Showing posts with label time decay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time decay. Show all posts

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A VIX Risk Reversal

With the VIX at about 14.50 as I type this and a large group of investors convinced that stocks are overbought and/or not properly discounting global macro risk, many are wondering just how to translate their beliefs into an effective trading strategy.

For those who think a long volatility trade is the answer, there is the issue of the significant contango headwinds, where a negative roll yield will pummel net asset values on VIX options and VIX exchange-traded products as a part of the daily rebalancing process, while VIX futures are subjected to a similar decay that reminds me a little bit of a dying helium balloon. Long story short: there is a huge daily penalty being assessed just for holding these long positions.

There are ways to minimize the effect of negative roll yield and typically one of the best of these is to work with positions that focus on the more distant months of the VIX futures term structure. This is generally why VXZ outperforms VXX over an extended period. Unfortunately for aficionados of VXZ, the negative roll yield between the fourth and seventh month VIX futures (VXZ buys the seventh month and sells the front month each day) hit a new record on Monday and continues at near record levels.

So what is a long volatility trader to do?

One trade that I somehow have never managed to highlight in my 5 ½ of writing about the VIX is a VIX risk reversal. A risk reversal is essentially a synthetic long position in which a trader uses options to create a position that is similar to owning the underlying, but typically ties up less capital in the process. In the case of a risk reversal, this means selling out-of-the-money puts and buying out-of-the-money calls. In many instances, the sale of the put options will finance 100% of the cost of the calls.

While the VIX is currently trading at 14.50, keep in mind that the best proxy for the price of the underlying for VIX options is the VIX futures for the corresponding month. So, with the September VIX futures at 18.95 at the moment, one could sell the September 18.00 puts for 1.50 and buy the September 24 calls for 1.05, pocketing the 0.45 differential. A more conservative trader might look to sell the VIX September 16 puts for 0.55 and use the proceeds to pick up a September 30 call for 0.55 or to defray some of the costs of the purchase of a more expensive call, such as the September 24 (priced at 1.05) mentioned above.

There are ways to turn this idea into a more aggressive trade as well. One approach is to morph a risk reversal into a leveraged trade in which more calls units are purchased than put units are sold. An example of this approach might involve selling the September 19 puts (which are currently at-the-money) for 2.15 and using the proceeds to purchase two contracts of the September 24 calls for 1.05 each.

A risk reversal also goes by other names, notably a long combination (or long combo) and, despite the name, is a high-risk trade that is vulnerable to the ravages of time decay. This trade is not for everyone, but can be a good way to generate significant long exposure with a minimal outlay of funds and sometimes no outlay of funds at all.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): long VIX at time of writing

Monday, March 26, 2012

Q&A: VXX Declines, Yet April 20 Calls Rise

A reader asked earlier today:

Can you explain to a newbie why VXX is down 1.05 today yet the April 20 calls are up .05?

This is a great question and one which I receive in one form or another on a regular basis.

While there are a number of variables that go into the price of an option, in the short-term the factors which have the biggest influence on the changes in the price of an option are typically:
1)  the change in the price of the underlying
2)  the change in the option’s implied volatility

Since we know from the question that VXX is down today (and down even more from the time the question was asked) this almost certainly makes implied volatility the culprit.

Rather than speculate, I pulled up the graphic below from LivevolPro which confirms that in the case of the VXX April 20 calls, implied volatility (IV), which is shown as a solid red line (VXX April 20 call on the left, April 20 put on the right), jumped from 84 on Friday to over 106 today.  For some historical perspective, the IV had been stuck in the 70s for more than a month prior to Friday, at which point it increased from 75 to 84.

This should serve as a reminder for those who are relatively new to options and are attracted to the possibility of making large amounts of money on directional trades that guessing the direction of the price move is not sufficient for making a profitable directional trade.  In addition to getting the direction right, an options trader has to be cognizant of changes in implied volatility as well as the impact of time decay, aka theta.

