This may be a topic more suited for newer traders but it is something I’ve seen come up from time to time so I think it’s worth writing about here. When putting in orders, especially on multi-legged spreads, how should traders enter orders to get a fair price?
The Market is an Auction
The first thing to remember when thinking about prices is that the options market is not like a store where you look at a price and decide if you want to buy or sell a contract. It’s an auction where prices can literally change by the second. As a market participant you will get to see what buyers want (the “bid”) and what sellers want (the “ask”). The theory is that buyers and selles will meet somewhere near the middle (the “mid”). For a single option leg (where you buy or sell some amount of exactly one contract), the distance between the bid and ask (the “spread”) gives some indication on how much liquidity exists in that particular contract. The less the difference, the more interest there is in that contract, and the easier it is to get a fill. For very liquid contracts, it’s common for the spread to be a penny or two.
But multi-legged spreads make this a bit more complicated. Even if all of the contracts have small spreads, when we combine the spreads of 2, 3, or even 4 legs, the spread of the entire trade gets larger even if the spread of each contract isn’t very wide. So the question becomes how do we, as traders, find the right or fair price?
A quick side topic that I think is really important on the topic of orders: Always use limit orders. A limit order gives the most you will pay or the least you will accept for the order to be filled. This is critical to getting a decent price. The alternative is a market order which tells the broker to fill the order at literally any price. While it’s possible to get a good price with a market order, you are taking a big chance of getting a bad price, maybe a very bad price. Limit orders give you, the trader, a measure of control in whether a order is filled or not. This is especially true for opening orders, but it’s just as true for closing orders or adjustments. It’s ok to not get filled if the price is bad. And while it’s easy to get frustrated at an order not getting filled, do not get impatient and resort to a market order just to get it done. Just like in real life, you need to be able to walk away if the price is not right. This can be frustrating when trying to exit a trade when the market is moving against your position, but I still hold that limit orders are the right way to handle this.
Understanding What is the “Mid” Really?
So what is a “fair price”? Well, the simplest answer would be the mid (the midpoint between the bid and ask). But here’s the problem: offers from buyers and sellers are coming in all the time. This moves the bid and ask around which, in turn, moves the mid. So, in theory, there is a mid price but, in reality, there is really a mid range. You will see the mid range by watching the mid price change. In most market conditions it will bounce around. How much depends on the liquidity and volatility of the contracts but the vast majority of the time you will be able to see the range just by watching it move. This range becomes the basis of what I call “price fishing”.
Closing for a Profit
The simplest case is when I am trying to close a trade for my target profit. I simply have a GTC (Good ‘Til Cancelled) limit order at the price I want. By doing this if my exit price can be filled, it will whether I’m at my station or not. I don’t sit in front of my station all day. I have a life outside of trading that included a day job. So I always have a limit order in at the exit price I want to meet my profit target. The only exception to this is if the trade has more than 4 legs. Then I have to manually enter 2 separate trades to exit. In my trading, this only happens if I have a double butterfly (which has 6 legs). All of my other possible trade structures have 4 legs or less which allows me to always have a closing order at the broker. The market can move quickly so I don’t want to miss an opportunity to close and move on.
Opening, Adjusting, and Closing for a Loss
Closing at my profit target is the easiest case. For the rest, I am putting in orders myself and in these cases I deploy price fishing. The idea is that I don’t know the right price, but I can see a range of reasonable prices. So I start by placing a limit order a bit above the top or below the bottom of the mid range (depending on whether I am selling or buying). Then I move up or down until I either get filled or I walk away from the trade. Initially, I may put in new orders quickly, but as I get closer to the center of range, I tend to slow down and give it time to fill. I rarely get filled on my first order. In fact, if I do it’s a bit disappointing because that means I may have been able to do better with a bit more time. Or maybe I just got lucky with a really good price. But the key is to put out offers and see where the fish are biting.
A Real World Example
This wouldn’t be a MidwayTrades blog without at least one real world example. So on a recent trade I was opening, I captured the orders I put in to show how I fish for prices. Below is the order log of a trade I opened recently:
This trade opens a 3-lot unbalanced (65 up / 70 down) butterfly in SPX. I started at the bottom by putting in an order for a $3.80 debit. This was likely $.10 under the range I was observing at the time. Then 20 seconds later, I upped my order to $3.85 ($.05 is the smallest I can do spreads in SPX). About 15 seconds later I put in a new order for $3.90. Those were pretty fast, but this is normal as I started about $.10 under the range I was observing. The goal here is just to see if I can get a deal. If not, I move forward. Now I waited a bit at $3.90, eventually putting in a new order at $3.95 which filled nearly a minute and half later which means I sat at $3.90 for a minute or so, waited some more and then got filled about 30 seconds later.
