Lessons from the Pros


Short Verticals Selection by the ATR

This Lesson from the Pros is solely aimed at one and one purpose only: Selection of short verticals based on the current reading of the Average True Range. Although there are other ways to select which leg to sell versus which leg to buy, we are going to focus on the ATR as our determining factor in our selection of short verticals. The goal is to increase the probability of having a winning trade by placing the sold strike price outside of the normal reach of the trading range so our odds of winning increase.

Hence, let us start with the Investopedia definition of the ATR: A measure of volatility introduced by Welles Wilder. Wilder originally developed the ATR for commodities, but the indicator can also be used for stocks and indexes. Simply put, a stock experiencing a high level of volatility will have a higher ATR, and a low volatility stock will have a lower ATR.

Also, it could be added that the default setting of the ATR is an average of the last 14 sessions of the price actions’ true ranges. If we are looking at a particular underlying, which will remain unnamed, that is trading at $490 and has an ATR 8.97, then for our intraday trade, we should be perhaps considering selling either (490 – 8.97) 480 put or (490 + 8.97) 500 call. However, the question becomes how long are we aiming to be in such a trade? This is more logical if we are selling the weekly credit spreads on Friday, the day after they were just listed. In such case, the daily ATR is not what our focus should be because within any of the next five trading sessions, the sold leg could be threatened. Hence, let us assume that we are looking at the weekly position and we are using the weekly ATR of $14.34 on this particular underlying that is trading at $490. Figure 1 below lists the cost of call premiums. For simplicity’s sake, we will focus only on the Bear Call side.

Call Weekly Premiums for the underlying trading at 490.50

Call Strikes Bid Ask
490 ATM 5.20 6.50
495 OTM 3.10 4.20
500 2 x OTM 1.50 2.25
505 3 x OTM 0.65 1.10
510 4 x OTM 0.20 0.50

At the top is the 490 strike price that currently has only 0.50 cents of intrinsic value while the Asking price for the 490 call is 6.50, which means that six points are the time or extrinsic value. The buyer of the 490 call must overcome six points of obstacle, while in our case of a Bear Call, we want to sell the rich premium. We will discuss four possible Bear Calls, the first one being the most aggressive one. This would involve selling the 490 call and protecting by purchasing a higher strike price call. We should consider this spread as an aggressive trade because the underlying would need to drop or stay where it is at 490.50 in order for us to be profitable. There is a high chance that the 490 pound gorilla (product) would not remain still in the current volatile environment, so let us avoid this one. The next table lists more acceptable choices.

# Protection Sold Leg Bought Leg Risk Degree Rate of Return
1 4.50 495 call 500 call Moderate 20%
2 9.50 500 call 505 call Conservative 8.6%
3 14.05 505 call 510 call Super Conservative 2%

Reading from left to right, we have the protection column. This is how far the stock would have to move to get to our short strike. Keep in mind that the weekly ATR is nearly 9 points. The second and third columns list the legs, the 4th names the degree of risk, and the last one points out that the (ROR) rate of return decreases as we move away from the current price of $490.50.

Knowing that the ROR is too small on the 505/510 call spread and also knowing that the risk is too high on the 495/500 spread, due to the weekly ATR value, we are left with only one rational choice. The conservative 500/505 Bear Call which is outside of the weekly ATR reach has its inner workings listed in the figure below. So, out of many choices, our process of elimination led us to this one.

500/505 Bear Call

STO –1 500 0TM call +1.50 (from the Bid)
BTO +1 505 OTM call -1.10 (Ask)
Underlying trading at $490.50 Max P +0.40
Outlook: the underlying closing below the sold 500 call at the expiry
Max loss is 5.00 (difference of the two strike prices 505call – 500c) – 0.40 = 4.60
ROR is profit/risk, 0.40/4.60 = 8.6%
BEP (breakeven point) = 500.40 (sold strike price plus the premium received)

In conclusion, there are many different ways to sell credit spreads and the use of the ATR is just one of the many possible choices that option traders using technical analysis have. Although this article has walked the reader through the logic behind using the ATR when selecting what leg to sell, it is also important to address some other issues. Blind selection simply based on the ATR distance from the sold strike price, without any observations of trend lines and/or levels of support (demand zones) and resistance (supply zones), could cause havoc. Hence, the order of importance still holds the truth whether the trade is directional or non-directional: The price and volume are at the first place, followed by the trend, (SZ & DZ), candlestick formation, and it is towards the end that the use of one or more technical indicators, such as the ATR, should be brought in place. Make sure that the order of importance does not get skewed; don’t let the ATR take up the leading role. Have many green trades.

– Josip Causic

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.

Join over 170,000 Lessons from the Pros readers. Get new articles delivered to your inbox weekly.