trading strategies

If you knew for a fact, two companies were going to merge you could make a killing.  Of course you could end up cellmates with a killer.  Insider trading, using non-public firsthand knowledge is illegal.  But as with many laws in this country, it’s broken all the time.

Most people’s experiences with insider trading revolve around reading stories in newspapers.  High profile cases make headlines on a regular basis.  Low brow cases fill back pages and little corners of financial papers.

It happens more often than most people would think.  And violators get away with it more often than reported.

The Security Exchange Commission’s (SEC) responsibilities include investigating insider trading, along with other possible securities violations.  It’s their job to investigate possible crimes after the fact by searching for irregularities and violations.

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They look for rule breakers after the rules have been broken, after the damage has been done.  They only try preventing violations with passive deterrents: potential jail time and fines.

The financial markets are a faceless game where players hide behind nameless account numbers and foreign banking secrecy laws.  Discounting the risks of punishment, many trade illegally for great rewards.

Knowing the SEC’s system checks for violations after the fact causes many more violation attempts than a more aggressive policy might stop.  If the SEC would follow the red flags that violators leave, maybe they could stop illegal trades before they take place.

If we understand the signs left behind, we can track down potential profits like hound dogs following a scent.  We can act like cub detectives, private eyes, Colombo, call it what you may.  Profits belong to those able to follow clues.

Option traders may stumble onto crime scenes in the natural course of their trading.  Option traders should be looking for clues to potential stock moves.  If you understand a few features of option pricing and price movement, you can watch the smart money.

If someone knows a stock is going up, they can buy the stock and profit greatly.  But stock returns pale by comparison to option profits.  An option’s leverage can magnify stock price movements, giving monstrous returns.

In The Money (ITM) options give more leverage than stocks, or stocks bought on margin.  At The Money (ATM) options can give still higher rates of returns than ITM options.  The greatest percentage returns can come from being on the right side of a trade with Out of The Money (OTM) options. They have the most leverage.

The normal problem with playing OTM options is their higher probability of expiring worthless.  OTM options need big fast moves to have any chance of being profitable.  Generally a bad play, OTM options pay the most when right.  The key is being right.  Insider info helps to be right.

Options traders should keep regular track of option volume and open interest.  Look for size anomalies.  If the open interest appears too large in OTM options, something big may be in the works.  On the other hand, you need to be able to discern a large institution selling OTM covered options to pull in premium.

You must remember, there are two sides to option trades, buyers and sellers.  A rule of thumb is sellers sell to the Market Makers at bid and buyers pay ask.  If you find big trades, look at a time and sales report.  If the trade went at or near bid, chances are it was a seller collecting the premium.  But if the trade went off at or around the ask level, maybe a buyer has shown his cards.

The next thing to do would be to search for any corresponding trade that may be part of a spread.  If a large block of ITM options goes off at ask, with an equally large block ATM or OTM at bid, a directional spread has probably been placed.  These intrigue me, but not as much as straight plays.

If the first block was a Call trade, search the Puts for a potentially corresponding trade.  The opposite is true as well.  A combination of Puts and Calls is known as a straddle or strangle.  Both are volatility plays.  They tend to come from hedge traders, not people in the know.

These clues only tell part of the story.  If an enormously big trade takes place, check the newswires.  Occasionally a story might be connected.  Sometimes reporters interview Market Makers or other professional traders about questionable transactions.

Only big players with big accounts can make big block trades.  A person with inside information may not want to make big block trades showing their hands.  More often than not, they’ll buy many different contracts. Making it much harder for us to profit on their coattails.

Knowledge of probability and statistics will allow traders to greatly increase profit possibilities while limiting risk.  But knowledge of math is not required to enhance one’s trading.

Recognizing chart formations acts like recognizing opportunities.  Both opportunities to profit, but also opportunity to avoid bloodbaths.  Stock and option traders can either participate in major moves to their benefit or detriment.  Numerous common technical patterns exist that can be employed to identify favorable entry and/or exit points.

Trend lines, support and resistance are required for any technical assessment.  But these may be considered as just building blocks for more complex patterns.  One of the simplest of these complex chart formations is known as a “Head-and-Shoulders.”