The point of doing this is that I can’t know what the “right” price is…and even if I did that price could change by the time I put in my order. So like a fisherman, I cast out a few times at different places, depths, etc. to see where the fish are biting.
So that’s what I do. What do you think? How do you find a good price? As always, I love to hear from folks out there. Feel free to comment here or send me an email at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again, I know it’s been a good while since I’ve done a real trading blog but this idea came to mind and I think it has potential. I create all of my trading content for a few reasons. Of course, I like to share ideas and talk about trading options but I also do it because I believe it makes me a better trader. Reviewing all of my trades publicly on a weekly basis forces me to look at what I’m doing in a critical manner and take lessons from it. I feel a certain amount of accountability by posting my results and my rationale every week. Trading can be a very solitary business and finding ways to hold myself accountable is important for me.
So in that spirit, I am thinking about starting a new series of reviews that takes a higher level look to get a better idea of how I’m trading. The weekly reviews are important, but to really see how things are going at a higher level I want to do semi-annual reviews. And instead of just doing another video, I’m switching it to be a blog post. I’m going to start with the first half of 2022 and if I find it useful I’ll continue to do it twice a year. I can say that just doing the research on how I did was interesting and useful. I hope some folks out there find it helpful as well.
So since this is the first post in this series, I think it’s a good idea to state what my goals are for this trading account. This account is a learning account for me. It is quite small compared to other investment accounts, retirement accounts, etc. but the purpose is to learn how to trade consistently. If I can get consistent returns, I’ll increase the size and go from there. The trading decisions I make in this account aren’t that different from a larger one outside of the dollar figures of the trades. So if I can consistently do well in this account, I believe I can handle something much larger and, possibly, make it a real income stream.
That being said, my goal is to make 3% of my account balance per month. Compounded monthly, by my calculations, that would be a 42.5% annualized return. Feel free to check my math on this as this isn’t my strong suit, but I put in my starting balance for the year of $16,705, and I ran it through a compound interest calculator at 3% per month and the expected balance at the end of the year was $23,817.34. So that’s a gain of $7,112 (I dropped the cents for simplicity). Taking 7112/16705*100 gets me to 42.5%. For most investments that would be fantastic but I think it’s possible to get at or near that with the options strategies I employ. The goal of this account is to see just how feasible that actually is for me.
So now that I’ve stated my goals, how did I actually do for the first 6 months of 2022? 2022 has been a year that, I think it’s fair to say, has been a challenging investment environment with all the major indices down for the year. I know I’ve seen my retirement accounts take a hit as I’m sure most of you have as well. Because my goal is monthly I took my monthly results based on closed trades. If a trade was still open at the end of month, it was not counted until it closed (usually by the next month). All that being said, this is my first draft of tracking my progress:
Note that the dates reflect the results of the previous month, so Feb 1 is the results for Jan, etc. The columns are as follows:
P/L: This my Profit/Loss for the month (again based on closed traded)
Goal: This is my goal for the month based on making 3% each month. The goal assumes that the goal was completed the previous month so it goes up regardless of how I actually do.
%Attained: This is the percentage of the goal that I attained.
Balance: This is my actual balance (not including open trades) on the first day of the month
Goal Balance: This is where my balance should be based on making my goal.
%Balance: This is where I am with respect to the goal balance on the first of the month.
I fully expect that I may change this format at some point and if I’ve messed up an idea here please reach out either via comment or email and let me know where I messed it up. Again, this is my first attempt at doing this level of tracking so it’s entirely possible I missed something or just messed it up.
As to the results themselves, you can see that I made money 4/6 month and made or exceeded goal 2/6 months. That’s not too bad given the market conditions of 2022. If my numbers are correct my balance at mid-year is 91% of where I should be based on making 3% per month.
The most common trade of this year was SPX butterflies and they worked most of the time quite well. I’ve been doing these when VIX is between 20 and 30. Because I primarily trade SPX, I use VIX as a guideline for SPX volatility. Butterflies are negative vega and 20-30 has been generally on the high side of the normal range really since the pandemic started around March 2020. I like butterflies here because they are negative Vega and so they will benefit from volatility falling. I have been doing them mostly balanced so that when I first put them on they have very little downside risk as the downside has been pretty strong this year. There have been 13 of these trades that have closed in 2 days or less for 6-8%.