For those not familiar with the specifics of options pricing models, the Black-Scholes entry at Wikipedia is a good place to start.

Related posts:


Disclosure(s): short VXX at time of writing; Livevol is an advertiser on VIX and More

Friday, December 9, 2011

Taking Profits in VIX Options (and ETPs)

Two hours into today’s session, the trading idea I mentioned yesterday, going long VIX puts, is doing quite well. The VIX Dec 27.50s are up more than 50% and the Dec 30s puts have advanced about 45%.

One question that I believe is much trickier with VIX options than options for most other securities is when and how to take profits. A large reason why taking profits in VIX options has an extra layer of complexity and difficulty is due to the mean reversion tendencies of volatility in general and the VIX in particular.

Another potential complicating factor regarding the management of VIX options positions has to do with their underlying. I hope that by now readers of this blog have had it drummed into their head that the VIX futures are the best proxy for the underlying in VIX options, not the cash VIX or VIX index, which is the VIX that is most often quoted in the media. Anyone holding positions in VIX options – and VIX ETPs for that matter – should be monitoring the VIX futures.

Looking at the changes in the first two hours of trading, one can see the typical pattern in which the front month (December) VIX futures (-6.3%) are moving about 80% as much as the cash VIX (-7.9%), with the second month (January) futures (-4.4%) moving about 56% of the cash VIX. This is right in line with historical norms. For an additional data point, VXX, which is a blend of front month and second month VIX futures, is down about 4.7%, which makes sense in that hold a disproportionate amount of front month futures at this point in the options expiration cycle.

So what does this all mean for taking profits in VIX options?

First, I cannot overstate how important it is to watch the VIX futures and understand how they move in relation to the cash VIX.

Second, because the VIX has a tendency to mean revert and thus often reverse recent sharp moves in either direction, it is important to take at least partial profits when one is the beneficiary of a significant favorable move in volatility. I like to take profits in 25% or 50% of my position, for instance, if my VIX options appreciate by 50%.

Third, keep in mind that the long VIX puts mentioned above are still out of the money and have no intrinsic value. As a result, they are subject to significant time decay (theta) each day and therefore will lose value if there are no additional favorable moves in volatility.

The bottom line is that harvesting VIX profits can be a challenging task and should be thought of as part art and part science. One only has to look at the many steeple-shaped VIX spikes to appreciate just how fleeting large profit opportunities in VIX options can be.

Besides, who knows what the next rumor out of Europe will be and how much the masses will panic or unpanic.

Related posts:



Disclosure(s): short VXX at time of writing; Livevol is an advertiser on VIX and More

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What a Difference a Weekly Makes

Last week I made my first trade using weekly options. Part of the reason I am so excited about weeklys is that I would not have made the trade had only standard monthly options been available.

Last Monday, after the markets had jumped more than 2%, I was of the opinion that we would have choppy trading on Tuesday through Thursday, as investors chose to sit on the sidelines in advance of Friday’s nonfarm payrolls report.

My trade of choice was a short straddle and my preferred underlying was IWM, the iShares Russell 2000 Index ETF. When I looked at the available options, the weeklys almost jumped off of the page, with superb liquidity and much higher implied volatility. As the intent of my trade was to take maximum advantage of time decay (theta), choosing the weeklys were a no-brainer.

A look at the chart below shows the difference in IV between the IWM weekly options that expire this Friday (red line) and the standard monthly options that expire the following week (yellow line.) All things being equal (and they never are) the higher implied volatility of the shorter-dated weeklys translates into substantially higher time decay.

So…if you are comfortable trading options that are toward the end of the expiration cycle, take a close look at the weeklys. If you are not comfortable doing this (controlling gamma risk is critical), then perhaps future posts on weekly options will assist in this regard.

For more on related subjects, readers are encouraged to check out:

[source: Livevol Pro]

Disclosure(s): long IWM at time of writing; Livevol is an advertiser on VIX and More

Thursday, July 15, 2010

VVUS as an Option Pricing Case Study

Trading in Vivus (VVUS) is halted this morning, as the biotechnology company’s new weight-loss pill, Qnexa, is being reviewed by a panel of experts at the FDA.

