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Where will Silver, Oil and the SP500 Bottom?

The price action in precious metals and oil this past week has been breathtaking. The last time we have seen this much volatility in commodity prices was amidst the financial crisis in 2008 and the early part of 2009. Does this mean we are at the brink and risk assets are going to decline precipitously? Obviously that question cannot be answered with any certainty, but the underlying price action in the S&P 500 has been relatively strong compared to gold, silver, and oil.

Talking heads everywhere are predicting the commodity bubble has burst and pointing fingers at excessive speculation in silver and oil. Margin requirement changes in silver futures have been fingered as the primary catalyst for the nasty sell off. Silver had gotten way ahead of itself in terms of price and parabolic moves higher are usually followed by parabolic moves lower. For silver buyers on Friday, April 29 a painful lesson has been learned as their investment has declined more than 30% in 5 days.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that we are going to bounce higher at some point. With a sell off of this magnitude it would not be shocking to see at least a 50% retracement of the entire move in coming weeks. It is also possible that this is a buying opportunity for precious metals and oil. It is too early to be certain, but a bounce next week is likely as silver went from being severely overbought to severely oversold on the daily chart in one week. The chart below illustrates the 50% retracement and the RSI reading for silver futures:

In the month of April OptionsTradingSignals members were able to capitalize on rising silver prices to close a trade that produced an 18% return in less than 5 days using a double calendar spread in order to produce outsized profits based on maximum risk. Members regularly receive trade alerts focusing on gold and silver using ETF’s GLD & SLV which have extremely liquid options.

While silver prices have been absolutely crushed, gold prices have held up a bit better. In fact, in this selloff gold has been less volatile in terms of intraday percentage price movement and has not suffered from near the losses that we have witnessed in silver. The gold futures chart below illustrates key price levels:

Members of the OTS service received a trade alert on April 6th for a calendar spread that was converted to a vertical spread. When the vertical spread was closed on April 26th the members realized a gain close to 56% based on the maximum risk of the trade.

Recently we have received some poor economic data which has put a drag on equities the past few weeks. This morning we are seeing a strong bounce in the S&P 500 futures and if we have another light volume Friday prices tend to drift higher throughout the trading day. The S&P 500 futures spiked to around 1,370 on the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death and then sold off from that point. The chart below illustrates the S&P 500 futures rally and subsequent sell off highlighting current key price levels:

Members of OptionsTradingSignals received a trade alert on April 12th to put on a call vertical spread to capitalize on rising prices. On April 21st partial profits were taken and eventually stop orders closed out the position on May 4th locking in a total gain of around 32% for the trade based on maximum risk.

Oil prices have sold off sharply, albeit not as sharp as the downside move in silver recently from a percentage standpoint, but a significant amount of the risk premium has come out of oil prices. I continue to believe that oil prices over the long term have only one direction to go based on tightening supply / demand going forward and lower production levels in the future. Similar to silver, a .500 retracement of the entire recent move is rather likely in coming weeks. The daily chart below illustrates key price levels in oil futures:

I continue to believe that oil prices are going to work higher over the longer term for a variety of reasons, but a drop in gasoline prices would not hurt U.S. Consumers and the domestic economy. Higher oil and gasoline prices weigh on the U.S. Economy heavily so this sudden decline in price is beneficial to most Americans which could juice consumption if prices stay lower for a longer period of time.

Overall, price action in the commodity space has been extremely volatile the past week with silver and oil really getting hammered lower. Gold and the S&P 500 held up a bit better and it would not be shocking to see the S&P 500 put on a rally from here if oil prices stabilize. However, if the U.S. Dollar continues its recent rally it will force the commodity space as well as equities lower. The daily chart of the U.S. Dollar Index futures is shown below:

In closing, I am expecting a bounce in coming days and a .382 or .500 retracement of the entire move in gold, silver, and oil would make sense so I would not be too aggressive shorting. However, I would not necessarily be an aggressive buyer either. It is going to take time for market participants to digest the recent moves. In weeks ahead it will be more apparent what price action is likely to do and I would be shocked if we did not see a few low risk, high probability trades setting up.

Speaking of low risk, high probability trades, the month of April was the best performance for the OptionsTradingSignals service so far year to date. Seven total trades were opened and six trades have been closed with sizable profits. Recent returns included an 18% return in SLV, a 56% return on a GLD trade, 32% return on an SPY call vertical spread, a 12% return on a RUT Calendar spread, and a 37% return on an AMZN calendar spread. The total cumulative return in April was 155%.

Assuming a trader had a $10,000 account and risked a maximum of $1,000 per trade, the gross gains would have been well over $1,400 in April alone. The overall service is up over 15% year to date handily beating the S&P 500 return while assuming less risk. Take advantage of the special offer going on now where new members get 3 months for the price of one!

Get JW Jones’ Weekly Reports Free Here: http://www.optionstradingsignals.com/profitable-options-solutions.php

By: JW Jones
Co-Author: Chris Vermeulen

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Monday Mayhem – Panic Selling Has Set In!

In overnight and pre-market trading the US Dollar posted a strong rally which in turn caused a sharp selloff in the equities market. The market is currently down 1.6 – 2.3% depending on the index traders are following.

Here is what I see on the charts going forward a few days.

Dollar Index – 4 Hour Chart
The Dollar is trading at a resistance level which has in the past triggered strong moves lower. If we get a move lower on the dollar from here then I expect a strong recovery in the equities market and likely higher commodity prices also. If the US Dollar breaks out and rallies above this point then we could see a much further collapse in stocks and commodities.

The falling dollar has also helped to boost crude oil prices the past couple months. One of my trading buddies J.W. Jones at OptionsTradingSignals.com pocketed a nice 86% gain on a USO cash secured put based on the credit sold. Also the weak dollar has his GLD options trade up over 50% already and it has just begun. Jones is an options expert and always seems to find a way to pull money out of the market month after month…

SPY Daily Chart
The daily chart shows a large gap down putting the market in a short term oversold condition. Typically we see the market bounce back up or gap higher the following day. In some cases similar to today the market actually bottoms. So those long the SP500 I feel have a good change of recouping some of today’s decline by waiting for the kneejerk reaction bounce in the next 24-48 hours.

