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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!

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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 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