Saturday, September 11, 2010

Emotional Trading

The following video was passed on by a friend and mentor, Gino Poore.  This video, while funny, is, for some, very real.  Rather than blab a lot about emotional trading, let me just say that instead of trying to read a "crystal ball" we need to read the market.  We need to trade what we see, not what we feel.  It doesn't matter what we think of the politics of the day, or the fact that we may "love that stock," what matters is having a toolkit full of strategies that can be executed depending on the conditions of the market at that time.

Enjoy the market and have fun.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


So far we've discussed Delta and Theta.  Gamma is next on the list.  Gamma, simply stated, is the rate at which an option's Delta changes as the price of the underlying (stock, index, ETF) changes.  Normally, the data provider on any given software package will express Gamma as the Delta's gained or lost for each one point/dollar change in the underlying.

The Delta will increase the amount of the Gamma when the underlying goes up and will fall the amount of the Gamma when the underlying goes down.  If, for example, the $50 strike Call has a  Gamma of .02 then for each point rise (fall) in the price of the underlying, the option will gain (lose) 0.02 Deltas.  If the original Delta was 0.30 and the underlying moves up (down) one full point, then the new delta of the option will be 0.32 (0.28).

Gammas are always represented as positive numbers regardless of whether they are associated with a Call or Put.  If we are working with either Calls or Puts we will always add the Gamma to the old Delta as the underlying rises, and subtact the Gamma from the old Delta as the underlying falls.  When a trader is long in his option positions, whether Calls or Puts, he/she has a long Gamma position.  When he/she is short options, he/she has a short Gamma position.

The Gamma has important risk characteristics that must be examined.  If the Gamma is a large number, whether positive or negative, it indicates a high degree of risk.  If the Gamma is a small number, whether positive or negative, it indicates a low degree of risk.

While there are volumes written on the subject of Gamma, we've discussed here enough to think about and establish a basic understanding of Gamma.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Theta is a greek value that represents the decay factor in an option.  All options lose value (extrinsic value) as they move to expiration.  The extrinsic value of ALL options will be 0.00 (zero) at expiration.  

Theta is normally listed as a negative number and is the dollar amount that is lost each day.  If the Theta is listed as 0.10 on a particular option, then that option will lose $0.10 in value per contract share each day.  If the option is priced at $5.65, then tomorrow that option will be worth $5.55.  A long option will be listed as a negative number and a short option position will have a positive theta.  If the trader notices a large negative Theta value, then this will represent a high degree of risk with respect to time decay.

With respect to Long Directional Calls and Puts, Theta can be viewed as a friend instead of an enemy if attention is paid to how much time is purchased up front and when the trader exits the trade on the back-end.  Generally, if the trader if buying Calls or Puts, then they should buy 4-6 months of time and if they are still in their positions at approximately 60 days prior to expiration, then it is suggested that they exit.  The curve of Theta decay becomes a very steep slope at 30 days and so to avoid an emotional decision, it is best to exit at around 60 days prior to expiration.
For the trader that shorts a position, Theta is a friend, not an enemy.  

Next time, we will talk about Gamma.  Remember that a large positive gamma correlates with a large negative theta, and a large negative gamma correlates with a large positive theta.  We'll discuss this and other aspects of Gamma in the next post.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the May 26, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Delta is a fascinating Greek value that is used several different ways in trading.  In general the delta is a measure of how an option’s value changes as the price of the underlying goes up or down.  However, the delta represents more than that as it includes probability of an ITM Strike Price and also serves as a comparison to stock ownership.  One of the most important aspects of delta is that it is an estimation.  It is NOT an exact.  

Delta has a lower boundary of 0 and an upper boundary of 100.  Most traders will write delta as a decimal and so we will do the same.  A typical delta, for example 60, will be written as 0.60.  For Calls, the Delta is positive, for Puts it is Negative.  A Put with a delta of 72 would be written as -0.72.  The negative sign indicates that the change of the  Option will be in the opposite direction of the market.

The first aspect of Delta is using it as a measurement of the change in an Options value as compared to the movement of the stock.  A Call Option with a Delta of 0.35 can be expected to change its value at 35% of the rate of the underlying.  If the underlying were to rise $1.00, then the Option value can be expected to rise approximately $0.35.  If the underlying were to fall $1.00, then the Option value can be expected to drop approximately $0.35.  Call and Put Options that are close to being or are At-the-Money have Delta values that are very close to, if not at, 0.50.