Market Sentiment – Panic Selling At Extremes
Today we are seeing panic selling at levels not seen since the market bottom in March. The green indicator spikes on the chart show very high levels of traders/investors dumping stocks in fear of a collapse. Today’s negative headline news has sparked mass fear and when levels like this are reached you should think of holding long positions for another 1-2 session to see if we get that bounce or market bottom.

Monday Mass Selling Conclusion:
Today’s sharp drop in equities could be an excellent low risk opportunity to add or take a long position here because most of the downside fear for the short term has been eliminated today.

That being said the trend appears to be down on the SP500 now so at this time I am looking to sell into a rally if we get one today, tomorrow or Wednesday.

Get My Free Trading Rule Guide And My Weekly Newsletter Here: http://www.thegoldandoilguy.com/trade-money-emotions.php

Chris Vermeulen

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The U.S. Dollar’s Impact on Price Action in the S&P 500, Gold, & Oil

I was starting to put on my bullish hat on Friday morning when out of the blue an ugly close has forced me to rethink my position. After viewing a few hundred charts, I have determined that while I am still leaning into higher prices at this point in time, I will not totally rule out a rollover on the S&P 500. In coming days the news flow will be extreme and headline risk will be everywhere we look. The S&P 500 has been able to deflect worry for quite some time now and in every case the resiliency is unquestionable.

However, we are nearing the beginning of another earnings season which will start in just a few weeks’ time. First quarter earnings for 2011 are going to be quite interesting and most analysts’ estimates are relatively challenging. Will the rubber hit the road into earnings? Are we about to see a double top play out into earnings, or is there going to be a breakout which will take us to the SPX 1,400 – 1,415 price level?

I know, I ask a lot of questions but quite frankly that is what is running through my head. The SPX is not out of the woods yet, and the price action on Friday indicated that there is some serious supply overhead and two key resistance levels to break through before the SPX gets back to clear blue skies overhead. That being said Chris Vermeulen has caught a nice part of the recent bounce with his subscribers. He does feel the market is about to get choppy but his analysis is pointing to overall higher prices in the coming weeks.

SPX illustrates the two key price levels:
SP500 ETF Trader

In addition to the uncertainty that earnings season can bring, the primary reason why I am still leaning into a bullish move in the S&P 500 is the recent price action in the U.S. Dollar Index futures. The U.S. Dollar is scheduled to make its 3 year cycle low sometime this spring and the recent price action is indicative that the recent lows may not be the cycle lows. If the U.S. Dollar Index breaks down below recent lows, I would expect to see a nasty sell off.

The U.S. Dollar Index futures daily chart is shown below:
DX Dollar ETF Trader

Whether readers believe that we are going to be in an inflationary environment or a deflationary environment is a topic for a different time, but the chart above is undeniable that recently the U.S. Dollar has declined in value and is exhibiting weak price action. Friday morning it looked as though the U.S. Dollar was going to rip higher, but by the end of the day sellers had stepped in and forced the U.S. Dollar into the red for the session. The price action on Friday highlighted the weakness in the U.S. Dollar and the high levels of overhead supply.

If the U.S. Dollar continues to weaken, in the short run I would view this as a positive for the S&P 500, crude oil, and precious metals. If the dollar breaks down to new lows, it should help buoy the S&P 500 and gold prices. Gold has been consolidating for nearly 6 months and a breakout higher from current price levels would make a trip to $1,500 an ounce very likely. I would not be surprised to see gold work even higher than $1,500 an ounce depending on how violent the selloff in the U.S. Dollar might be.

The weekly chart of gold futures is listed below:
GC Gold ETF Trader

I would think that most investors are aware that crude oil futures have been trading higher recently. On Friday oil prices climbed above recent resistance around the $107/barrel price level and reached new recent highs. Members that belong to my paid service enjoyed a relatively low risk options trade that we put on several weeks ago which involved selling cash secured naked puts on $USO. The trade was closed on Friday for a total gain of 85% of the premium that was sold. For long time readers, my stance on energy has been pretty obvious. In the longer term, energy prices almost have to go up as the world’s demand for energy increases while supplies remain flat.

I will likely get involved in another oil trade at some point in the future, but for right now I’m going to wait for a more prudent entry. Based on current price action, it would not surprise me to see crude oil futures test the $110 – $112 per barrel price range in the near future. If the $112/barrel price level is breached to the upside, a test of the $120/barrel price level will be likely.

The weekly chart of oil futures is listed below:
CL Crude Oil ETF Trader

Weekend Trend Conclusion:
The S&P 500 is in an interesting place as far as the price action is concerned. With earnings season rapidly approaching and a possible break down in the U.S. Dollar Index likely, future price action is uncertain. I am leaning into the bullish camp at this point, but that could change rather quickly based on the price action later this week in both the S&P 500 and the U.S. Dollar Index. One thing worth mentioning is that if the U.S. Dollar Index were to bottom around these levels and a bounce higher transpired, it would put negative price pressure on most asset classes. The fact that price action in the U.S. Dollar Index has been weak lately makes me believe a break down is likely, but as most readers know Mr. Market offers few guarantees.

Assuming the U.S. Dollar breaks down, we should see the S&P 500, precious metals, and oil continue to work higher. My eyes are going to be watching the U.S. Dollar Index closely in coming days/weeks. If a breakdown transpires, the potential upside in precious metals and oil could be intense. Ultimately, I remain slightly bullish on stocks and extremely bullish on oil and precious metals. However, my entire thesis could change if the U.S. Dollar Index starts to firm up and begins to work higher. There are simply too many question marks surrounding price action to take on significant amounts of risk at this point in time.

Analysis & Opinions of:
J.W Jones – www.OptionsTradingSignals.com
Chris Vermeulen – www.TheGoldAndOilGuy.com

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Broad Market Reversal – Better Hold On To Your Hat!