In many respects biotechnology stocks – particularly those which do not yet have products that are commercially available – are options dressed up as stocks. More than other sectors, a biotechnology stock is a company that is a portfolio of options on all the projects (drugs) that are in the research and development stage, plus commercial products which can be valued with more traditional discounted cash flow models and the like.

Options on biotech stocks without any commercial products are therefore a lot like options on options. For those biotechs where the value of the pipeline is skewed largely in the direction of a single drug, the option on the option of a single drug can result in extreme uncertainty and implied volatility, as highlighted in VVUS Implied Volatility Tops 700.

With the FDA panel decision due out today, investors have been valuing VVUS stock on the basis of a probability-weighted set of outcomes that could easily double or halve the stock price when the stock opens for trading again.

As the time of the FDA panel decision has approached, it has been interesting to watch the price of VVUS options. For the most part, the prospects for the company and the probabilities associated with the FDA panel decision have changed very little. The charts below show there was very little change in the price of VVUS options from Tuesday at 10:34 a.m. ET, when VVUS was trading at 11.93 (top graphic) to the end of yesterday’s session, when VVUS closed at 12.11 (bottom graphic). Notice, however, that while the price of the various options held steady, the implied volatility spiked even higher in order to support the same options values as time decayed and the July options expiration neared. A good example is the July 11 calls, which showed a bid-ask of 3.40 – 3.60 in each instance, yet the implied volatility had to rise from 717 to 885 in order to maintain the same option price almost two full sessions later.

With VVUS, we have an interesting glimpse of the options pricing model at work. With the underlying, option price, strike price and interest rate unchanged, what we see with VVUS is almost a pure interplay between implied volatility and time. Assuming VVUS opens up for trading on expiration day tomorrow, I will be watching the collapsing volatility and gyrating stock price as the pricing model transitions back to a more common interplay of implied volatility vs. the price of the underlying.

For more on related subjects, readers are encouraged to check out:

VVUS options on Tuesday, 7/13/10 at 10:34 a.m. ET, with the underlying at 11.90

VVUS options after market close on Wednesday, 7/14/10, with the underlying at 12.11

[source: Livevol Pro]

Disclosure(s): long VVUS at time of writing; Livevol is an advertiser on VIX and More

Monday, November 9, 2009

Strangle Pong Update

On October 30th, in Strangle Pong, I talked about the possibility of legging into an S&P 500 index strangle, starting with the sale of a November SPX 1040 put and looking to sell a November SPX 1100 call when the index rallied back over 1080.

Here we are six trading days later and the SPX November 1040 put, which was at about 24.00 at the time of my original post has fallen back to under 4.00 as I type this.

The table to the right shows the closing values for the 1040 put (SPQWH) and 1100 call (SPTKT) since I originally mentioned the strangle (the values for today are the midpoints between the bid and ask as of 1:00 p.m. ET.) The table shows that the both the bounce in the SPX (from 1043 to 1086) and the substantial drop in the VIX (from about 28 to 23) have significantly eroded the value of the 1040 put. Interestingly, the increase in value in the 1100 call is nowhere near as dramatic as the movement of the puts, as time decay has neutralized some of the gains that were realized by an increase in the underlying.

Frankly, this would be an excellent time to close out the short put position and pocket a nice profit. Sticking to the original line of thinking, however, a trader could let the short put run and short the 1100 calls to open up the other leg of the strangle. The risk-reward is not as attractive as it was for the short put, but assuming (and this is perhaps the most important assumption here) that 1100 continues to serve as upside resistance, pocketing 8.40 for the call is an attractive opportunity.

Note that this strangle is not hedged in any way. As noted previously, once can limit risk in a strangle by “buying the wings” (offsetting long put positions below SPX 1040 and offsetting long call positions above 1100) and converting this position into an iron condor.