Another aspect of the Delta is that it gives us the probability that the Strike Price will be In-the-Money (ITM) at expiration.  If, for example, the $50 Call on XYZ Corporation has a 0.75 delta, then we have a 75% probability that the $50 Call will expire In-the-Money (ITM).  What is nice about this is using this as we short or sell our Options.  If we have constructed, for example, a Bull Put Spread completely Out-of-the-Money, and we want it to remain OTM to expiration, then we want to find a small Delta on our short Put.  If we find a 0.18 Delta on our short Put, then we have a 82% probability that the Put will be OTM at expiration.

One important safety factor of the Delta is that it can help us hedge our positions.  The Delta can help us determine the ratio of Stock to Option Contracts.  Remember that the Delta of Stock is always 1.00.  If we want to hedge our Option positions with underlying Stock we will divide 100 by the Option's Delta.  If, for example, we have an Option that has a Delta of 0.50, then the proper hedge is 100/50, or 2/1.  For every two Options that we purchase, we can sell one hundred shares of Stock.  This will help us establish a neutral hedge.

Delta can aid the trader in establishing probabilities and also give an estimate as to growth in value as the underlying moves in the appropriate direction.  It can also aid us in hedging our positions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the May 19, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the May 12, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Medicine, Faith and the Greeks

Sometimes you just need Dramamine.  The world has its hot spots and the market goes through its peaks and valleys.  We ride the roller coaster and we take our motion sickness medicine.  It’s a time of upheaval and uncertainty.  We hear over and over that the sky is falling, but I continue to be the eternal optimist.  How can we be optimistic in world conditions that bring fear to so many?  Well, first I have faith.  I don’t want to sound like a arrogant practitioner of religion, but I believe that above everything else, there is a plan, an eternal plan, that if followed, brings peace.  I’m not ashamed of my faith or of my optimism.  That optimism is not rooted in naivety, but has solid footing. Frankly, I don’t think the world is going to become more peaceful, but does that sway me from living?  No!  Too many people tend to duck and run for cover the minute even a small sign of trouble looms on the horizon.  I love life too much to always stand under cover.  There will always be those that want to hide under a rock, but I am not going to live in fear.  Fear brings negativity and frankly the principle of self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play.  If we believe bad things will happen - they will.

What we need now, more than ever is resolve.  We need to continue to financially shore up what we have and, in the vernacular of today, we just need to “Man Up.”  Instead of expecting a hand out, we can collectively and individually give a hand up to ourselves and those around us.  It comes from work and from implementing solid trading principles.  It comes from continual education and having the foresight, vision and frankly “guts,” to step out of the proverbial box.  

As an Options trader and instructor I often hear that “Options are too risky.”  While Options have risk, it surprises many that Options, if managed correctly, are usually more safe than owning stock.  One of the flaws in trading today is believing in the old, antiquated and outdated philosophy that we should buy stock and hold it for 20-30 years and then sell it and retire wealthy.  If 2008 wasn’t a wake up call to re-tool that kind of strategy, then the current instability and rising volatility should be.

There has never been a greater need to have a trading plan.  That plan has to adapt to changes in the market.  As traders we MUST learn to react to current market conditions and apply solid strategies instead of hoping that the market will change because of our superior mind power.

Over the next few posts I want to talk about using the Greeks as part of a Master Trading Plan.  Learning about the Greeks is an essential part of the trader’s toolkit.  Some view the Greeks as forbidden territory, however they are absolutely necessary in having a solid plan.  The basic Greeks are Delta, Theta, Vega, Gamma and Rho.  There are other Greeks, but for now we are going to concentrate on the fundamental Greeks that can have a huge impact in the way we trade.

We hear from some, “Those were the days.”  For them, their life is in the past.  I think “These are the days!”  We have much to be thankful for and many opportunities to embrace.  Now is our time!  We will take the market and ride it.  Hang on - it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the April 28, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the April 21, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bull Put Spread - Part II

In our last post we set the stage for the Bull Put Spread.  This credit spread is a favorite in a bullish market and can be used to create monthly cash flow.  This post will explain how to exit the trade based upon the direction of the stock.

1.  If the Bull Put Spread is completely Out-of-the-Money (OTM) and the stock remains flat, then the trader will let the position go to expiration.  Be careful if the Short Put is close to becoming ATM or ITM, or it could be assigned.  If the price of the stock is not close to the Short Put Strike - then let this position go to expiration.  At this point, each of the Puts will expire worthless and the full credit will be realized.  In other words, the Max Reward will be obtained.  One other bonus is that there will be NO commission on the trade.