This had been an exiting week for traders as the equities market was on a verge of a major sell off. Fortunately, we were watching the market very closely and saw the sentiment and market internals shift shortly after a new low was set last week. That was an early warning for us that a trend reversal to the upside could happen at any hour or day this week.

Wednesday and Thursday’s rallies were on solid volume and the market internal indicators along with market breadth were strong also. There has been a large surge of new highs across the board on the NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX. These numbers tell me that it’s not just one sector moving the market; instead it’s a broad market advance (institutional buying).

While I don’t typically try to pick major tops or bottoms because of the added risks and lower probability of winning trades, I do tend to spot them forming a few days in advance allowing me to tighten stops and take some profits on positions.

Trend reversals typically have large violent moves near the beginning and end of their life cycle making things not only tougher to trade but potentially more costly. Once I see a trend confirmed with moving averages, volume, and sentiment along with market breadth that’s when I start looking to take positions on pauses or pullbacks to support zones. This greatly increases the odds of winning/making money from the market. There are some really great Options Trading Strategies for taking advantage of these volatility changes in the market which you can get at OptionsTradingSignals.com

SPY Daily Chart:
As you can see the market has clearly broken to the upside above key moving averages after finding support at the 50 day moving average. This rally has some solid volume behind it which I like to see also.

The first 3-4 days of a trend reversal generally post some give moves but after that initial thrust expect a pause or pullback to happen.

SPY 60 Minute Intraday Chart:
We were lucky enough to take profits on our inverse SP500 trade as the market started to give us mixed signals of a possible rally. A couple days later on Nov 26th we saw a major shift within the market sentiment preventing us from shorting the market again.

Two days later the broad market gapped higher triggering protective stops/short covering sparking a fierce two day rally which took the market up to a major resistance level. I do feel as though the market is going higher, but right now, everything is WAY over bought and trading at resistance. Even if the market moves higher for another 2-3 days and breaks this resistance level, it will most likely have a pause, or pullback as it regains energy for another thrust higher.

Mid-Week Trading Conclusion:
In short, it looks as though the trend is now up and the Christmas rally could be gearing up for a good one!

Be sure to get my Free Trading Analysis Book and Analysis here: http://www.thegoldandoilguy.com/trade-money-emotions.php

Or

Get my Pre-Market Trading Videos, intraday updates and trade alerts here: www.TheGoldAndOilGuy.com

Chris Vermeulen

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Using Calendar Spreads to Play a Short Term Top in Gold

Recent price action in stocks and commodities reinforces the “don’t fight the Fed” mantra. What would our central bank be doing if it were not devaluing our currency, attempting to create inflation, and openly manipulating financial markets through a series of supposedly calculated open-market operations? I do not have any market prophecies; my crystal ball is on permanent vacation. The only certainty that presents itself is that the market pundits, the academics, and the analysts do not know exactly what is going to happen in the future.

We are in uncharted territory regarding government manipulation. We watch as our federal government actively and openly manipulates financial data in an attempt to boost asset prices with the hope that if Americans feel richer they will spend money more freely. What is going to be the catalyst to drive growth when the federal government and the Federal Reserve run out of manipulations?

By now the secret is out, the expected weakening of the U.S. dollar has propelled commodities and stocks higher in short order. The easy trade has likely passed and there are a few warning signs that are being largely ignored by the bullish masses. Business insiders are selling heavily while few are accumulating positions. The banks have not broken out and were under pressure for most of the trading day during Wednesday’s big advance. If the banks do not rally with the broad market, caution is warranted. We are approaching an uncertain period of time regarding earnings and the upcoming elections and we all know that financial markets hate uncertainty.

Additionally, the U.S. dollar is at key support and should that support level fail, stocks and commodities could continue their ascent in rapid fashion. If the level holds, the U.S. dollar could have a relief rally to work off the oversold condition, however a bounce will likely be short lived and the dollar will test and likely fail at that level. The chart below is the weekly price chart of the U.S. Dollar Index.

As the chart above indicates, the U.S. dollar is trading at critical support which offers traders a defined risk level. That being said, gold and silver have literally gone parabolic and are due for a pullback. With risk crisply defined on the other side of the dollar’s support level, a short trade on GLD is warranted. The only problem facing a directionally biased trade is that the November monthly options have nearly five weeks before they expire. Expiration is too far away to utilize an iron condor or butterfly spread, but a different option strategy might make sense.

After considering a few option construction strategies, a calendar spread makes a lot of sense. A calendar option trade, also known as a horizontal spread, is constructed using the same underlying, same strike price, but different expirations. A neutral strategy can be used where the primary profit engine is Theta (time) decay with no real price action expectation. Bull or Bear calendar spreads can be created through the purchase and sale of calls/puts that are out-of-the-money.

Since I expect the price of gold to decline due to a subsequent bounce in the U.S. dollar, I am utilizing a Bear Calendar Spread. The trade construction consists of selling the GLD October Weekly 134 puts (expire 10/22) and the simultaneous purchase of the GLD November 134 puts (expire 11/19). For our example, I will be using the Thursday (10/14) closing prices to illustrate this trade.

The GLD October Weekly 134 puts closed around $130 (bid) per contract (1.30) while the GLD November 134 puts closed trading at $320 (ask) per contract (3.20). The trade would represent a debit of $190 per side (1.90) not including commissions. The chart below illustrates the GLD Put Calendar spread. Please note that the maximum profit for this spread is always at expiration when the price of the underlying is at the strike price selected.

The profitability of the trade based on the Thursday closing price would be a maximum gain of $125 dollars per side assuming GLD’s price closed next Friday at exactly $134/share. The profitability range at Friday’s close is from $131.14 – $137.08. This trade takes on a maximum risk of $190 per side not including commissions. The profit potential based on risk is over 60% if price should close next Friday around 134.

But wait; there is more! The trader has additional choices after the trade has been placed. If GLD’s price stays relatively stable through the October weekly option expiration, the trade could be closed for a profit.