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Made famous by Charles Dow, this major reversal pattern was and has appeared in every major market top or bottom in the last fifty years.  This formation is a precursor to both market rallies and major corrections.  It is accurately described as a “Head-and-Shoulders” top or bottom.

“Head-and-Shoulders Tops” look just like their name implies a “Head” (highest high) flanked by “Shoulders” (lower highs).  Separating the head from either shoulder is the neckline.  Made up of lows of similar time and price formation the “necks” do not have to be identical, but the closer to being a mirror version of each other, the higher the probability for a trend change in the other direction.

Double tops are widely considered as points of great resistance.  Think of a “Head-and-Shoulders Top” as a triple top with the center top having a higher high.  Add to that the fact that the neckline adds a point of support that if broken often foretells a stocks rapid decent.

As with any pattern, there can be a number of small variations.  For example, there may be two or more left shoulders near the same price range, or two or more right shoulders.  In any case, the most important component of the formation is the neckline.  When it is broken, the pattern is complete and a significant change in character often follows.  The following drop is often the most precipitous of the entire formation and occasionally will eclipse the height of the pattern (the top of the Head to the Neckline).  As the new character evolves, successive rallies commonly fail at lower highs until the overall decline is far greater than the magnitude of the initial formation.

For the next paragraph either stand on your head or hold your monitor upside-down.

Once a trader learns “Head-and-Shoulders Tops,” they should have an easier time understanding “Head-and-Shoulders Bottoms.”  Basically, bottoms are tops upside-down.  That is, the shoulders are higher than the head and the necks are short-term highs not lows.  “Head-and-Shoulders Bottoms” signal trend reversals with high probabilities of upward price appreciation, bullish reversals instead of bearish reversals.

It’s obvious you should never overlook the potential of a clearly formed and definitely broken trend.  The historical traits of well know patterns demonstrate the ease in profiting from their analysis.  But the difficulty may come from seeing the second shoulder before the opportunity has been diminished.  Experience will help traders see them as they’re formed.

The Beauty of understanding chart patterns surrounds the fact traders can study them without risking their accounts by looking at existing charts.  Study as many as possible.  I hope that my examples have helped.  I hope this article has also helped.

My goal is to help people become better traders.  It is less a goal to teach which stocks to trade, and more a goal to teach identifying situations, and matching strategies to those situations.  If you know ahead a stock’s price is rocketing to the moon, it’s easy, just bet the farm.  However, if you’re not sure, you don’t know if a stock will soar, but you have sound fundamental information and technical analysis to help reasonably know the direction of price, you can learn to develop successful strategies.

I would like to think, I can give information worthwhile to read, worthwhile to learn, and more important, worthwhile to trade.

Most investors do not understand the difference between price and value.  Value is what a stock should be worth.  Price is the last trade of record.  The key to successful investing is finding undervalued and overvalued stocks whose price becomes more in line with their value.  This is also called reversion to the mean.

The daily opinion poll, known as the market, determines price.  Like the political climate in America today, the financial climate is often a confusing and changing environment.  Bill Clinton and Amazon.Com have a lot in common.  Contrary to long time expert opinions, both are scoring amazingly high in the public opinion polls.  Trying to call their early demise might be the biggest mistake of the end of the 20th century.

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My major problem is that I am a one man army.  Attacked on all flanks and seriously out gunned.  I had to develop a hand to hand combat method of investing… Trench Warfare.  I knew my weaknesses (market predictions) and my strengths (logic, mathematics, analysis, and experience).  I would pick my battles and my battlefields…Options.

I hate stocks.  Their valuations are one dimensional…PRICE.  Stocks don’t know time.  This is evidenced by one of the oldest forms of Technical Analysis: Point and Figure Charting.  Options on the other hand are multi-dimensional.

Option pricing is based on the values derived from the Nobel Prize winning Black-Scholes formula.  Options are derivatives.  That is they have no value in and of themselves, their values are derived from something else.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?  Aren’t derivatives responsible for breaking a British Bank?  Actually it was a young rogue trader in Singapore misusing derivatives that broke the long time institution.  If he knew some of things I plan on teaching, history could have been different.

I intend to take a complicated mathematical equation and give you the basics to successfully trade with this information.

You will learn how options are valued.  The components are simple; Time, Price, Potential, Dividends, and Interest Rates.