VIX PUt Verticals
When VIX has charged up into the 30s (usually above 33) I don’t like trading SPX as it’s too volatile. So when that happens I’ve been putting on longer term (45-60 days to expiration) put verticals to take advantage of the eventual drop in volatility. So far VIX has not stayed above 30 for more than a few weeks and so these have worked out pretty well. Not much to do with them except watch them move around a lot, but it gives me some way to try and make some money while volatility is too high for SPX trades
What Didn’t Work?
Another trade I was playing with while VIX was high was short term (1-2 weeks) GLD calendars. I had some success with them at first but, ultimately, concluded that they were too expensive to put on at any decent size (I usually had to put on 15-25 lots which are 30-50 contracts) and that was too much for these trades to make up to make decent money vs the risk. The idea wasn’t bad (GLD isn’t necessarily tied to SPX volatility) and I did win a few of them. But, I stopped doing them until the price or volatility of GLD gets high enough that I don’t need to put on as many contracts and get my expenses down.
What is Missing?
Since March 2020, I’ve been putting on SPX calendars when VIX is under or near 20. I like these because calendars are positive Vega and benefit when volatility rises. While I still like this trade, I was only able to put on 1 during this 6 month time frame as VIX stayed on the higher side when I was ready to put on a new trade. That’s not to say I won’t do them (or use them to adjust a butterfly on the upside when vol is low), rather, there were not as many opportunities to use them as there was, for example, last year.
How Could I Have Done Better?
So I think I did pretty well all things considered this year, but I still didn’t quite make my mid-year goal. I was $1,768 short. This shortfall came down to two bad trades. One is forgivable as I was experimenting with short-term GLD calendars. I ended up taking a loss of $607 (48%). It was around this time that I started questioning doing these trades. I ended up doing 2 more and then stopped after losing around $180 more. I say it’s forgivable because I was working on finding trades I wanted to do when SPX wasn’t in a good place with respect to volatility. I had some success with the trade, but ultimately lost more than I made as seen here:
So that was ultimately a $390 lesson. Not too bad when it comes to trading, however not taking quite as much of a loss on that big one would have definitely helped.
I also let one SPX trade get out of hand. I over-adjusted a 21-day butterfly and took a bad loss of $1,153 (45%). This is not acceptable. To avoid doing that in the future, I am being more strict as to how many times I adjust my trades and I started going out further in time on my butterflies. After that trade I opened flies from 30-35 days instead of 21-25 days. Having time in a trade is helpful when you are trying to repair it. This trade led me back to my Mantra of “Pets vs Cattle“. Feel free to read the post for the details but, in short, it means that I can’t get too attached to a trade. Some losing trades are worth just letting go. This is something I have struggled with as I learn this craft, but I think many traders do as well.
So this is how I saw the first half of 2022. Overall, it was a good six months with some very good trades. I did some experiments with respect to trading when SPX isn’t a good underlying. The VIX verticals did well, the GLD calendars did not. I think it’s possible to make up ground in the second half, but I need to stay the course and better execute my trade plans.
As usual, let me know what you think. I always like hearing from readers and viewers.
If you’ve followed my style of trading you know I like non-directional income style trades where I try to make money on time decay (positive theta). Most of the time, this works out well. I do lose on occasion as everyone does but I go into each trade with a plan to handle various market conditions. Most of my trades have enough time that I can adjust them if the market moves too far against my position. This, essentially, allows me to buy more time to allow the trade to work. If you’ve watched my This Week @MidwayTrades series, you’ve seen me execute this plan over and over again. Most of the time on these income trades my adjustment plan involves adding structures such as butterflies or calendars making a double or removing a structure from a double and returning to a single.
But there is one kind of move where this does not always work: A big market drop. I work hard to keep my trades in a good enough position to handle at least a 1 standard deviation move in either direction. Statistically, a stock should move less than that about 67% of the time so this keeps my trade in a relative safe position. On the bigger moves, I can make adjustments as described above. But what about a 2 SD move? Or even more? These moves tend to be on the downside so that’s where I’m going to focus this post. We do get occasional big crash moves and just adding or removing spreads isn’t going to work well because pricing is all over the place. Finding a steady price for 2 or 3 legs in a spread just is not practical, and legging out one at a time can be just as dangerous. You may be able to get out for some price, but that price could be really bad and make a big loss. As traders, we like to avoid big losses so what can we do to try and ride out the crazy storm?