As mentioned above, the expectation is that the price of gold will decline as the dollar has a relief rally to work off the massively oversold condition. With that in mind, the trader could allow the GLD October Weekly 134 to expire next Friday or close that leg of the option trade keeping the long GLD November 134 put in place. After the October weekly contract is closed, the trader has the ability to put on a vertical spread or another calendar using the next week’s options.

In our case, we expect price to decline in the short term on GLD, so we could sell the GLD November 131 put and further reduce our overall cost of the GLD November 134 put that we are long. While this may sound a bit confusing, the main idea is that we are utilizing Theta (time) decay to reduce the cost of the long put we purchased. The further we are able to reduce the cost of the put, the more profitable a downward move in the GLD price becomes.

As an example, let us assume that we were able to close the GLD October weekly 134 put for a profit of $60. The profit reduces our overall cost on the GLD November 134 put by $60 and places the cost to us at $260. Assuming price stays relatively close to the Thursday close on GLD, we likely would be able to sell the GLD November 131 put for around $130 (estimate) depending on price action and volatility levels over the next week. Assuming we were able to sell the November 131 put at $130, we have now reduced our cost of the November 134 GLD put down to only $130 per side. The profitability chart below represents what the trade would look like.

Now we have a directionally biased trade on GLD and we are only risking $140 per side for the exposure. The maximum gain on this trade at the November expiration would be $160 per side assuming GLD’s closing price was $131/share or lower at the November expiration.

The primary risk that this trade undertakes in relation to volatility would be a volatility crush, or collapse. If overall market volatility probes lower or the implied volatility declines on the underlying (GLD), it can cause a potentially damaging impact on this trade. With every trade there are inherent risks, but great traders understand the risk and manage it accordingly through the use of stop orders and proper position sizing (money management).

If GLD does sell off, it is likely that the implied volatility would increase on GLD which would benefit this trade tremendously. However, option traders must always be aware of implied volatility as it relates to the underlying being utilized in their specific trades. Ignoring implied volatility when trading options is like diving into a swimming pool head first without knowing how deep the water is.

While the longer term prospects for gold are quite constructive, in the short term it would be healthy for a pullback, even if only for a few days. This trade carries more risk than most strategies I have presented previously; however option traders need to be familiar with various methodologies that address current market conditions. Keep in mind, risk reducing strategies using contingent stop orders that are based on the U.S. Dollar index allow us to crisply define the risk in this trade. In closing, I will leave you with the insightful muse of Adam Smith, “The problem with fiat money is that it rewards the minority that can handle money, but fools the generation that has worked and saved money.”

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J.W. Jones

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Using Iron Condors to Create Profits Trading SPX

This recent rally has many market pundits believing the market will continue higher, fueled by slightly improved economic data points. The bulls realize that the all important S&P 1130 level is not that far overhead; if they can push the SPX through that level with strong volume, a rally could play out. The charts below are using the S&P E-Mini contract for analysis purposes.

In contrast, the bears look at the S&P noting the ever present head and shoulders pattern as well as the potential triple top formation should the S&P 1130 resistance level hold. While the S&P 1130 level is critical for the bulls, the bears view it as the final stand. The bears realize that if they cannot hold the 1130 level, their party will end and the bulls will happily rub it in their face.

So what is a trader to do? The first advice worth offering is to utilize patience. Let others do battle and wait for the market to confirm a specific direction. Professional traders always have a plan before they enter a trade and they consistently utilize stops to define their risk. The very best of traders do not allow their opinions or the opinions of others to cloud their judgment; professional traders will abruptly change their trading plans in order to adapt to changing market conditions.

Trading is all about perception and leveraging probability. Regardless of whether a trader utilizes technical analysis, fundamental analysis, or the newspaper-dart method the very best traders realize that consistently taking money out of the market is more about managing emotions and probability than anything else.

The market always leaves clues behind, but if a trader is too biased in one direction or the other he/she becomes blind to clues that do not fit his/her directional bias. The current state of affairs in the S&P 500 offers another quality setup, regardless of which bias a trader has. With option expiration looming, a new option cycle presents itself with expiration at the end of September (Quarterly’s). My most recent missive focused on option butterflies, however the situation we have currently on the S&P calls for a wider trading range. We now find ourselves in condor season.

Condors and iron condors have similar setups, but they have slightly different constructions. Theta (time decay) is the primary profit engine just like traditional butterflies; the only difference is that condors and iron condors offer potentially wider profit zones than a traditional butterfly. Similar to butterflies, condors are susceptible to volatility shocks, expanding implied volatility on the underlying, and gamma risk can also present itself and negatively impact a trade’s overall performance.

The most important thing to remember about option trading is that as one progresses in his/her overall option knowledge, options allow a trader to modify their position to reduce risk and allow positions to become profitable.

While both types of condors are susceptible to the same risks, their primary functional difference is based around their construction. Both condors and iron condors have 4 separate and specific legs. A traditional condor utilizes 4 option contracts of the same type; 4 calls or 4 puts. Iron condors utilize a mixture of calls and puts; 2 calls and 2 puts. Another primary difference is that condors are a debit trade, while iron condors are a credit trade.

In this week’s example we will use an iron condor strategy to set up a trade. The trade will not have a directional bias, instead we will simply use the passage of time as our profit engine. We will use the S&P 1130 level as our midpoint, and build the wings of the iron condor equidistant from that level. Trading the cash settled SPX index options or trading options on the S&P 500 futures requires more capital and the acceptance of greater risk.

A trader with less capital could utilize the SPY in the same manner, with less capital at risk and tighter bid/ask spreads. For accounts exposed to the ravages of the tax system, it is important to remember there is preferential tax treatment of the cash settled index options and futures options that are not present in the SPY.

The iron condor is set up using 4 separate option contracts – 2 calls and 2 puts. The iron condor has the following construction ratio: Long 1 Put/Short 1 put/Short 1 Call/Long 1 Call. Each of these two vertical spreads is constructed as a credit spread. In our case, we are going to use the following strike prices for our example. Keep in mind, a trader willing to take more risk could use strikes which are closer for the potential of higher returns (more risk). On the other hand, those who are more risk averse could move the short strikes further apart for a lower return (less risk).