2.  If the Stock is moving down, prior to expiration, the trader will want to consider exiting either out of the Short Put or the entire position.  If the stock drops below the Short Put Strike, then there is a chance of assignment.

3.  If for some reason the stock gaps or travels to a point below the Long Put, then more than likely the trader will be assigned and this is where the trader will need to exercise the Long Put, and after having been forced to buy the stock, can then sell the stock back into the market at the Long Put Strike Price.  This results in the Max Risk (or Loss), but is much better than having held the stock in most cases.

The Bull Put Spread can be found by using the same searches that would be done for a Covered Call or Naked Put and is an excellent way to provide monthly income.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the April 14, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the April 7, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bull Put Spread - Part I

When the market is bullish, one of the most popular spread trades is a Bull Put Spread.  This is a combination trade where the trader buys a put and sells a put creating a spread trade (combination of two or more options) that creates the following risk graph from MachTrader:

The Bull Put Spread is a credit trade.  When the position is entered, a credit is received into the account.  The credit is the Maximum Reward that can be obtained on the trade.  If the trade remains in the traders “favor” and the position goes to expiration, then the entire credit remains in the traders account.  Depending on the final outcome, a partial amount of the credit may be left or a debit may occur in the account if the position has gone against the trader.

Here are some general guidelines in setting up this trade:
1.    Look for a Bullish Stock
2.    Set the trade so that both strike prices are below the price of the stock.
3.    Buy the lower strike price Put and sell the higher strike price put.
4.    Have the Strike Prices next to each other (i.e., the 210 and 220)
5.    Expiration should be no more than 2 months out.
6.    Try to realize a minimum net credit of 10% or more of the spread.
7.    On the Short Put (the Put that is sold), have a Delta that is equal to or less than 0.20.  This represents an 80% probability that the short option will be Out of the Money at expiration.
8.    Place the OTM strikes of the Bull Put Spread Below support.

In placing your entry order, the trader may want to consider using a contingent order that is triggered on the price of the stock.  For example, if the price of the stock goes up 10% of the ATR, then have the spread order placed.  This confirms the direction of the stock (bullish).

In the next post we will discuss how to maintain and exit the position.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Crystal Ball

As an instructor, I get asked all the time about my favorite strategies in the market.  Someone will say, "Do you have a favorite strategy?" and I will reply "yes" and I won't say anything else.  This is a less than exciting answer, I know, but it is given because it doesn't matter what strategies I like, or use, what matters is that the individual trader finds a strategy that they like and then really learn that strategy inside and out.

Emotional trading is dangerous at best and can set a pattern of failure within the market.  One student once said, "I have my favorites listed on a chart hanging on the wall - when I want to find a stock to trade, I throw a dart."  This kind of trading would make a freight train take a dirt road.  You might as well sign up for "Psychic Quarterly" or just ask your neighbor for the good "hot stock tip."  It would be just as effective.  There is no Holy Grail or Crystal Ball.

Take the emotion out of the trade.  Develop a Master Strategy Playbook and live by your rules and guidelines.  Yes, you will have to tweak them once in a while and when you do, tweak them carefully and with small increments not a gigantic swath.

Virtual trading is excellent as you try new strategies in the market.  However, don't let this become your trading instead of the real thing.  Virtual traders don't make a dime but it is a great learning experience.  So if your goal is to make monthly cash flow, then virtual trade for a set time and then get into the real market.  No great swimmer just sat at the side of the pool and did the backstroke for 10 hours a day and then won a gold medal.  

Last but not least - keep positive.  Even with all the craziness in the market and the government and our social climate, I believe that things will get better.   I believe the words of Ronald Reagan as he said, "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."

If you get thrown from the horse - you get back on.  If you miss a step in trading, then re-frame and re-boot and get back to basics and try again.  As traders we must never give up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the March 24, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Volatility - Part II

In the last post we discussed Historical and Implied Volatility.  It's time now to see how these two important indicators can be used to help increase our probabilities of a successful trade.

For this discussion, we are going to treat HV and IV as the surrogate projection of the stock and option price respectively.  We are also going to use a website that is well known for volatility information -

 After going into and entering the underlying symbol of the stock, two choices of graphs appear on the right hand side and the bottom graph is the Volatility graph.  The blue line is the 30 Day HV and the yellow line is the IV.  We read the chart on the right and it becomes important to understand where the lines should be to be in a "sweet spot" for various trading strategies.

