings. The S&P 500 and Dow set their all-time highs once again, and then promptly moved lower. Now we are about to start the next earnings season and the roller-coaster ride may continue. It is important for option traders to understand one of the most important steps when learning to trade options; analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility. This is the way option traders can gain edge in their trades. But analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility is often an overlooked process making some trades losers from the start. An option trader needs to look back at the last couple of months of option trading to see how volatility played a crucial part in option pricing and how it will help them going forward.

Implied Volatility and Historical Volatility
Historical volatility (HV) is the volatility experienced by the underlying stock, stated in terms of annualized standard deviation as a percentage of the stock price. Historical volatility is helpful in comparing the volatility of a stock with another stock or to the stock itself over a period of time. For example, a stock that has a 30 historical volatility is less volatile than a stock with a 35 historical volatility. Additionally, a stock with a historical volatility of 45 now is more volatile than it was when its historical volatility was, say, 30.

In contrast to historical volatility, which looks at actual stock prices in the past, implied volatility (IV) looks forward. Implied volatility is often interpreted as the market’s expectation for the future volatility of a stock. Implied volatility can be derived from the price of an option. Specifically, implied volatility is the expected future volatility of the stock that is implied by the price of the stock’s options. For example, the market (collectively) expects a stock that has a 20 implied volatility to be less volatile than a stock with a 30 implied volatility. The implied volatility of an asset can also be compared with what it was in the past. If a stock has an implied volatility of 40 compared with a 20 implied volatility, say, a month ago, the market now considers the stock to be more volatile. A recent example of the implied volatility increasing was the debt ceiling crisis. There was some concern that the government would not hammer out a compromise and thus default which put fear into the market and increased implied volatility.

Analyzing Volatility
Implied volatility and historical volatility is analyzed by using a volatility chart. A volatility chart tracks the implied volatility and historical volatility over time in graphical form. It is a helpful guide that makes it easy to compare implied volatility and historical volatility. But, often volatility charts are misinterpreted by new or less experienced option traders.

Regular users of volatility charts need to perform three separate analyses. First, they need to compare current implied volatility with current historical volatility. This helps the trader understand how volatility is being priced into options in comparison with the stock’s volatility. If the two are disparate, an opportunity might exist to buy or sell volatility (i.e., options) at a “good” price. In general, if implied volatility is higher than historical volatility it gives some indication that option prices may be high. If implied volatility is below historical volatility, this may mean option prices are discounted. High is giid for selling and low is good for buying option premium.

But that is not where the story ends. Traders must also compare implied volatility now with implied volatility in the past. This helps traders understand whether implied volatility is high or low in relative terms. If implied volatility is higher than typical, it may be expensive, making it a good a sell; if it is below its normal level it may still be a good buy.

Finally, traders need to complete their analysis by comparing historical volatility at this time with what historical volatility was in the recent past. The historical volatility chart can indicate whether current stock volatility is more or less than it typically is. If current historical volatility is higher than it was typically in the past, the stock is now more volatile than normal.

If current implied volatility doesn’t justify the higher-than-normal historical volatility, the trader can capitalize on the disparity known as the skew by buying options priced too cheaply.

Conversely, if historical volatility has fallen below what has been typical in the past, traders need to look at implied volatility to see if an opportunity to sell exists. If implied volatility is high compared with historical volatility, it could be a sell signal.

The Art and Science of Implied Volatility and Historical Volatility
Analyzing implied volatility and historical volatility on volatility charts is both an art and a science. The basics are shown here. But there are lots of ways implied volatility and historical volatility can interact. Each volatility scenario is different like an expected earnings announcement or a general fear of the economy. Understanding both implied volatility and historical volatility combined with a little experience helps traders use volatility to their advantage and gain edge on each trade and that is precisely what every trader needs.

Now you know a little more about how implied volatility can affect options, it is time to put that knowledge to use and get the edge in your trades!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

September 17, 2014

Long Calls and Bull Call Spreads

With the Dow and S&P 500 falling just off their all-time highs recently and yet refusing to move much lower at this point, it probably makes sense to keep at least a moderately bullish bias towards many stocks. The market is due for some type of pullback, but who knows when that will happen. Even if it does pullback sooner than later, there will be another bullish opportunity at some point rest assured. Traders often ask me is there a way that you can take advantage of this bullish investing scenario while limiting risk? Certainly, there are a few option strategies that can accomplish this goal. One that may be a better option compared to the rest is a debit call spread which is sometimes referred to as a bull call spread.