Back To Basics
As one learns more about trading and gets more sophisticated with multi-legged trades, it’s easy to forget why options were created in the first place. In short, they act as insurance to protect a position. Traditionally that position was a long or short position in a stock, but it works just as well to protect a position made entirely of options. And for a big drop, that answer is simple: long puts. A properly purchased single long put can save your position and, in some cases, your account (if it got that bad, I would strongly suggest you are trading too large, but it still works). The simple act of adding a long put to a position at the right time can make the difference between a big loss and a small loss, or even a win. They come with a consequences, of course, so I do not like to use them all the time but, at the right time, a long put is a simple fix to a bad problem.
So this post will look at when I buy them, what I buy, and when I sell them. You may tweak these to suit your style, of course, but don’t think a trading plan is complete without having this as a possible response to a big down move.
When to Buy Puts
Buying puts is not a free pass. First, they cost money. You are sinking money into a trade that has gone badly. If done at the wrong time, you can easily dig a bigger hole for your position and take a bigger loss than needed. In addition to costing money, long puts reduce theta. All long options have negative theta so adding a long put to a position will hurt the theta of the position (maybe even taking it from positive to negative). As one who likes positive theta trades, this isn’t my goal. But when things get really bad, sometimes theta has to take a step back to the threats of delta and gamma (i.e. price movement risk). When delta and gamma get out of control quickly, a long put can stop the bleeding and give you time to catch your breath when things are going wild. This has an added benefit of allowing you to think clearer about your next move. If done properly, the stock can continue to tank and you’ll be just fine. Very few good things come from a state of panic so fixing the big problem in front of you helps with the next decision.
With all that being said, my guidelines for buying a put are the following conditions:
The stock has moved at least 1.6 standard deviations down. Less than that and my regular adjustments should work just fine. This is a guideline so don’t take it too literally but I think it’s a good rule of thumb. It’s beyond this point where prices tend to get weird and buying or selling a spread gets really difficult. But in a big down move, buying a put is easy as there are plenty of folks willing to sell them.
My position is at an adjustment point. There’s no sense buying long puts if the trade is still working even with the big move down. Sometimes, my trade can withstand a 2 SD move down. If that’s the case, there’s no need to add long puts.
What To Buy
So that’s when I buy puts, but now what puts do I buy? The critical idea here is to not buy too much or too little. As I stated before, options aren’t free in terms of cost or in terms of the Greeks so my goal is to buy just enough but not much more.
My guideline here is based on the delta of the position at the time I am buying the put. I want to buy enough to nearly flatten my position deltas such that further big movements won’t harm me. This means I’m looking to cut them around 80%. Yes, that’s a big delta cut but this is in response to a big move. That being said, this usually means I am buying far out of the money. This has the advantage of being less expensive while still getting the job done. If, for some reason, I need a lot of deltas, there’s nothing wrong with still buying far out of the money but buying multiples to get to the target. Which to do would be based on the price of the options you are considering. For example if I needed 40 deltas. I could but a .40 delta put or I could consider buying 2 .20 delta puts. Both will do the job so I would choose which ever is cheaper. Most of the time I don’t need anywhere near that many deltas so a single put will suffice.
But there is still the question of expiration. This depends on the spread I am trying to protect. If it is a vertical style spread where all the options are in the same expiration (this includes butterflies, condors, etc.), then I tend to buy in the same expiration as the spread. The only exception to that would be if there were very little time left in which case I would go further out in time. I’ll explain how far when I talk about when to sell, but as I tend to not be in trades during expiration week, this rarely comes into play. If the trade involves spreads in different expirations (e.g. calendars or diagonals), then I will use the later expiration.
When To Close the Put
The final piece of my hedge plan is when to close it. The temptation here is to look at the price paid for the put and base when to close it on the profit or loss of that put, essentially looking at it as a trade within a trade. I don’t do that. This long put hedge is part of my trade and so I try to look at it in terms of the what it’s doing for my trade. The goal isn’t to make money on the put (although that can happen), but to make money on the entire trade which now has this put as a part of it. So there are 4 times I look to close the long put hedge.
When I’m ready to simply close the entire trade. If I have hit my profit target or my max loss on the entire trade and it’s time to close the trade, then it’s time to close the put along with it. Again, the put is not separate from the trade.
When the market calms down and I can do a proper adjustment. So let’s say we had a big drop and I added a put, but the next day things are calm and a normal adjustment to the trade is now possible. The storm is over, I can buy that new spread or close the upper part of the double. Once I do that, my Greeks will be out of whack due to the long put. If I can do the regular adjustment, I will close the put after I get the adjustment done. Do not do it before because until that adjustment is on, the trade is still at risk.