The chart below represents the profitability of an SPX iron condor using the following trade construction: Long 1 Sept (Quarterly) SPX 1050 Put/Short 1 Sept. (Quarterly) 1060 Put/Short 1 Sept. (Quarterly)1165 Call/Long 1 Sept. (Quarterly) 1170 Call. For further detailed information, prices used to produce this iron condor were based on the Thursday close and the midpoints of the bid/ask spread on all contracts. The profitability reflected below is based on a 1/1/1/1 setup. Obviously if a trader decided to add more contracts the max profit and loss would increase. Keep in mind, this example is for educational purposes only and is not reflective of intraday market prices.

The red line represents profit/loss at expiration. The white line represents profit today. As you can tell, the potential profit for today is essentially zero unless a substantial deterioration of implied volatility was to occur. The key to this entire trade is the passage of time. If the SPX stays within SPX 1060 and SPX 1165 price at expiration on September 30th the trade will realize the maximum of profit of $160. The total risk taken by this trade would be $840.

The beauty as always with options is that risk is crisply defined. The absolute most you could lose on this trade regardless of what happens is $840 per side. As a side note, the probability of SPX’s price remaining between the 1060-1165 price range over the next two weeks is around 70% based on a log normal (Gaussian) distribution of prices.

Additionally, iron condors can be manipulated throughout their lifespan to defend profits. The ability to make slight changes to the construction by purchasing slightly out of the money puts/calls can also help protect profits if price gets near the edge of the profitability window. A myriad of strategies exist once this trade is placed to adapt to ever changing market conditions.

As an example, let us assume that price goes higher to around SPX 1150 in one week. At that price point, we could close the put portion of the condor for the maximum gain and then restructure our condor to protect the call side with a slightly out of the money call purchase and/or another put credit spread at a higher strike point taking in more premium and further reducing our risk.

After a trader becomes proficient with the various option trading strategies, he/she can constantly adapt positions to prevent further losses. After all, options were designed primarily as a means to hedge equity positions and reduce risk.

In closing, the iron condor strategy can be profitable regardless of which direction an underlying’s price goes. There is no guesswork or fake outs, as long as the inevitable passage of time continues and price stays within the contracts that were sold to open the position, a near 19% return is possible based on capital at risk.

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The Stealth Greek Of Options Trading: Vega

By: J.W. Jones

In my previous missives on the Greeks of the option world, we have spent most of our time focusing on Theta and Delta. In the real world of option trading, option prices are the subjects of three primal forces: price of the underlying, time to expiration, and implied volatility. Delta and theta address the first of these two primal forces. The third primal force, implied volatility, is by far the least known by newcomers to the option trading world. However, while it is usually not respected or even known by many new to trading options, it typically is the most frequently unrecognized force resulting in is the cause for significant trading capital deterioration.

In order to set the framework within which to understand option pricing, it is essential to understand that the quoted price of each option is in reality the sum of the intrinsic value (if any) and the extrinsic (time) value. The intrinsic value has been discussed previously and consists of the portion of the premium which reflects the extent to which the particular option is “in the money.”

Understanding of the various concepts of volatility is essential to grasping one of the essential defining operational characteristics of the world of options. Volatility can be considered in light of:

1. What was (SV, statistical volatility; HV historical volatility; & other synonyms of the same)

2. What is,

3. What shall be (IV, implied volatility, and Market Implied Volatility (MIV) They are all confusingly disparate words and acronyms signifying identical concepts)

Of these three time frames within which volatility can be considered, implied volatility is by far the most important. The nexus point is right here, right now, while the future is unclear and will always be that way. For an option trader to sustain profitability over long periods of time, it is essential to understand implied volatility and its various implications.

Let us consider for a moment the variables defining an option’s price. Intrinsic value is a crisply defined value that requires simply the calculation of the relationship of the price of the underlying to the strike price of the option and can theoretically vary from 0 to infinity. The time value (also termed the extrinsic value) of the option is dependent, in large part, on two distinct variables. These variables are the amount of time to expiration and implied volatility. Time to expiration is easily defined by anyone with access to a calendar and schedule of option expiration dates. Option expiration is easily accessible for option traders, and as such represents a totally transparent variable. Conversely, implied volatility is not as easy to explain, or quantify.

The subjective concept expressed by implied volatility is to be distinguished from the mathematically objective and precise concept of historic volatility. Historical volatility is simply derived from the price action of the underlying and can be calculated in one or more of several iterations. Each calculation is fundamentally derived from historically apparent price action.

Implied volatility is not only arduous to understand, it is even more difficult to quantify. A totally different calculation is required; the computation is reflective of a unique and characteristic point of view with regard to price action. It is technically calculated by an iterative process requiring multiple trial and error calculations; thankfully the robust computational ability of the current generation of computers handles this task easily. Of the three primal forces impacting option price, implied volatility is the only factor subject to cerebration. As an adaptable and subjective input factor, implied volatility is reflective of both general market sentiment and the subjective evaluation of potential future volatility while simultaneously corresponding with the specific direction of the underlying. As such, it is a forward looking evaluation as opposed to historic volatility which is well, historic.

Implied volatility has a historic and characteristic range for each underlying. A strong historic tendency is the characteristic for implied volatility to revert to the mean for the particular underlying under consideration. This strong mean reverting tendency forms one of the primary fundamental tenets of option trading and represents a major opportunity for potential profit in option trading.

TheOptionsGuide site produced the chart below that illustrates the behavior of Vega at various strike prices that are expiring in 3 months, 6 months and 9 months when the stock is currently trading at $50.

In addition to the historic backdrop in which implied volatility may be considered, there are certain stereotypic patterns of IV expansion and contraction in relation to anticipated events which may lead to unusual volatility of the underlying. Classic examples of these events include earnings, impending FDA announcements, and the release of key economic data by the government or the analyst community. For example, many of the most extreme increases in implied volatility anticipate FDA decisions and routinely revert to the mean immediately following the anticipated announcement. Potentially substantial profit opportunities are borne from such situations for the adept and knowledgeable option trader.