Definition

When implementing a bull call spread, an option trader purchases a call option at one strike and sells the same number of calls on the same stock at a higher strike with the same expiration date. Here is a trade idea we looked at in Group Coaching just a couple of weeks ago. Tesla Motors (TSLA) moved up to a resistance area right around $260, formed a bullish base and then closed above resistance at around $263. With implied volatility (IV) generally being low, which is advantageous for purchasing options as with a bull call spread, and a directional bias, a bull call spread can be considered.

The Math

The trader’s maximum profit in the bull call spread is limited; he can make as much as the difference between the strike prices less the net debit paid. For simplicity, let’s assume that at the time one September 265 call was purchased for 8.00 and one September 270 call was sold for 6.00 resulting in a net debit of $2 (8 – 6). The difference in the strike prices is $5 (270 – 265). He would subtract $2 from $5 to end up with a maximum profit of $3 per contract. So if he traded 10 contracts, you could make $3,000 (10 X 300).

Although he limited his upside, the trader also limited the downside to the net debit of $2 per contract. To simply breakeven, the stock would have to trade at $267 (the strike price of the purchased call (265) plus the net debit ($2)) at expiration.

Advantage Versus Purchasing a Call

When trading the long call, a trader’s downside is limited to the net premium paid. If he simply purchased the out-of-the-money September 265 call, he would have paid $8. The potential loss is, therefore, greater when implementing a call-buying strategy. If he had moved to a call with a longer time frame to expiration, he would have even paid more for the option. This would also increase his potential loss per option.

Conclusion

By implementing a bull call spread, traders can hedge their bets; limiting the potential loss. This is the advantage when comparing to purchasing a call outright. Remember that there are no sure-fire ways to make money by using options. However, knowing and understanding the strategy is a good way to limit losses.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

May 8, 2014

Developing a Watch List

If you are a hockey fan you probably know that we are smack dab in the middle of the NHL playoffs. Teams are gathering information about their opponents and trying to gain the upper hand over them which ultimately could lead to a victory. Just like in option trading, a well though out and well kept watch list can help a trader in a variety of ways including scoring profits. First and foremost it can help keep track of the underlyings and keep them all in one place so it is easy to reference them. Potential trade opportunities are often discovered by scanning and searching charts and options from stocks that are on a watch list just like determining potential strengths and weaknesses of a hockey opponent. Here are a couple of ways a trader might go about building a watch list or creating a better one.

Familiar Ones

If a person is relatively new to trading there are probably a few stocks that he or she is familiar with. To gather more names to add to the list, a trader can scan through an index (like the S&P 500 for example) and find more stocks to potentially add to the list. Some of the stocks listed may not be conducive for a variety of reasons. It makes perfect sense to check out the symbols and see if the charts and the options are at acceptable levels for the trader’s personality and plan. Things a trader might want to consider when deciding whether to put a stock on his watch list are the stock price, the stock’s volatility, option prices, bid/ask spreads and option volume just to name a few. When this process is complete, a trader should have a decent watch list in which to work with. This list may grow and sometimes shrink over time depending on the trader.

Services

There are numerous trading services (free and paid) out there that not only might introduce traders to stocks to add to the watch list which may lead to potential trade opportunities. The Market Taker Live Advantage Group Coaching is one such service that MTM offers. As mentioned above, the reason a watch list is created in the first place is to find potential trades. A service can not only introduce traders to new symbols but also provide trade ideas that can turnout to be profitable. But if the trade concept is unclear or deviates from a trader’s plan regardless of the source, it should be avoided until the concept is understood. In any case, if the trader thinks there may be an opportunity on the stock in the future it can be added the list.

List Categories

Once a trader has a watch list of stocks, it may be prudent to separate the list into different categories. There can be a list for stocks that are ready to trade now or very soon. Keeping this list the shortest might make sense for a couple of reasons. First a trader should probably not be trading more stocks than he or she can handle and secondly if there are too many on this list, some trade ideas might get lost in the mix. A short list makes it easier to monitor potential trade opportunities. There can also be a category for stocks that have trade potential in the near future (a day to a week for example). This list can be monitored maybe a little less frequently than the previous list. Another category to consider for the watch list are stocks that have no potential now but may in the future. For example, maybe a stock is trading in the middle of a channel and if it ever trades down to support a bullish opportunity may arise. Stocks should be moved up and down in these different categories as needed.