If, for example, the IV is at 68%, we read this as that the Option is priced for a 68% move, up or down, in the underlying stock.

Now, we look at the position of the HV and IV on the right hand side of the chart.  The following graphic illustrates how for a Call Option, the HV should be below the mid-point and the IV should be below the midpoint.  If the stock is undervalued, then the probabilities of it going up are greater, and if the option is undervalued, then the price is right for the Call Option that is purchased.

So, in this particular chart, volatility is acceptable for a Call Option.  In the next post, we will look at the volatility requirements for both the Put Option and the Covered Call.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the March 17, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Volatility - Part I

One of the most important aspects of the trading process is understanding and using Volatility.  There are two types of Volatility that we will explore over the next few posts: Historical Volatility (HV) and Implied Volatility (IV).

Historical Volatility (HV) is the realized volatility of a financial instrument over a given time period.  Generally, this measure is calculated by determining the average deviation from the average price of a financial instrument in the given time period.  Standard deviation is the most common but not the only way to calculate historical volatility.  Also known as "statistical volatility,"  this measure is frequently compared with implied volatility to determine if options prices are over- or undervalued.

Now, with the legal definition out of the way, let's take a look at a simplified view of HV.  HV is simply how much the underlying (Stock) changes in price.  It is usually calculated by taking the daily closing prices and averaging how much change is occurring over a given period of time. 

The Option Chain within MachTrader has the HV and IV information at the top (as shown by the red box).  For the HV, this gives the Historical Volatility within that specific time frame.

Implied Volatility (IV) is the estimated volatility of a security's price.  In general, implied volatility increases when the market is bearish and decreases when the market is bullish.  This is due to the common belief that bearish markets are more risky than bullish markets.

In addition to known factors such as market price, interest rate, expiration date, and strike price, implied volatility is used in calculating an option's premium.  IV can be derived from a model such as the Black-Scholes Model.

Now - the simplified version:  Implied Volatility of an option represents what traders expect to happen in the future of the stock and how volatile they expect it to become.  In other words, it is the volatility of the future.  The IV is the surrogate projection of an Option's price. 

Next post we will explore how to use the HV and IV to determine if the Volatility is in a "sweet spot" to trade Calls, Puts or Covered Calls.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Risk Graphs

The Risk Graph may be one of the most under-utilized tools available to the active trader.  Available in MachTrader, the risk graph, when understood, is a powerful compliment to the traders toolkit.

The Risk Graph solicits stock information as well as option information and then builds the corresponding risk graph.  The example risk graph shown is for a Bull Put Spread.  As the risk graph is produced, current stock price information is given within the black box and updates "real time" throughout the trading day.  The trader can watch the price of the stock move and the impact upon his/her position.

The blue dotted horizontal line in the middle of the risk graph is the 0.00 (zero) line. If the risk graph is above the zero line, then the position will yield a net profit, if it is below, then the net will be negative.  The black line is the risk graph of the position at expiration.

When the stock is in such a position that the stock price vertical line intersects the risk graph, then the corresponding net profit or loss is shown at the right.  The risk graph uses the black scholes formula to determine the net profit or loss.

The blue line comes on as a default whenever a risk graph is created.  The blue line (selected in the lower left) is the risk graph of the position now (in other words - today).  Notice that the number of calendar days that remain prior to expiration is listed.  The default colors of red, green and magenta and corresponding entry boxes are available to enter up to four different risk graph lines with four different time frames prior to expiration.

 If the trader wants to compare the current chart with the risk graph, he/she presses the "Show Chart" button on the lower right.  This is especially helpful to determine support and/or resistance levels as part of the criteria for spread trades.

As an options trader, the risk graph is a very valuable tool in assessing the current state of the options position and the stock.

Intermediate Trading Lab

Notes for the March 10, 2010 Intermediate Trading Lab are now posted on the Trading Lab Page.

Friday, February 26, 2010

LEAPS Covered Write - Part II

In the last post we explored setting up the LEAPS Covered Write.  Proper management of this trade is essential.  As you can see by the Risk Graph, a flat or moderately bullish underlying is the best choice.  The Risk Graph is depicted below which shows a position staged today on the SPY.