Time:  The one true constant.  Stocks go up, stocks go down, stocks stay the same, TIME passes.  The value of time does not decay linearly.  For true math heads only… Time Value decays at its square root.

Price:  Not only the price of the stock, but the difference of the Strike price versus the Stock price.

Potential:  Known as Volatility, measured in Standard Deviations.

Dividends:  Applicable only to stocks that pay dividends.

Interest Rates:  Short term risk free rate of borrowing.

These Mathematical counterparts have Greek terms.  This adds to the difficulty experienced by seasoned Stock Brokers as well as neophyte investors.

Time Decay-Theta, Price movement-Delta and Gamma, Potential-Vega, Interest Rates-Rho.

Strategies include almost every kind of spread imaginable, and some only a veteran such as myself could dream up.  They will include:

Bull Spreads, Bear Spreads, Put Spreads, Call Spreads, Credit Spreads, Debit Spreads, Calendar Spreads, Ratio Spreads, Back Spreads, Butterfly Spreads, Condor Spreads, Anticipation Spreads, Subsidy Spreads, Straddles, Strangles Combinations, Time Diagonals, Synthetic positions and Position Trading.

If risk can be minimized or hedged away, there is a spread that can do it.

Sounds Great?  Well it’s meaningless if you can’t trade it.

The public opinion poll on Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) recently shown a less that happy result.  The price gapped down.  Not unlike many other stocks have done.

If you look at a long term chart of AMD you will see exactly why you don’t want to be a “long term buy and holder”.  This is a high tech company and the price hasn’t moved much?  Actually it has moved nicely, up and down!  Is now the proverbial Low from “Buy Low-Sell High”?  I don’t know.  But I can trade on the possibility.

AMD is almost a commodity.  They manufacture CPU’s to compete with Intel (INTC).  With consumers wanting less and less expensive computers, one would think things would be well for AMD.  However, Intel wants not only a bigger market, but bigger market share.  They have come out with cheaper chips to compete with AMD.  Chips that allow box manufactures the low entry price with the familiar Intel Inside logo.

We’ll enter a Position Trade, buying a long term call and selling short term calls against it.  We’ll look at a number of hedged positions where we buy and sell risk, buy and sell time decay and buy and sell potential.  It will cost us a certain amount of money to enter this trade and then a certain amount of money to maintain this trade.  The key to Position Trading is to have less money in the trade as time goes on and more profit potential.  It is money management.

Percentage movement is meaningless in stocks.  Own 1000 shares of a $10 stock and you have the same $10,000 tied up as owning 500 shares of a $20 stock.  The same $10,000 buys you 100 shares of a $100 stock.  If any of these stocks move up 10%, a $10,000 position would increase to $11,000.

Percentage movement for option is essential.  Stocks need to make decent price moves in order for its options to have their prices affected.

Strike price choices on a $10 stock maybe limited to $7.50, $10, and $12.50.  Going two strikes In or Out of The Money (ITM, OTM) would add the $5 and $15.  Both of which are 50% from the current price.

The $20 stock would have $17.50, $20 and $22.50 strike prices.  If two strikes In or Out of The Money (ITM, OTM) are available, they would only be 25% from being At The Money (ATM).

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The $100 stock’s strike price availability would all be closer in terms of a percentage.  The $90 and $110 choices would be two In or Out (ITM, OTM), yet they would only be 10% In or Out (ITM, OTM).

If a $100 stock moves 10%, it will pass through two strike prices.  If it moves 10% down, it would pass through the $95 and $90 strikes.  If it moved up, it passes through the $105 and the $110 strikes.

If a $20 stock moves 10% it comes close to moving one strike.  It would still be $0.50 away from either the $17.50 or the $22.50.  Close, but not close enough.

A 10% move on a $10 stock doesn’t get the price much closer at all to the next strike price.  Less expensive priced stocks need bigger percentage movements.

The significance of strike price distance versus stock prices as terms of a percentage should be clearer.  All equal percentage price movements affect all stocks equally, they do not affect options the same.  A 10% move is a big thing to options on high priced stocks, but lower priced stocks require larger percentage moves to affect their options.

If a stock’s price is too low, you may consider buying the stock as opposed to trading options on it.  You should certainly rule out trading Out of The Money (OTM) options on them.  Match the strategy to the stock price.