What’s Important

These were just a few ideas about how a trader can go about developing and monitoring a watch list and searching for potential trade opportunities. The most important part about having a watch list is not how it was acquired but that there is one. A well-refined and updated watch list can yield plenty of potential money making opportunities in option trading. Go Black Hawks!

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

April 15, 2014

Ever Consider a Bear Put Spread?

The market has been on quite a run lower lately since the S&P 500 hit its all-time high earlier this month. Maybe the market will reverse and move higher at some point but traders need to be prepared like Boy Scouts just in case there is another move lower not only now, but for in the future as well. Options give traders a plethora of options so to speak for a trader with a bearish bias. Bearish directional option strategies are certainly an option but sometimes buying a put option can be a little bit more risky than maybe a trader wants because of potential price swings. A bearish option trader may want to be a little more cautious especially in this current volatile atmosphere.

An Alternative

A better alternative than the long put may be to buy a debit spread (bear put). A bear put spread involves buying a put option and selling a lower strike put option against it with the same expiration. The cost of buying the higher strike put option is somewhat offset by the premium received from the lower strike that was sold. The maximum gain on this spread is the difference in the strike prices minus the cost of the trade. The options trader will realize this maximum gain if the price of the stock is lower than the short put’s strike expiration. The most the options trader can lose is the cost of the spread. This maximum loss will occur if the stock is trading above the long put’s strike at expiration.

An Advantage

An advantage of a bear put spread is that if the stock pulls back, the spread will lose less than just being long puts because of the spread typically has smaller delta and initial costs due to being long and short options. The trade’s delta is smaller because the positive larger delta of the long put option is somewhat offset by the smaller negative delta of the short put option. For example, what if XYZ stock is trading at $40 a share and an option trader purchases an ATM put option ($40 strike) with a delta of 0.50. For every dollar XYZ goes up or down, the put option should increase or decrease by $0.50. If a bear put debit spread was created by adding a short put with a lower strike price of 35 and delta of 0.20, the delta for the spread would now be 0.30 (.50 – .20). Now the spread would gain or lose $0.30 for every dollar the stock went up or down.

Trade-Off

It is probably obvious to a great many of you how a smaller delta might be a disadvantage for the trade. If the trader is correct on the movement and the stock decreases in value, potentially a larger profit could be realized with just being long the put option because of the potential higher delta. But once again a trader needs to determine if a lower overall cost using the bear put and possibly a lower overall risk is worth the trade-off versus the long put.

Finally

Understanding current market conditions (especially now) and applying and managing the proper options strategy is crucial for success at all times. Deciding when to implement a bear put spread instead of buying puts for a bearish bias is just one example of this.

John Kmiecik

Senior Options Instructor

Market Taker Mentoring

June 13, 2013

Moving Averages, Volatility and the Man of Steel

We’ve identified a recurring pattern in the market that could end up being one of the best market predictors yet.

Take a look at a daily candle chart of the S&P 500 (or the SPY ETF) for the past 12 months overlaid with the 50-day moving average. As you can see, the index has been in a solid up trend for the past year. There were six pullbacks during just the last six months alone where the SPY pulled back down to the 50-day moving average and bounced higher to continue its assent. It has been a tried and true support line.

But as far as support lines go, moving averages are pretty weak in representing actual trade information—compared to a horizontal support line at a specific price. A horizontal support line shows where the buy orders have been in the past for value investors. For example, if a stock dipped down to $50 a share several times in the past, then rose back up, it shows that that level ($50 a share) is where the demand pressure is—value investors bought the stock at $50 which forced the price back higher.

But, moving average support lines are merely psychological. Because the line is not at a constant price, it doesn’t represent a price where demand occurs. Traders only buy it there because it is a moving average. It’s essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the case of the market today, one of two things can happen technically over the next few days. 1) Support at the 50-day moving average will hold once again and the SPY will continue higher, or 2) Support at the 50-day moving average will not hold and the SPY will continue lower.

But if the SPY ends up closing below the 50-day moving average, we could see a free fall similar to the eight-percent drop we saw in October of last year when the 50-day moving average did not hold.

This potential drop is compounded by the fact that we’re seeing the implied volatility of the S&P 500, or the VIX, illustrating investors’ jitters. The VIX above 18 says the market is scared. Even the Man of Steel himself (Ben Bernanke of course) won’t be able to keep the market up as he has thus far this year if the levy breaks.

So, we need to sit and wait. I think any move resulting in a close below the 50-day moving average warrants strong selling. But a bounce higher from here probably means more of the same. Up, up and away!

Dan Passarelli

CEO

Market Taker Mentoring