Our risk is limited and our reward is also limited.  The basic rules, as a reminder, are that we choose the LEAPS as the underlying instead of Stock.  This drastically reduces the amount of capital up front.  When we choose the LEAPS, we make sure that it has a high Delta.  The trader will normally pick a 0.90 or better Delta.  In terms of time to sell the short-term Call, it is wise to select the front month (the first available month) and choose the Strike Price that is the first OTM based on the Stock price.

A must have part of any trade is the proper Trading Plan.  The phrase “Plan Your Trade and Trade Your Plan” is very appropriate.  If the trader has specific goals in mind in terms of risk, he/she should size the trade to their maximum allowable loss.  For example: if the trader decides that he/she can only afford to lose $500.00 per trade, then the trade must be sized so that the maximum risk for that trade is only $500.00.  Proper discipline will lead to building of a trading account.  Too many traders try to hit a home run every time they trade.  Because their mind set is completely un-realistic, they become frustrated and eventually give up.  I believe in being disciplined and I’ll take a base hit any time.

After entering the LEAPS Covered Write, the trader then monitors the underlying Stock.  If the Stock stays flat, then the position should be left alone and the short Option will expire.  The Maximum Reward is realized.  The LEAPS Call is retained and the trader can then make a determination if the position meets the requirements to do again. 

If the Stock goes up, then, just prior to expiration, the trader will exit the entire position.  Why?  If the Stock goes above the short-term Strike Price, then assignment WILL happen AT EXPIRATION if not sooner.  A question was asked about the risks associated with assignment - and the risk is that we will have to sell the Stock.  The issue with this is that the trader will not own the Stock at this point.  So, if we are assigned we need to purchase the Stock in order to sell it.  If this happens prior to expiration, then the LEAPS Call can be exercised, the stock can be purchased and then the assignment is fulfilled.  While this can still return a small profit, it normally isn’t as great as “unwrapping” out of the entire trade prior to expiration.  The reason that we purchased the LEAPS Call with a high Delta was for this very reason.  Remember that the high Delta builds the LEAPS Call value and so if the Stock goes up we consider unwrapping about a day or two prior to expiration.  We will Buy to Close the short-term Call and we will Sell to Close the LEAPS Call.  In many instances this can return almost as much, percentage wise, as the Maximum Reward.  Normally, we DO NOT want to ride the trade through expiration if the Stock is above the Strike Price.

If the Stock drops in value, then at a pre-determined point on the stock, use a contingency order and unwrap out of the position.  Again, Buy to Close the short-term Call Options and Sell to Close the LEAPS Calls.

For traders that want to avoid the capital intensity of a regular Covered Call and are willing to spend a little more time in maintaining this trade, the LEAPS Covered Write may be the answer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

LEAPS Covered Write - Part I

I've been known to take a few leaps in my day (and I've been told to take a few as well), but one that I really like to take is the LEAPS Covered Write.  This Option Strategy is one that embraces the warm fuzzy feeling of a Covered Call, yet allows the trader to leverage and still retain some safety in the trade.  This is a Calendar or Diagonal Spread Trade that enables the trader to have monthly income while lowering the amount of capital required upfront.

With some Covered Call traders, the number one problem they face is being able to buy enough Stock to make the trade worthwhile.  With the LCW the underlying is the LEAPS and the cost is a fraction of what the trader would normally have to pay for the Stock.

The LEAPS Covered Write is assembled by purchasing a LEAPS that is deep in-the-money (ITM) and that has a high Delta (preferably .90 or better) and then selling the short-term Call Option which is out-of-the-money (OTM). 

Let's take a look at one of the most widely traded products in the market - an ETF named the SPY.


The LCW requires that you have a flat or moderately bullish underlying.  The SPY is trading at $110.82.  For many a Covered Call trade would be too expensive and the return on the trade is minimal (about 1.5%).   Instead of having to buy the SPY, we look to the LEAPS to be the substitute.  In checking for the proper LEAPS the trader normally selects the first expiration month available and a deep in-the-money strike.  The Dec 90 LEAPS are chosen.  For Index or ETF underlying products, the LEAPS may or may not be in January.  In this case the 90 LEAPS Calls have a 0.9027 Delta and a cost of $22.36.  The LEAPS are purchased and then the short-term Call (the March $111.00) is sold (the same Call Option if the trader was doing a regular Covered Call).  Instead of a 1.5% return, the structure of this trade returns 7.7%  ($1.74 / $22.36).  By structuring this trade, we've essentially increased our return by about 7x!

Next post, we will explore managing this trade and a proper exit strategy.