The trade recovers. Sometimes a big drop if followed by a recovery. Maybe it’s the next day, maybe two, maybe even the same day in a really crazy market. If the market recovers such that my trade doesn’t need the help anymore, I will close the put for a loss. That leads to the question “what is a sufficient recovery?”. For me, a sufficient recovery is if the underlying comes back far enough to cross the center to the structure (or, in the case of a double, the center of the lower structure). There’s a big temptation here to take it off earlier to take a smaller loss on the put. The danger here is that if the stock drops back down again, you bought high, sold low, and potentially bought high again. That’s not a formula for profit. So the key here is to be patient and keep the insurance until the chances of needed it are lower.
Time. Long options have time decay. As they decay, the help they provide your trade diminishes. My rule of thumb is I will keep a long put on for up to 20% of the time remaining when I bought it. So if when I bought the put it had 20 days to expiration, I will keep it for up to 4 days. This would be the exception to the rule above on what expiration to buy. If there isn’t much time left in the spread, then buying the put in that expiration may not make sense based on the 20% guideline. In that case, I would consider buying something further out to avoid having to close it too quickly. If time runs out on the put and I still need the protection, I simply roll it out to a later time with the needed delta help.
Real World Examples
I’ve thrown a lot of information in this post so I think it’s valuable to show some examples of trades I’ve done where I’ve deployed this strategy. This year has certain had some volatility, so it wasn’t too difficult to find examples that demonstrate my methodology.
Back on January 29 I put on a simple butterfly:
This is a common setup for a butterfly for me. It’s an unbalanced butterfly 44 days out, 40 points up, 50 points down which makes a nice flat delta trade with .80 deltas on a 2-lot. However, 2 days later the trade looked like this:
SPX moved 51 points down in a day which constituted a 2 SD move. My trade is at an adjustment point so instead of trying to buy a lower fly, I add a put:
I bought a 2550 put (way out of the money). This is because to cut my deltas by about 80% I needed around 1.75 deltas. But now I’m not worried about the trade getting into trouble on the downside and I can wait it out and see what happens given that I’m really flat so that price movement doesn’t scare me. In return for that, my position is negative theta at the moment. While I don’t like that, I’ll take it for now to help stop the delta/gamma bleeding. When I bought the put it had 42 days left in it. That means I’m willing to keep it on for about 8 days before I need to sell it outright or roll it out. This happens to be a Friday so I kept this put on over the weekend and even into the early part of the week. It wasn’t until Tuesday Feb 4 that the trade looked like this:
Note that we had a big up day that put the stock above the middle of the fly structure. At this point it’s time to sell it off at a loss. I lost a bit over 50% of the value of the put but it was just insurance that wasn’t needed. On the plus side, I didn’t pay much for it and this trade eventually closed for a small win. In perfect hindsight, I could have done nothing and done better but there was no way to know that at the time and it was better from a risk management perspective to buy the put and protect the position so that it did not get out of control and become a big loss.
Another interesting example was on June 10 when I put on a narrow calendar.
This is a very typical trade that I put on for much of this year. In the crazy market we’ve had this year, I really like the initial room this trade has and the relatively low vega exposure for a calendar. However, the very next morning I woke up to this:
So in the first hour of trading SPX is down 2 SD and my trade is at an adjustment point. This was a rare exception where I was able to put on lower calendars as an adjustment. Had I not been able to get a good price on it, I would have gone right to the put, but since I was able to do so it looked like this:
So I got my double calendar on and I have a lot more room now, right? Not so fast, later that same day….
Just 2 hours later, SPX is now 133 points down or 3.3 SD down. At this point there is no way I’m going to try and take off the upper calendars (I was lucky enough to get the lower calendars on when I did), so I go ahead an buy a put:
By buying a 2400 put in the back side of the calendar I was able to cut my position deltas to 1.8 from 5.4 and stop any more bleeding. The next day, the market calmed down and I was able to properly take off the upper calendars. At that point I was able to sell off the put since, with my proper adjustment, it was no longer needed.
Now the trade is back to normal and, in this case, I was able to sell the put off at a profit. While that was never the goal, it was a nice bonus. This trade ended up doing very well (over 30% profit) and it was made possible by being able to weather the quick storm that came through the market.
In these examples I used long puts to save trades that got hit by a big market drop. Long puts are not a cure for every trade. I have used these and still lost money, although not as much as I would had I not bought the put. But long puts can be the right fix for a crazy down move.
Hopefully you found this helpful. I’d love to hear what you think or other ideas you may have to handle these kinds of big moves. Feel free to comment here or reach out me directly at email@example.com.