For related posts, readers are encouraged to check out:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Calendar Effect and Time Decay

Since the beginning of last year, I have periodically discussed what I call “calendar reversion,” which is essentially a phenomenon caused by the fact that the VIX is priced according to the calendar, but only calculated during trading days. The long and the short of this chronological mismatch is that market makers tend to drop option prices (and implied volatility) on Fridays in anticipation of the coming weekend and raise them on Mondays.

Earlier today, Mark Sebastian of Option911 wrote the best article I have seen on this subject, How Option Time Premium Decays Over the Weekend, in which he detailed his experiences related to weekend time decay and how market makers account for this during the Friday trading day. If you want to understand options pricing dynamics and how to best synchronize a five day clock with a seven day clock, then Mark’s work is absolutely required reading.

Note that Mark’s blog is one of the 15 entries in my new (as of today) Favorite Options Blogs list in the right hand column of VIX and More. In the past couple of months I have found myself going out of my way to assemble a Friday links post in large part to highlight some of the interesting work coming out of several relatively new options blogs. Now that it is no longer just Daily Options Report and VIX and More talking about options, I will do the best I can to incorporate as much of the excellent new information and analysis that can be found in all corners of the blogosphere.

For more on calendar reversion, readers are encouraged to check out:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Position Management for SPX Short Straddle

I suspect that when most investors make the jump from stocks to options, the most difficult issue for them to come to terms with is position management. With stocks, it is easy for an investor to reason that if a particular stock rises to a target price of X, he or she will take the profits and exit the position. By the same token, if the stock falls below Y, this means it is time to cut losses.

For options, the process becomes much more complicated. One of the complicating factors is certainly the potential for extreme percentage changes in an option position. It is not uncommon for an option to double in value for several consecutive days; alternatively an option can lose half of its value several days in a row.

Given all the questions I have received about how to manage options positions, going forward I have decided to share some of my thinking about position management using real-time case studies of options trades.

Let me offer up a taste of what I had in mind using a recent short straddle trade on the SPX that I first talked about on August 20th in The Sideways Play.

First, while I did not go into detail about the rationale for the trade at the time of the original post, one of the technical factors I found appealing was the possibility of the 1000 serving as a consolidation point, with SPX potentially trading in a narrow range that was defined by 978-1018 at the time. The chart below shows that following the initial post (black arrow), SPX subsequently rallied as high as 1040, closing a little over 1030 on August 27th. When SPX subsequently fell back below 1000 last week, there was reason to believe that the 1030 (closing) and 1040 (intraday) levels might serve as resistance. As described in SPX Short Straddle Still Hugging 1000 Level, the trade had started to yield some meaningful profits at this stage.

[graphic: StockCharts]

Recall from the original post that the short straddle will be profitable if the SPX option settles (on September 19th) anywhere in the 950-1050 range. At the moment, with SPX in the upper quarter of the profit zone, the biggest risk is a breakout to the upside. I considered the risk to be reasonably well contained as long as SPX did not take out the August 27th closing high of 1030.98. Leaving a little wiggle room, I set a mental stop of 1032. With yesterday’s close of 1033.37, therefore, I would close half of the straddle by buying back the at risk portion of the position, the calls. Ideally, this would have been done just prior to the end of trading yesterday or perhaps at today’s open.

The graphic below is a snapshot of the position as of yesterday’s close. The original premium was $5000 per contract. At the close of trading yesterday, the position could have been closed out for $3820, yielding a profit of $1180 per contract. This is down from a profit of $1490 a week ago today when the SPX was still hugging the 1000 level. The change in profitability in the past week has been largely the result of directional movement (delta) in the form of a 30 point jump in SPX more than offsetting the time decay at work over the course of the week.

[graphic: optionsXpress]

I see no reason to cover the short put side of the straddle, unless the SPX were to make a sharp move down. Using 1030 as resistance turning into support, one could plan to exit the puts if the SPX were to close below 1030. A lower SPX target might also make sense if I wanted to squeeze out some extra time decay (theta), from the short puts. If I were to take this approach, I would probably use a close (or perhaps intraday violation) of 1000 or below as my exit signal.