In future writings we will address the precise mechanisms by which perturbations in implied volatility can be exploited for profit by the knowledgeable option trader. Failure to consider the current position of implied volatility in a historic framework for the particular underlying in which you are contemplating a trade is the single most frequent hallmark of an inexperienced trader. Lack of attention to this important factor in trade planning is the most frequent cause of paradoxical option behavior and failure to profit from correctly predicting anticipated price movements of the underlying.

While most equity traders focus their attention on the SP-500 for broad market clues, option traders always have a watchful eye on the volatility index, commonly known as the VIX. While the VIX is the most common volatility measurement in the option trading world, there are several volatility indices which can be monitored, followed, and even traded if one is so inclined. While it is not always necessarily the case, recently when the VIX rises, the broad markets are selling off.

While this article has been a basic overview of implied volatility and Vega, it will conclude the series of recent articles which have been focused on the option Greeks. Forthcoming articles are going to be more focused on trades and the unbelievable profit opportunities that can be created by various option strategies. In closing, if you are interested in furthering your education regarding options my recommendation is to do some serious homework. Otherwise it will only be a matter of time before a combination of Theta, Delta, Vega, or implied volatility rear their ugly heads and take money from unsuspecting rookies.

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J.W. Jones is an independent options trader using multiple forms of analysis to guide his option trading strategies. Jones has an extensive background in portfolio analysis and analytics as well as risk analysis. J.W. strives to reach traders that are missing opportunities trading options and commits to writing content which is not only educational, but entertaining as well. Regular readers will develop the knowledge and skills to trade options competently over time. Jones focuses on writing spreads in situations where risk is clearly defined and high potential returns can be realized.

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Risk Comparison: Options Versus Equities – Part 1

While future articles will return to focusing on the option Greeks, a recent comment regarding risk really piqued my interest. The age old discussion about risk versus reward, equities versus options, and the fundamental difference between Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swan” risk and what most people perceive as ordinary risk.

In a perfect world, financial markets are by design a discounting mechanism of a cash flow stream, risk versus reward, and a psychological environment where the difference between profits and losses is merely perception. In the end, trading is all about the mastery of risk mitigation and leveraging probability.

I am an options trader, not because I do not like equities or futures, but because I fear the perception of their so-called safety. Most academics and the average investor believe that financial markets, specifically individual stocks follow a Gaussian, or log normal distribution. While various economists and statisticians have argued this point for decades, to understand that price distributions are in fact not strictly Gaussian.

Price distributions are capable of exhibiting more than the predicted occasions of price inhabiting the extreme regions of the distribution curve. Understanding these concepts is critical in order to have a robust understanding of risk. This type of phenomenon is called “fat tail” risk; statisticians refer to it as leptokurtosis. It is this degree of risk well beyond the normally distributed range to which Taleb has characterized as “Black Swan” risk.

In financial markets, having accepted that these fat tails do in fact exist and exist with a frequency far beyond what is intuitively apparent, risk becomes significantly harder to quantify. When risk becomes more difficult to quantify it can be said that investors and traders have significantly more exposure to a catastrophic event than they realize.

In basic terms, the financial world we live in today is wrought with fat tails. Government integration and manipulation of financial markets, the Federal Reserve’s (supposedly independent) direct engagement into the bond market, and specifically treasuries and mortgage backed securities creates an environment in those markets where distributions are not statistically normalized. Geopolitical risk such as the potential for an Israeli air strike against Iran places unconditional risk on a variety of risk assets, at the forefront light sweet crude oil.

If one considers all the various risks extant, risk today seems excruciatingly high. Professors on Minyanville have recently called into question whether paper assets like the Gold ETF GLD is accurately priced. It is widely believed that there is significantly less physical gold versus gold-backed paper. This adds yet another element of uncertainty to an increasingly uncertain environment.

What would happen to the gold ETF GLD if an analyst announced that the GLD ETF no longer had access to physical gold? What would happen to the valuation? How can they maintain adequate capital levels inside the ETF if gold demand rises while physical supply diminishes? The answer is contraction in the NAV price of the gold ETF. In real terms, the ETF owns less gold than the paper supposedly represents and price must come down to indicate this discrepancy. Make no mistake, the market will be happy to provide the swift and unforgiving necessity of adjusting to parity.

While the above offers basic examples of fat tails, the increased statistical variation has a name. The name of this type of condition where fat tails surround us and atypical logarithmic distribution takes place is called kurtosis. As a side note, since recent and forthcoming articles are going to focus on the Greeks, kurtosis comes from the Greek word meaning ??t??, kyrtos, or kurtos. (Just thought I’d throw that in there for a synergistic moment)

A scenario similar to the condition in which we find financial markets today could likely be summarized as a period of time where Leptokurtosis has become prevalent. Leptokurtosis is a statistical phenomenon where a population’s distribution, in our case equities, has a rather pronounced peak around the average. This peak is representative of a population that is rife with fat tails, higher variance, and a propensity for abnormally large swings in the standard deviation of returns.

What does all this mumbo jumbo mean? It means that when fat tails are present within a leptokurtic distribution, risk literally can become infinite. Fat tails and leptokurtosis are just a few of the many statistical economic studies that have caught the eye of many academics, specifically in the areas of advanced statistics, mathematics, and . . . economics. Distributions, kurtosis, and fat tails are the science behind behavioral finance. To most people this subject matter is boring, however it is only boring if you have never experienced the gut wrenching expression of these phenomena in the market; after that experience, the subject becomes transfixing.

The average investor believes that when they buy a stock the likelihood of it declining significantly in a short period of time is relatively minimal. We have been conditioned by Wall Street snake oil salesmen that due to inflationary pressure, over long periods of time equities must rise as a function of inflation. Everything is a buy in the long term, plus it makes for a great story to build a business model around that the retail crowd buys into. While this may be true in the long run, we live finite lives which do not have the luxury of allowing behavioral mean reversion over geological periods of time.

