Lessons from the Pros


Options – More on Option Spreads

This is part of a series on option spreads, which are positions involving more than one option. Options can be combined like Lego blocks to create positions to fit varying market outlooks. We can assemble the blocks into a position that will be most beneficial if our outlook on the outcome of the three main forces that change option prices is correct. These three forces are:

  1. The actual price movement of the underlying stock. Rising stock prices push call option prices up, and put option prices down. Dropping stock prices do the opposite.
  2. The expected future price movement of the underlying stock. The faster the movement option traders expect in the price of the stock, the more they will pay for options (both puts and calls). As these expectations change option prices inflate and deflate. This effect can happen very fast – in a matter of days or less. And changing expectations can even have a larger effect than that on the actual price movement of the stock. Changing expectations can either augment the effect of the actual change in stock prices or counteract it, sometimes more than cancelling out the effect of price movement. An untrained option trader can be left scratching his head wondering how his call options lost money when the price of the stock went up. In our Professional Option Trader class, we emphasize the importance of this effect, called implied volatility, and make it a central pillar of our option trading method.
  3. The passage of time. This is a relatively easy one to figure. Every option loses a little of its value every day as it approaches its expiration date, and the rate can be easily calculated. This one too can get a little tricky, though, as the rate of decay remains pretty stable for a long time and then suddenly accelerates near expiration.

We can build an option position that is designed to take advantage of any one, or any combination of these three option forces. Here is an example of a situation where we have a strong opinion on the likely direction of stock price movement; but not on whether changing market expectations going forward are more likely to inflate or deflate option prices. We want a position that will make money if the actual price movement is in the direction that we expect; but we don’t want to be hurt by changing expectations no matter which way they change.

Below is a chart of AFLAC, Inc. (AFL) as of July 31, 2015.

option spreads

Aflac recently announced very good earnings and the stock popped up into a solid supply area around $64.63. We believed that this supply level was likely to hold and that AFL could drop back down toward its breakout level around $61.50 within a few days to weeks. This is a bearish trade situation.

The simplest kind of bearish option trade is to buy put options. A drop in the stock price raises the price of put options, all other things being equal.

The problem, of course, is that all other things are never equal. Those “other things,” are changing market expectations and time decay.

In this case, note the ending position of the red line in the subgraph below the price chart. That red line plots Implied Volatility. This particular indicator is a proprietary one available to our students which is designed to make it clear at a glance that the current level is high, low or in the middle of its historical range. The raw implied volatility information is available in most trading platforms.

Here the current level of implied volatility is right in the middle of its range. If it were on the high side we would expect it to drop, and if it were low we would expect it to rise. Here it is neither.

If we simply bought puts in this situation, the value of those puts would be hurt if implied volatility drops – and there is a good chance of that. The second simple bearish option trade is just to sell calls short. That won’t be a good idea here either. If implied volatility rises, then the value of all options will be pushed upward. This will hurt us if we have sold options short.

Here’s how we can approach it. The trade is called a directional butterfly. It consists of three parts:

  1. Buying one put option with its strike price above our supply zone, at the $65 strike. This is the moneymaker, the anchor of this position. This makes money if the stock goes down, if there is no impact from changes in implied volatility.
  2. Selling two put options at a much lower strike price, one that is below our downside target price. In this case we could sell two of the $60 puts. Each of these puts, being farther out of the money than our $65 anchor put, has about half of the sensitivity to volatility changes as the $65 put. The point here is to neutralize any impact on the long $65 put from changing implied volatility. With volatility cancelled out, the trade becomes a leveraged pure price play. Only one of these two short puts is covered by our long put – the other is naked, which would mean unlimited risk. But we’ll address that with one more Lego block:
  3. Buying one additional put option at an even lower strike price than the target, at the $55 strike. This one is simply to cover our leftover naked short $60 put, so that this becomes a limited risk trade.
    When all is said and done we own a position that has three legs:
  • Long one November $65 put
  • Short two November $60 puts
  • Long one November $55 put

Free Trading WorkshopThe total cost of this position with AFL at the $64.63 supply zone was $1.20 per share, or $120 per contract. That $120 represented our maximum theoretical loss if we used no stop-loss on the position and left it alone until expiration. In fact, we would do neither of those things so our actual maximum expected loss is much smaller – around $10 after commissions. Our expected profit after commissions if AFL hit our $61.50 target would be about $48 all in.

That’s all the space we have for today. We’ll continue with this example next time and explain the exact calculations for profit and loss. For now the summary is:

Cost of the position: $120

Profit if exited at target: $48

Loss if exited at our stop-loss price: $10

Effect of time decay: None

Effect of changes in implied volatility: None

Tune in next time for the conclusion of this example.

DISCLAIMER This newsletter is written for educational purposes only. By no means do any of its contents recommend, advocate or urge the buying, selling or holding of any financial instrument whatsoever. Trading and Investing involves high levels of risk. The author expresses personal opinions and will not assume any responsibility whatsoever for the actions of the reader. The author may or may not have positions in Financial Instruments discussed in this newsletter. Future results can be dramatically different from the opinions expressed herein. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Reprints allowed for private reading only, for all else, please obtain permission.

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