In the years I’ve been trading, I’ve learned many things. Of course, I started out with the mechanics of options, the Greeks, the strategies, etc. If you are interested in these fundamentals, check out my video series Options Fundamentals here on the the site or on my BitChute channel. I go over many of those early lessons about options trading.
But the craft of trading is more than just understanding the mechanics. Trading is also psychology. Paper trading is a useful tool, but you will never get the full experience until you are trading live money, your hard earned money. The ups and downs of the market become much more meaningful. It’s easy to get obsessed or stressed about your trades. The financial investment can lead to an even bigger emotional investment. Your idea is sound. Your plan will work. You have the skills to fix things when the market moves against you. You will make that profit. While confidence is certainly needed when one is in the risk management business (and that’s how I see options trading), you must be able to look at your trades as assets in your business. After all, what are options? They are simply contracts, a set of obligations that we exchange with others. They are derivatives of pieces of paper that represent ownership rights. Or in my case, as one who trades mainly the SPX, I trade a derivative of a derivative of pieces of paper which represent ownership rights
Why do I say all of this? Because recognizing this has helped lead me to the biggest lesson I’ve learned in trading so far. And the analogy I use is “Pets vs Cattle”. Bear with me for a bit and (I hope) it will all make sense.
If you have pets, as I do, you understand that they are more than just animal companions. To many of us, our pets are part of our family. We do our best to take care of them, feed them, get their shots, make sure they have the best life we can give them. When they get sick, we collectively spend billions of dollars a year getting them the best medical care we can. When they die, we mourn them. And, outside of truly obsessive behavior, all of that is perfectly fine and normal. We take in these animals, keep them in our homes and our lives and treat them and protect them as our own.
A farmer or rancher also has animals. He takes them in, feeds them, and protects them. But it’s very different. Those animals are not part of his family. His goal is to eventually sell these animals to make his living. If one of his animals gets sick, he is far less patient with medical care. Time and costs matter and he can’t let one sick cow infect the entire herd. While he may try some limited things to make that cow better, if that fails the cow must be put down and he moves on and focuses on the rest of the herd. To the rancher, the animals are a business asset. They exist to make him money to feed and protect his family (and his family’s pets). But he doesn’t have the emotional attachment to his cattle like he has with his pets.
So, let’s bring this back to trading. After learning the basics of trading, I struggled mightily with consistency. I knew how to win. But for ever few wins I’d get, one loss would wipe most, if not all, of those wins out. I just couldn’t get ahead and actually make any money that way. Losses happen in any business. You can’t avoid them. If you never lose, you never really took any risk and, as I said earlier, risk is how the options market pays traders.
So, I started critically reviewing my trades, especially the big losses. I needed to find what was common in my losses as well as what was common in my wins. And what I found was that when I would lose too much, most of the time I was holding onto a position too long trying to fix it and try make it profitable. I was adjusting my positions every time they went against me and was sticking with them stubbornly to try to make a bad trade work. In short, I was treating my trades like pets. I became emotionally attached to them. I knew if I just did more more adjustment, it would come back. This would go on until finally I was down so far that I finally gave up. A trade that I was trying to make a 10% profit was now down 35-40%. And when I tallied up my trades at the end of the month, it was those one or two bad losses that was the difference between a good month and a bad month.
I needed to change my attitude. I needed to see these trades for what they really were. My trades are my cattle. And like any herd of cattle, some won’t make it to market and that’s ultimately ok. But I can’t let one sick trade infect my account. Every trade takes up capital in my account. There are times when the best thing I can do is close the trade and re-deploy that capital into a new one that could be a winner.
So how am I applying this to the real world? First, before I put on a trade I always have a plan. That plan starts with the setup of the trade, the profit target, and the max loss. But the plan goes further. It also states what I will do when a trade moves against me. I have a plan for the upside as well as the downside. My plan then has the details for subsequent adjustments if needed. That’s all well and good, but I needed something more because just doing that wasn’t helping me avoid these bad losses. So I added some guidelines to my plan which I call my “Pets vs Cattle” rules to remind me of why I made them.