Right now risk is excruciatingly high. We have a variety of risks and uncertainties that are plaguing financial markets. The statistics behind the market today would likely exemplify the excessive risk built into the current system. So how exactly does this relate to options you might be wondering? I trade options instead of individual stocks to reduce risk. Options offer a variety of ways to hedge risk, even after a trade has been initiated. Options allow for manipulation where as with stocks and futures there is little one can do besides fully hedge a position.

The reason I utilize options instead of futures or equities for swing trades is because by definition they are insulated from outlying events such as an unexpected act of war or a natural disaster which could interrupt the flow of commerce for an extended period of time. Options are inherently less risky than stocks because of the leverage built into them. Since all moneys invested in the market are subject to Black Swan risk, the ability to control an equivalent position with dramatically less capital commitment is a core risk reduction strategy.

Yes, a trader can lose his/her entire investment if they own an option naked. Experienced option traders that buy and sell calls or puts naked and then hold them for extended periods of time is likely an anomaly. Experienced option traders will use some form of a spread to mitigate their risk further. Additionally, most online brokers offer option traders access to contingent stops which are based on the underlying asset’s intraday price.

Fat tails and leptokurtosis are the result of financial markets reacting violently to unexpected events, similar to what happened this week when the jobs number was much worse than expected or to the still unknown factors which precipitated the recent “flash crash”. Large price swings similar to what we have seen recently are usually attributed to higher volatility. Higher volatility for prolonged periods of time is just another symptom that points to fatter tails and leptokurtic distributions. Reliance on the Gaussian, log normal distributions likely have some of the “machines” on Wall Street in a situation where their models do not work.

Option traders leaning long into the close on Wednesday that utilized specific types of spreads had limited risk. They did not have to worry if the market gapped their stop. Their risk was limited from the moment they initiated the trade. In contrast, an equity trader that went long before the close on Wednesday could have exited if they had access to the premarket, however if they didn’t the gap down found them losing more than they originally set out to lose. The market gapped over their stop, leaving them vulnerable to further downside. The unquestioning reliance on stops to close positions in times of Black Swan events is flawed at its core because it denies the very existence of unknown and unknowable risk.

This is just one example of how equity traders who routinely hold positions overnight are exposing themselves to potentially unidentifiable levels of risk in today’s market. If we are in a period where leptokurtosis and subsequent fat tails in the distribution prevail nothing is impossible when risk is being calculated. By statistical definition, a period where a fat tail(s) exist indicates a period where risk is extremely high.

Log normal modeling software will significantly underestimate the true risk in financial markets. What trading software and price models are you using in your analysis? If you are using a gut feel or one type of stock chart to help guide your decisions about risk, you could potentially be mischaracterizing risk by as much as 5-7 standard deviations. 5-7 standard deviations is scary my friend, the kind of scary that days that have nicknames that start with “black” are made of.

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J.W. Jones is an independent options trader using multiple forms of analysis to guide his option trading strategies. Jones has an extensive background in portfolio analysis and analytics as well as risk analysis. J.W. strives to reach traders that are missing opportunities trading options and commits to writing content which is not only educational, but entertaining as well. Regular readers will develop the knowledge and skills to trade options competently over time. Jones focuses on writing spreads in situations where risk is clearly defined and high potential returns can be realized.

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Learning How Delta Creates Profits When Trading Gold

Last week’s articles focused specifically on the option Greek Theta. This week we will shift gears and adjust our focus on Delta, another fundamental tenet of option trading. The official definition of Delta as provided by Wikipedia is as follows:

?, Delta – Measures the rate of change of option value with respect to changes in the underlying asset’s price.

Delta has a significant impact on the price of an option contract(s). When a trader is long a call contract, Delta will always be positive. Likewise, if an option trader owns a put contract long, Delta will always be negative. As option contracts get closer to the money their Delta increases causing the option contract to rise in value rapidly as the option gets closer to being in the money.

Clearly Theta has an adverse impact on a trader who is long a single options position (own options long with no hedge or spread), however Delta is extremely dynamic and is one of the major factors directly responsible for option pricing as the price of the underlying changes throughout the trading day.

If an option is deep in the money, the option contract will have a higher Delta and will generally act similarly to actually owning the individual stock. For a deep in-the-money GLD call that has a Delta of +.80, the first dollar GLD rises by then the value of the GLD call options increases by roughly $0.80 or $80.

If the delta is 0.80, this essentially means that the GLD call option will increase in value 0.80 ($80) for every $1 that the GLD ETF increases. As the GLD option goes deeper into the money, the Delta will typically rise until it nearly produces the same gains as the GLD ETF until the delta asymptotically approaches 1.00 and the option moves in lockstep with the underlying. While my next article will continue to help explain Delta, it is important to understand how Delta can enhance a trader’s return when trading options with a specific directional bias.

While options exist for the gold futures contract, typically if I want to trade gold I utilize the GLD ETF. The primary reason is that the ETF offers liquid options, which makes it easier to initiate spreads and multi-legged orders. If options are thinly traded, the bid ask spread is almost always wide making it more difficult to get a good fill and a good overall price. Most option traders stay away from underlying stocks that have illiquid options.

In order to better illustrate how an options’ Delta can create profits, I will use GLD as an example. Keep in mind, I am not advising any traders to buy or sell options naked. I only trade options using strategies that help mitigate various risks to my capital. Theta (time) risk, volatility risk, and market risk are not being considered as this is merely an example to illustrate the power of Delta.

Recently Gold and subsequently GLD suffered a pretty significant pullback. GLD broke down through a major horizontal trend line and the daily chart was extremely bearish. Just when a lot of traders were preparing to get short GLD, buyers stepped in and pushed GLD’s price back above the support area. The GLD daily chart listed below illustrates the breakdown and subsequent failure and a powerful rally followed.

Let us assume for contrast that an option trader and an equity trader each want to get long GLD. The equity trader buys 200 shares of GLD at $115/share. Assuming the equity trader does not use margin, the total trade would cost around $23,000 not including commissions. The option trader decides to utilize delta and purchases 5 October 107 calls which in our example cost $900 per contract for a grand total of $4,500 not including commissions.

