30 September 2009

The Limb I Went Out On Is Cracking Already

Amazing market we're in at this time. There is dip buying, then there is dip buying.

Going Out On A Limb

No, I'm not embarking on a mission of McLean-esque spiritual discovery, but I am taking the unusual step of publicly calling a medium term top on stocks.

Actually, I don't give a rats, I'm delta neutral and really would love some sideways consolidation ( a top of sorts I guess). I'm really just about managing whatever this ludicrous market throws at me. I just think that if that rich mental map that we traders think we have is worth a cracker (probably not), this really "feels" like it wants a decent retracement.

The $64,000 question these days is - what constitutes a decent retracement? Dip buyers apparently are cashed up and are all over any divot, never mind actual dips.

Lots of sentiment indicators are screaming "complacency", none more so than that 20dma of the put/call index I keep pulling up in the hope of a guru-like market top call. It's still entrenched at around it's lowest level of at least the past three years.

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is a pretty blunt tool, but usually manages to bludgeon the market into some sort of pullback. Add to this the "October Meme" and I think there is a reasonable case for a little bearishness.

N.B. For amusement value only, there is no money riding on this.

28 September 2009

Coughing Up For Gold Options

The recurring theme in stock index options over the last few months has been the chronic overvaluation as measured by implied volatility over the eventual realized volatility. Theoretically, this has been an excellent time for index option writers, except that the indexes have been running a long way from their mean. Any sellers writing fairly close to the money (like moi :-0) have been as busy as a one armed taxi driver with crabs, making adjustments.

We've had to work pretty hard for our money.

Index options haven't been the only ones in more or less chronic overvaluation. Gold options have been in a similar situation. I like the futures and their options, but the gold ETF, GLD and its options pretty much mirror the futs.

Check out the IV/HV chart for the last six months.

Even ignoring the IV spike earlier this month, those buying options have been paying well over the odds. Writing options here seems the no brainer. I liked the idea of selling premium with some long delta with a couple of different ideas leading into September, due to the pretty reliable seasonal tendency. That's worked out pretty well, but who's game to write unhedged on the call side in this market?

Not this little black duck!

Runaway gold markets don't happen that often, but the bulls can go berserk if *something* happens. Nevertheless, there is a bit of short gamma fun to be had here in this market... just cap the risk IMO.

The Big O(s)

There was an interesting article floating around a few of the trading message boards on Friday regarding OptionsXpress, Optionetics and George Fontanills.

I wanted to post the excepts then but couldn't find the source. Thanks to Don Fishback who has posted on the same subject with correct attribution, I am doing likewise today at last...

There is reason to be skeptical about claims made by Optionetics, a trading-seminar outfit that optionsXpress hopes will lure customers.

A cracking read for seminar skeptics.


As of the weekend I am officially homeless as we start our exodus to a new country. I am still in the UK for a few weeks, but staying with family. My trading desk is now a makeshift affair consisting of... well, never mind, use your imagination. lol

Posting may be sporadic, but I'll try and keep the blog idling along so-as not to lose my three readers completely.

An interesting point about trading businesses is that I am able to keep my trading business ticking along during this period of travelling... not exactly in a hammock at the beach in the Bahamas like some of the seminar clowns like to portray, but nevertheless possible to do so on the move.

A nice advantage.

I must admit that I prefer my own cave to trade from however. I'm looking forward to settling down again.

22 September 2009

More on That Oil Option Skew

The Bloomberg oils option article I mentioned yesterday has caught a couple of other options bloggers attention today.

Don Fishback has a closer look at the directional implications of the downside skew and concludes it doesn't really mean a lot.

Adam Warner makes substantively the same points as me and takes a swing at Bloomberg clich├ęs, but is also skeptical of any directional signals.

Looks as if Bloomberg has been pwned by the blogosphere on this occasion.

21 September 2009

Bloomberg Option Blooper

There are no end of erroneous statements regarding options that appear in financial publications. Today I'm going to pick on an article in Bloomberg, because I just happened to do something I don't often do... and that is read Bloomberg. (Nothing worse about Bloomberg than other Wall Street Cheerleaders, I don't often read much of any of them).

Oil Options Hit Highs as Verleger Predicts 44% Plunge

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Oil traders are paying more than ever in the options market to protect against a plunge in crude prices.

Oil options are something I follow pretty closely, so fearing a volatility spike that I had missed, I immediately pulled up $OVX (The VIX of oil options)

Hmmmmm IV near recent lows, no spike there. What could our B'berg author be on about here. Reading further:

The gap between prices of options betting on a decline and those that would profit from a rise in oil widened to a record 10 percentage points, according to five years of data compiled by Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch...
...Options granting the right to sell, or put, oil in December below current prices have a so-called implied volatility of 54.3 percent, compared with 43.3 percent for the equivalent options to buy, or call, data from the New York Mercantile Exchange show.

What's this? The arbitrage opportunity of the century? As I pulled up the option chain for December crude, I was multitasking and transferring every cent of spare cash in my trading account for mountains of reversal margin. Alas, I was disappointed as both ATM calls and puts were priced equally in terms of volatility.

What the f*** were they on about?

The subtle clue is what I have retrospectively bolded in the above quote. The author was comparing the IV of WOTM puts to WOTM calls. This is nothing more than a downside price skew. Skew is common in all sorts of markets; in fact it would be a little unusual for a market not to have some degree of skew to one side or another.