Note that in setting up my exits, I am completely ignoring the price of the actual options and prefer to focus on the underlying. In future posts, I will talk about a more holistic approach that encompasses not just the underlying, but also options prices, position Greeks and other factors.

For the record, the previous posts in this SPX short straddle series are:
  1. The Sideways Play
  2. SPX Short Straddle Still Hugging 1000 Level
An earlier two-part SPX short straddle case study may also be of interest:
  1. Is the SPX Going to Stick Close to 900?
  2. SPX Straddle Case Study Update
For additional posts on these subjects, readers are encouraged to check out:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SPX Short Straddle Still Hugging 1000 Level

In many respects the ultimate pure play on declining volatility is a short straddle in which near the money puts and calls are sold simultaneously in hopes that the underlying will move very little prior to expiration. While this is largely a neutral directional bet, it is also a bet on declining volatility.

Two weeks ago today, in The Sideways Play, I outlined some of the logic and details behind what a short straddle trade would look like with the SPX at 1004. Two weeks later, with the SPX down a little more than five points, this trade is a winner. This trade is profiting from time decay (theta), which is currently at -1.20, meaning that all else being equal (i.e., if price, implied volatility and interest rates do not change), the position will gain $120 per day.

Of course, the other variables that affect the price of an option are in motion as well. Options traders use options Greeks to measure an option’s sensitivity to various influences on the value of that option, including the price of the underlying, the volatility of the underlying, time and interest rates.

Specific to the SPX short straddle, the increase in implied volatility (VIX) over the course of the past few days has worked against the options position. The Greek which measures an option’s sensitivity to changes in implied volatility is vega (not a Greek letter, but one that is counted as a ‘Greek’ according to options tradition), which estimates the change in value of an option that would result from a 1% change in the implied volatility of the underlying. In the two weeks, the VIX has increased 2.30 points and as the SPX straddle currently has a vega of 1.61, this means that the 2.30 point rise in the VIX has cost the position approximately $370 during the ten trading days.

While there are other factors at work on this short straddle trade, so far the main plot line has been a story of theta vs. vega, with time decay winning out.

The graphic below shows that a position which originally yielded $5000 in premium can now be bought back for $3510, which would lock in a profit of $1490. With the options expiring two weeks from tomorrow and time decay beginning to accelerate as we approach expiration, it will be interesting to see how this short straddle plays out.

For some related posts, try:

[graphic: optionsXpress]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Round Number Magnet Strangle

The power of round numbers does not seem to receive a lot of play in investment circles. Sure, there is the psychological significance of an index or a stock crossing above or below a round number, but I am surprised that nobody ever talks about how to trade these.

Rather than look as round numbers as potential areas of enhanced support or resistance, I like to think of them has having a strong attractive power, almost as if they are large magnets. In some indices and stocks, prices tend to linger near round numbers for longer periods than a random distribution would suggest.

One way to take advantage of the attractive tendencies of round numbers is to sell options at or near that strike. Straddles, strangles, butterflies and iron condors would certainly be appropriate choices, but I have personal preference for strangles, with their wide maximum profit zone and simple construction/position management.

These ‘magnet straddle’ plays can utilize options of any duration, but maximum time decay (theta) is achieved in the last few weeks prior to expiration. In the graphic below, which is courtesy of optionsXpress, I show that anyone interested in selling an 890-910 strangle on the SPX can make a profit if the index manages to stay in a 40 point zone (880-920) during the last three days prior to expiration.

I feel obliged to mention that conventional wisdom says expiration week is too fraught with short-term uncertainty and gamma risk to be traded profitably on a consistent basis, yet I still think there are a number of opportunities where probabilities favor the experienced options trader.