We will assume the October 107 calls have a Delta of 1.00. When a call option has a delta of 1.00, it essentially means that the owner of the call is going to get 100% of the move reflected in the premium of the option he/she owns. Thus if GLD increases by $1, the value of the option would increase $1 all things being held constant.

This is where Delta really shines; it shines even brighter than gold in this illustration. Both the equity trader and the option trader have a profit target of $118/share. A few days later GLD reaches $118/share and both traders close their trades with profits. The equity trader made $3/share which relates to a total gain of $600, or around 2.60%.

The option trader realized roughly 95% of the move, meaning around $2.85. The option trader had five total contracts for a total gain of $1,425 less commissions. The total gain for the options trader was over 31% less commissions.

Keep in mind, the option trader only had $4,500 of maximum risk while the equity trader was risking over $20,000. The option trader made over 100% more money, while risking only 25% of the total capital required by the equity trader. Behold, the power of Delta!

Learn more about how to find low risk options trades and get our alerts at: www.OptionsTradingSignals.com

J.W. Jones is an independent options trader using multiple forms of analysis to guide his option trading strategies. Jones has an extensive background in portfolio analysis and analytics as well as risk analysis. J.W. strives to reach traders that are missing opportunities trading options and commits to writing content which is not only educational, but entertaining as well. Regular readers will develop the knowledge and skills to trade options competently over time. Jones focuses on writing spreads in situations where risk is clearly defined and high potential returns can be realized.

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Learning How Theta Can Be Utilized to Trade Gold

In the previous article, “Learning How to Profit from Theta When Trading SPX Options,” I discussed the basics of the famed option Greek, Theta. A fundamental knowledge of Theta is imperative in order to understand the mechanics and construction of option strategies. In many cases, Theta is either the profit engine or the means by which experienced option traders reduce the cost of opening a new position. Theta can even take an ETF that pays no dividend and create a monthly income stream utilizing a technique known as a covered call write.

The most exciting thing about options is their versatility. You can trade them in so many different ways. A trader can define a positions’ risk with unbelievable precision. When traded properly utilizing hard stops, options offer traders opportunities that stocks and futures simply cannot provide. Theta allows option traders to write spreads which generally offer nice returns with very limited risk.

Theta is the fundamental reason behind the slow and relentless deterioration of option values over time. As a series of options gets closer to expiration, Theta becomes a very powerful force. As stated in the previous article, the final two weeks of option expiration put Theta into overdrive. Courtesy of Optionsuniversity, the two charts listed below illustrate the rapid decay of Theta.

These charts illustrate effectively that option contracts which are out of the money and consist entirely of time premium decline rapidly in value on their way to 0 potentially. While Theta must be respected, it is Theta’s relationship with implied volatility that really makes it a force that must be monitored closely.

While I will not discuss implied volatility in this article, in future articles it will gain considerable attention. Implied volatility is paramount in every decision that an option trader makes. Ignoring implied volatility and Theta is a recipe for disaster, the kind of disaster where an entire trading account is wiped out in less than 30 days. In most of the trades that I place, Theta is regularly a profit engine. I never purchase options naked, in every option trade that I construct I am utilizing some form of a spread in order to mitigate the ever present wasting away of time premium. In many cases, Theta is the driving force behind my profitability.

In any other case, Theta decreases the cost for me to purchase options allowing me to minimize my risk to an acceptable level. Vertical spreads come in two variations: debit spreads and credit spreads. A vertical spread is a multi-legged option trade which involves more than one strike price. As an example, we will assume that GLD is trading around $119/share. If I were to have placed a call credit spread trade at the close on Thursday I could have sold the GLD August 120 call strike and purchased the GLD August 121 call strike, thus receiving a credit in my account.

At current prices as I type, the August 120 call strike would have resulted in a credit to my trading account of $53 dollars while the August 121 call strike would have resulted in a debit in my account of $29 dollars with a one lot position size. If I were to place this trade, I would have a strong feeling that the price of GLD was going to decline. The reason this trade is called a vertical credit spread is because the total trade results in a credit to my account of $24 dollars less commissions. The vertical aspect of the trade is based on the arrangement of the positions on the options board, also called an option chain.

When an option trader places a credit spread, they are relying on time decay, Theta, to provide them with profits. In many cases, option traders will utilize vertical spreads to play a directional bias. In the example above, the bias on GLD would be to the downside. However, the maximum amount I can lose is limited because I purchased the 121 call. The most I can lose is $100 dollars minus the credit of $24 dollars. Thus, the worst case scenario for this call credit spread would be a loss of $76 dollars for every contract I had put on. If I had put on 5 contracts, my loss would have been limited to $380 dollars plus commissions.

A call debit spread is constructed exactly the opposite direction. If I believed that gold was going to increase in value I could buy 1 August 120 GLD call for $53 dollars and sell 1 August GLD 121 call for $29 dollars. Notice that the sale of the GLD 121 call reduces the cost of the GLD 120 call. By selling the GLD 121 call, I reduce the cost of this spread down to $26 dollars. However, my maximum gain is limited to $74 dollars minus commissions. The point of this illustration is more to focus on the way Theta helps option traders in practical situations.

When an option trader utilizes a credit spread, Theta operates as the profit engine. When an option trader does the exact opposite by placing a debit spread, Theta acts to reduce the overall cost of the spread reducing the overall risk exposure. As one can see, understanding Theta is crucial when trading options. While vertical spreads are very basic, they can provide nice returns while having the unique ability to control risk with an extremely tight leash.

In future articles, we will dissect the various option trading strategies which option traders can utilize in different situations, at different points within the option expiration cycle. While this article will conclude the basic overview of Theta, future articles will discuss intimately the key relationship that Theta and implied volatility share. In closing, I will leave you with the famous muse of Benjamin Franklin, “Time is money.”

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Chris Vermeulen – Gold Analyst/Trader
J.W Jones – Independent Options Trader