It's true that event sensitive commodities usually have skew to the upside and therefore skew to the downside in oil is noteworthy. The hypothesis that oil probably will experience some downside pressure is a fair one. But I wish they would call a spade a spade rather than dishing out erroneous bullshit on on options like this article has. Options are confusing enough for the neophyte, without inaccuracies from supposedly authoritative sources.

Give yourself an uppercut Bloomberg.

18 September 2009

Options Spuikers Under The Spotlight

Choice Magazine which is a consumer magazine down in Australia has done a bit of a spiel on options trading seminars, featuring "The Big O" and a local spruiker. Read the article here.

They took quite an even handed approach, but there are some interesting quotes:

One company, Optionetics, says if you don’t make 300% on your tuition fee in six months you’ll get your money back. Another, Traders Circle, recently said at a free seminar that if you start with just $4000, its options “mentoring program”, “recipe for success” and trading recommendations will teach you how to earn $1000 per month for the rest of your life.

I suppose enough has been said around the traps about Optionetics refund policy, but Traders Circle claiming 25% per month? For life? Hmmmmmm. Excuse me a second while burst out laughing.

We attended free seminars and spoke to other experts to find out if options are really the best way to profit from volatile market conditions. We found options to be highly speculative, with a very real chance you’ll lose everything you invest. We also uncovered some dubious get-rich-quick claims that downplay these risks.

The bit in blue might not be necessarily true, but Choice probably couldn't help arriving at that conclusion from what was presented. Re the green bit - Indeed.

We contacted Traders Circle to confirm what we’d heard at their free seminars. They clarified that profits are before costs described in the company's financial services guide including trading fees (up to $82.50 per trade), education fees ($7000-$13,000) and monthly subscriptions ($349), and before losses from unsuccessful trades.

Holy Shit!!

While the risks of options trading are described and the company (Optionetics) proposes to teach people how to set predetermined entry and exit points for trades as a way to cut their losses when markets move the wrong way, there’s far less focus on the losses that customers must also be experiencing.

We’re not the only ones sceptical about the potential profit claims. “While it may be possible for such returns to be achieved, it would only result from adopting risky strategies,” says the SDIA’s Doug Clark. “The risk of loss from trading in options can be substantial. In all investments, high returns usually mean high risk. A good options adviser is invaluable to help you understand the market and give suitable advice.”

Rod Peters of ABN AMRO Morgans uses options for private clients, but mainly for capital preservation and to earn an additional income, rather than to speculate on big profits. He says 1.5% profit per month, or even double digit figures in a year, would be “a phenomenal return” from options, even for someone prepared to accept some investment risk. “I don’t believe the higher returns being quoted by these options education companies are sustainable,” he says. “Any astute investor would realise that to achieve those returns you need to get lucky, take extreme risks, or both.”
Good comments.

My biggest eye rolling moments come from the "it only takes 20 minutes a day" assertions. Here's what one client had to say:

"I attended an options seminar in 2002 and, while I thoroughly enjoyed the program and felt I learnt a lot, I believe that the instructors give a false impression in relation to both the amount of time and effort required to trade properly. It was stated during the seminar that, provided we put alerts and stops on our buys, we would need to spend no more than 20 minutes per day to trade successfully. However, I do not believe this to be true and feel, particularly if you are working in a full time position, that it is simply not possible to monitor your trades effectively enough to be successful." Fran
Lastly, something anyone that's been around options longer than 5 minutes knows about these seminars:

"The biggest problem I've found with a lot of these training companies that offer 'free' seminars is that the courses they spruik are expensive (probably to cover the HUGE of marketing that they must incur) and the content of the free seminar is purely a marketing vehicle to build hype for the product." - Paul
It not a bad article and a good read. It bags out these companies with reasonably accurate information, but unfortunately perpetuates a few of the pernicious myths about options trading if someone was seriously considering going about it the right way. Lots of good quotes to pull out of it too.

16 September 2009

PutCall Ratio - A Blunt Tool

This is a bit of an update to the Put Call Ratio post of 26th August where I thought it could be signaling a toppy market. This is what I wrote.

The interesting thing for me is that the 20DMA of the equity only put/call ratio is now at its lowest level in the three years of the plot. That in and of itself probably means zip in the predictive sense, but if one wanted to make a case for a pause/consolidation/retracement in the indices sometime very soon, this indicator certainly would add some weight to that hypothesis.

Lots of bears are talking another major down leg, and generally I'm still a bear too, but I doubt we'll see too much downside in the medium term. But I'm making the case for a short term top somewhere around about here.

I'm claiming a minor hit with that guess. We did get a short retracement soon after that post... of course dip buyers were all over it like a rash and the bulls have pushed us to new highs.
However, that put/call ratio is still down at those extreme lows:

It's still raining greenbacks dropped from Uncle Ben's Helicopter, so there is nothing to stop this market continuing upwards. We're in pollyanna mode here, ignoring all the shithouse news coming from the real economy and pumping the "positives".

Maybe the recession IS over. I'll let time decide whether that's true, but we still have this extreme P/C reading. Tops are notoriously harder to pick with leading indicators than bottoms, and they're hard enough, but Holy mother of Mary we have to see some sort of retracement soon...

...don't we?

The truth is that these leading indicators are blunt tools, they need a bit of time to be right... just like a bear I guess. :)

On The Lack of Posts

Your humble options blogger is moving far far away from his present location and will be travelling a bit for a while, so with organizing things, postings will be lean and sporadic.

But stay tuned.