Margin requirements vary on plays.  Buying options requires the money to pay for them.  Buying stock either requires full payment, or you may purchase them on margin.  (Check with your broker for specific margin requirements.)  Generally speaking stocks need to be around $5 minimum in price to be optionable.  In such case the typical margin is 50%.  That is, you need to have half the money available, your broker will loan you the other half.

When you sell options, you will need to put something up as collateral.  With Covered Calls, the most often sold option, the collateral is the stock the option is written against.  You either need to pay for the stock in full, or buy it on margin.  By putting up only 50% of the cost and selling the option and receiving 100% of the premium you may more than double your return.

Naked Puts have more aggressive margin still.    Many brokers only require 25% security for the value of the stock.  Successful Naked Put selling may have less commissions than Covered Calls.  Naked Puts done right cost one commission versus Covered Calls three.

Always run through different strategies and pick the best one depending on your risk tolerance, account size and your expected move in the asset.

Some stocks went up.  (Hopefully yours.)  Some stocks traded lower.  Some stock prices stayed the same.  (A few flat lined dead on arrival, many roller coasted up and down back to the starting point.)

I was just recently in Las Vegas, for business of course.  I enjoy going by the gaming tables.  Market research, crowd psychology.  Seeing how people bet their cash.  Well chips anyway, if bettors had to use real money, they might recognize how much money they just lost.

Ever watch people learning to play craps?  They’ll use real money.  Haven’t they heard of paper trading?  Maybe because the pit boss and the other casino employees are always willing to help.  Lots of assistance available to make a bet.  No matter what color the chips.

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Gambling and specifically craps have much in common with options: complex risk reward curves.  Since the IRS doesn’t allow deducting crap table loses from your income taxes, why would anyone want to throw dice.  They can bet options, I mean trade options.

Many amateur options traders invest as if they were at a casino.  No regards for the odds, just mesmerized by the big potential payoff.

Anyone who has been around Wall Street any length of time knows there isn’t many “sure things.”  Truly, time’s passing is the only safe bet.

In this example we will trade based on Theta alone.  We will consider the other “Greeks” asleep.  In reality, they are NOT dormant.  The fact is, you could set your trades up to minimize their effects.  Remember it’s best not to awaken a sleeping giant if at all possible.

Our hypothetical example will be four At the Money (ATM) options on a single stock:

One month option = $ 1.00
Two month option = $ 1.41
Three month option = $ 1.73
Four month option = $ 2.00

With these hypothetical examples, let’s enter a simple time or calendar spread.  We will buy the four month option for $ 2.00 while simultaneously selling the one month option for $ 1.00.  Our net cost would be $ 1.00 ($ 2.00 less $ 1.00).  Again for demonstration purposes we will not take commissions nor the bid/ask spread into consideration. And also ignore strike prices as well.

If everything remained the same except for time’s passage, after one month the option we sold (short position) would be worthless to the buyer.  An At the Money (ATM) option has no value at expiration.  A $ 1.00 profit to us, offset by the $ .27 loss on our four month turned three month option, brings our position value to $ 1.73.

Anyone who can find situations where all the variables remain constant for one month deserves to make 73% on their money.

In our perfect example situation, we could now sell another one month option for another Dollar. After the second month, the option we originally bought would have lost half its time, but only $ .59 of its value.  Now priced at $ 1.41, the income would be equal to its original cost, $ 2.00.  Our cost would be zero.  Our profits infinite.

Closer to expiration, owning options costs more.  Inversely, selling options closer to expiration can pay more.

If the one month ATM option is $ 1.00, and the four month equals $ 2.00, then the nine month option would be priced at $ 3.00.  Continuing forward, the 16 month option’s price would be $ 4.00 and $ 5.00 would buy the 25 month option.

If we could sell one month of time for $ 1.00, we could pay for the 16 month option in four months.  Giving us a year of potential for free.

Please don’t base trades on any one option pricing component, while ignoring the others.  You’ve been given enough information to be dangerous.  If you trade with blinders on, you tend to get blind sided.

Knowledgeable traders earn the right to have less money at risk and greater potential for profits.  Knowledge comes with experience, and experience comes with time, regardless of real chips or paper trades.