Guideline #1: I don’t adjust in the first 3-4 days. What I found was that when my trade went against me early and I started adjusting, I rarely made it back and it would have been better had I just closed the trade instead of adjusting at all. My trading style relies on Theta (time decay). Because I sell more extrinsic value than I buy, time works for me. But adjustments cost money, either by putting more cash or margin into the trade or taking a loss on part of the structure. So I’m sinking more capital into the trade to, essentially, buy more time for it to work. But if I do that very early in the trade, I haven’t really accumulated much time decay from which to draw. So I was digging myself into a deeper hole before realizing much Theta in the trade. And when I looked at the position at the first adjustment, it was usually a small loss or sometimes even a small gain or near break even. Here’s an example:
So here I had my standard SPX 45-day butterfly. This shot was taken 3 days into the trade and I was already just outside of my butterfly tent. This is normally an adjustment point for me. But, instead I took the trade off for a loss of about $13 after expenses. On a $1300 trade, that’s about a 0.7% loss. Could I have adjusted here and saved it? Maybe. But if the trade goes against me this quickly, I’d rather just take it off and re-deploy the capital. Making up $13 on another trade is much easier than making up a max loss. This trade is cattle and I’d rather not sink more money into it if it’s not working early. Had this been day 5, I’d certainly consider adjusting, but not on day 3. (At 4 days, it’s a judgement call, thus the guidelines says 3-4 days).
Guideline #2: I consider taking off a trade that is at an adjustment point and up money. So assuming I’m past at or past the 4 day mark, if I’m at an adjustment point and up money, I could adjust it and try for more. But, more often than not, I’ll just take it off and re-deploy the capital. If the market gives you a profit, there’s nothing wrong with taking it. Generally if I’m up at least 4%, it’s a no-brainer to take it off. Less than that is when I’d consider adjusting since I’m getting close to break even.
Guideline #3. I limit the number of adjustments to around 4-5. Another observation I noticed in my bad losses was I was over-adjusting. This is somewhat related to the guideline #1 as adjusting too early can lead to over-adjusting. But as each adjustment costs money at some point I have to stop digging and move on. If I hit this limit, I take off the trade even if I’m not yet at my max loss. If I’ve adjusted 4-5 times in a trade, that’s a sign that the market conditions aren’t good for that particular trade and it’s best to take it off and either wait for things to calm down or put on a trade that is more conducive to the current market.
Ok, this blog would not be complete without an example of not following these rules so here it goes. On this trade back in 2018 (before I established my guidelines), I was doing an Iron Butterfly. My first adjustment came in day 2. I then went on to make 8 adjustments before taking a bad loss. Here is what the trade looked like on day 2 when I made my first adjustment
So, at this point, this trade isn’t in good shape. I’ve been in it for 2 days and I’m at an adjustment point and I’m $324 down or 11.5% on the trade. But I can fix it, right? I have an adjustment plan that will make this all better. Well, here’s what it looked like when I finally took it off after 7 more adjustments on day 15.
Ugh! I finally closed it for a loss of $1,145 or about 40%! So as bad as it may have felt to have lost $324 after 2 days. I’d take that over losing $820 more. But I was treating this trade like a pet, not cattle. Had I just cut my losses on day 2, I would have lost $324 but I could have re-deployed that capital and perhaps even made some or all of it back in the next 2 weeks. And it’s certainly easier to make up $325 than $1150.
So, hopefully, I’ve shown why a silly mantra of “Pets vs. Cattle” helped make me a better trader. I still say this to myself today whenever I’m tempted to break one of my guidelines. I put it in my trade notes when I close a trade early. This little phrase helps keep me from getting too attached to my trades. It reminds me to not get emotionally invested in my trades. Losses will happen and are ok as long as they are small losses. Maybe this can help you too.
As always, feel free to leave me feedback here on the site or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lot of folks like to use options because of the leverage and lower costs vs buying and selling shares of stock, especially on high-priced stocks and indices. While I usually use options to trade non-directional strategies that rely on time decay rather than price movement, there are times when it’s fun to get a little directional. Sometimes (like right now), it’s tough to be non-directional because the market is moving all over the place and price movement makes it tough and not worth the risk. So, I thought I’d compare a few strategies for directional trading. The first few you’ve probably seen before, and one that you may not have seen but I think is really interesting.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to be bearish on Tesla. No particular reason, this is just an example, not trading advise. I actually have no real opinion on Tesla, but it’s a high-priced stock (around $235/share) so it makes for a good example. Of course shorting the stock is very risky and expensive because while a stock can only got $0, there’s no theoretical limit to how high it goes so shorting is a dangerous and expensive game, IMHO. However, I fully believe that retail traders can use long PUTs to go short on a stock without the undefined risk. Since you are in a long or covered position, your risk is defined and so you know how much you can lose and your broker won’t ask for you first born in margin. It’s one of the cool things about options.