Finally, if this trade sounds somewhat familiar, readers may be interested in checking out a similar straddle trade in Is the SPX Going to Stick Close to 900? from last December. With a VIX in the upper 50s when the original trade was discussed, the profit zone of 840-960 makes it look like a slam dunk winner by current volatility standards.

[graphic: optionsXpress]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Can Selling Options Make You a Better Trader?

I used to have a list of trading rules guidelines taped to my monitor. The list went through several iterations, but near the top were always reminders that a good trader needs “patience and discipline” to be successful. The list is no longer there, but by now the important ideas have been branded into my psyche.

On a related note, over the course of the past few years I have increasingly gravitated toward trading options. More often than not I find myself selling options, either with or without a directional bias, and enjoying time decay (theta) work in my favor to increase my portfolio value. Recently, it occurred to me that selling options has made me a better trader because it has cut down on the number of trades I make and enhanced my patience and discipline. How does this happen? Each morning I look at my portfolio and see what my portfolio’s aggregate theta is. This tells me how much money I will make from time decay alone if the market does nothing and I do not make any trades. As a rule, I try to structure my portfolio so that the aggregate theta is at least as large as my daily profit target. For this reason, I never rarely feel obligated to “make something happen” and force trades that should not be taken.

While there are many approaches to trading, I believe that every trader should be comfortable trading long positions and short positions, buying options and selling options. Better yet, traders should not have a built in bias toward long-only trading or only buying calls. Ideally, a trader should be directionally agnostic and equally comfortable with the full menu of possible trades.

Ultimately, a considerable amount of trading success comes down to the “know thyself” dictum. A trader that understands his or her personality type, comfort zones and preferences can do a better job of applying the appropriate psychological approach to trading. These skills are some of the most difficult for many traders to master. It is quite possible that selling options may provide a shortcut to developing some of those skills.

For more on applying psychology to improve your trading, the best resource on the web is undoubtedly Brett Steenbarger’s TraderFeed.

For more on theta and time decay, check out Theta, an excellent overview of the subject at Know Your Options, a promising new options blog authored by Tyler Craig.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

BIDU, Calls and Time Decay

I am generally not a fan of being long any options during options expiration week, as the effort required to ‘salmon’ upstream against the relentless current of time decay (theta) makes these trades extremely challenging. Not only do you have to get the direction right, but you have to do it in a big way and in a hurry. Of course, if there is another volatility event that you have to overcome during options expiration week, that makes the task even more difficult.

Baidu (BIDU) is a perfect case in point. Earnings came out after the close last night and while the most recent quarter comfortably exceeded expectations, the company’s tepid guidance had some analysts wondering what the future revenue stream looks like.

With the conflicting numbers and multiple interpretations available, the market action has been interesting to watch. After closing at 261.09 yesterday, BIDU traded up almost 30 points in the after hours session last night, before settling back to an after hours gain of about 18 points. In pre-market the stock gradually slid down to 274, up about 13 points over Wednesday’s close. When the regular session opened, the stock fell quickly to 263, recovered sharply to trade briefly above 280, and has been in a downtrend ever since, currently trading back down to about 267.

The first graphic, which comes from optionsXpress, shows how the options were behaving after about a half hour of trading, when BIDU was up 16.97 at 278.06. If you happened to be long BIDU calls at a strike of 270 or above, you were losing money, even with the stock up 6.5%.

Normally, one would expect a post-earnings volatility crush, where IV contracts and all options lose their value, but as the iVolatility chart on the bottom shows, IV was not particularly high (relative to recent historical BIDU levels) coming into earnings, nor did it drop dramatically after earnings were out (see the IV numbers in the optionsXpress table.)

BIDU’s action today is an excellent illustration of what happens toward the end of the options expiration cycle, when time decay accelerates. While it is still possible to make money being long options, the percentages are with those who are on the side of time decay. If you are looking at a stock with high IV and an earnings report or other volatility event, consider that at the money options can still be losers even if you get the direction correct and have a 6.5% move in the underlying on your side.

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