Strategy 1: But Long Puts
This is the simplest strategy and probably one that most folks who know anything about options would understand. So if I’m bearish on TSLA, I could buy a put at-the-money (10 days out) for about $665 (plus commissions, of course). Not bad for a $235 stock. And way less than what your broker would want you to put up to short 100 shares of TSLA. Your total risk is what you paid for the put (so $665/contract) and you can scale your up to whatever level at which your are comfortable. The trade looks like this:
In this trade, my break even is if TSLA hits $223.35 since I need to cover the cost of the put. And because we are only 10 days from expiration, I’ll need it to move soon as I’m losing about $30/day in time decay and this will increase a bit each day. I could always go out further in time to allow it more time to work, but I’ll pay more. For example, at 31 days to expiration that same put would cost $1208 which means TSLA needs to get below $222.83 (similar) but I’m only losing $18/day to start to time decay since I have more time.
You could go further up or down in price and time and the number would change, but you get the idea. This is a very simple strategy that is bearish on TSLA but gives you limited risk. Nothing wrong with it, but what if we could do it cheaper?
Strategy 2: Put Vertical Spread
So one way to reduce our risk and still be bearish on TSLA is instead of just buying a put, also sell a lower cost put against it. This does a couple of things for us. It reduces the risk since we are getting a credit for selling something, and it reduces our time decay (and can even get time to work for us). So to keep it consistent to start, let’s do a 5-point vertical spread buying the same $235 put 10 days out, but also selling a $230 put against it.
Look at what happened. First, we have reduced our total risk to $205 plus commissions per spread. That’s a 70% discount to just buying the put. And on top of that at the start of the trade, time is working for us instead of against us as we’ll make $.40/day to start and if TSLA goes down that will increase significantly.
Now, there’s no free lunch so what have we given up by doing this? The big thing we give up is because we sold a put along, we cap our maximum upside to $293. That’s about 140% of the risk where if you look at the long put, it can make a lot more if TSLA goes down hard. With the vertical, even if TSLA went to $0, the most we’ll make is $293. That’t still a really good gain and I’d probably get out before it ever got there, but it is a limit so if you’re shooting for the moon, you may not like this strategy. However, I like the idea of the reduced risk if we’re wrong and the initial positive theta which means we aren’t losing money to time decay (unless TSLA goes up). And, of course, our commissions will be a higher since we are trading more options so keep that in mind.
But what if we could make this even cheaper?
Strategy 3: Directional Butterflies
Here’s a strategy you may not have seen before, and it may not be to your liking, but I really like it for certain situations. It’s a bit more complex but it’s REALLY cheap. It’s called a directional butterfly. What’s a butterfly? Well, if you’ve never seen a butterfly before, check out my Options Fundamental Series, particularly my episode on Butterflies. But, in short, a butterfly is 2 vertical spreads with the same short strike. So a single butterfly will typically follow a 1-2-1 pattern which you’ll see below. In this example, I’m going to keep the same vertical spread I did above, but add a second vertical even lower to reduce the cost even more.
Wow! I put on this trade for $55 plus commissions! That is the most I can lose. And I have even more positive theta so at the start of the trade I’m making $2.67/day. Too good to be true? Again, what am I giving up? In this case, if TSLA goes way down, I can lose money again. I have some risk on the downside as well as the upside. So TSLA has to go down, but not down too far too quickly. And because this trade has 4 contracts, my commissions will be even higher than the vertical. I can scale this up by adding more butterflies, but watch the commissions as it’s 4 contracts per fly. On the plus side if TSLA only moves to around my short strikes ($230), I can make quite a bit more than the vertical. I get that in exchange for having risk on the downside as well. I can tweak this around by moving the fly up or down for more or less money as well as adjusting the width of the “wings” (say 10 points instead of 5). Here’s an example of the same fly starting at $235, but with 10 point wings:
As you can see, the profitable area of my fly (the “tent”) is wider, but my cost is $182.50 rather than $52. So I get more room and higher starting theta, but I’m paying up for it. But $182.50 is still better than the put and the vertical with respect to risk.
So, what’s the best way to do this? There isn’t a best way. All three strategies have pluses and minuses. Risk vs reward, time decay, and area of profitability are all factors in choosing a strategy. The point of this post isn’t to sell one strategy over another, but rather to show that in the world of options, there are multiple ways to do things and the more tools you have at your disposal, the more you can decide what kind of trade works for you.
Any questions or comments? What kind of directional plays do you like? I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Gab @MidwayGab or on my BitChute channel MidwayTrades. I’d love to talk about what people are doing or even try to explain some concepts if that helps. I’m always learning as well so let’s talk options!