Relentless bad news
Right now, investors have to get used to a relentless torrent of bad news. One minute its weak Chinese data. The next its the possibility of the Greeks exiting the Euro. Or Spanish bond yields climbing over 6%. In the past few years we’ve really witnessed all kinds of trials … from tsunamis and volcanic ash clouds to debates over raising the US debt ceiling and talk over bailouts …. The mood is definately subdued and financial press is continuously “glass half empty” (in Australia that is … watch US financial TV and you will find hopium is everywhere .. but that’s another story).
The Aussie market gets the wobbles
Most Aussie investors know that we take the lead from overseas – historically the US, but now also Europe and China. And for whatever reason, the worst news of all seems to be delivered over the weekend! So in a risk averse environment (now), Friday is often a dud day on the ASX as “the market” anticipates various weekend crises. Come Monday, the market can see a good “catch up” rally if the anticipated bad news doesn’t occur.
So I’ve turned my mind as how to profit from these situations using options. There are a couple of strategies. I’ll work through an example now.
Case study – BHP on Friday 18 May
On the Thursday 17th of May, the US market was weak, with the S&P 500 closing down 1.5%. Following this poor showing, and anticipating further carnage over the weekend, the ASX was down 2.7%. One of the worst stocks was BHP, which closed at $31.46 (- 4.0%).
The chart below shows BHP with the relevant data highligted. Click on the chart to open it in a new window.
The effect of this drop was that volatility increased significantly. The composite implied volatility for BHP rose from 30.3% to 36.5%. As can be seen from the chart below, volatility over 30% is relatively high (but certainly not unprecedented).
In order to exploit this increase in implied volatility, one strategy is to sell a strangle. I chose to sell $35 call options and $26 put options for a combined credit of 54c per contract, excluding brokerage. Based on 50 contracts, this resulted in a credit of $2700 to my account, before brokerage and fees of $30. I required $17,000 available margin to do this strangle. The diagram below shows the payoff at expiry on 28 June 2012. More technically minded readers will note that the implied volatility for the put is 54% and for the call is 33%.
Summary of this trade
A credit of $2670 is received when initiating this trade. At expiry, the full credit is kept provided BHP remains within the range $26 to $35. So in essence when we initiate this trade we want two thing to happen:
- Realised volatility to decline. Simplistically this means we want the stock to go “sideways”. Of course “sideways” is a relative thing … but as a rule of thumb if the stock ranged between $30.50 and $32.50 in the two weeks following the trade, that would be fine
- Implied volatility to decline. If the market become less anxious, and the stock moves sideways or increases, implied volatility will usually decline. As an option seller this is good for us. Lower implied volatility means that the options will depreciate.
This is not a “set and forget” trade. When we set out to do the trade, we had in mind a desire that the stock move sideways and implied volatility decline. If either of these things don’t happen we will have to take action. One thing we can do is buy back both the options and close the trade. One guide as to when to buy back the options is when either option doubles in value. So in this case we received 27c per option. A good guide is to consider corrective action when either option is over 54c.
Its impossible to know what will happen to this trade, since it expires on 28 June 2012. However, one week later the results have been very good. Composite implied volatility has dropped from 36% to around 30%. BHP was relatively stable over the week, closing at $31.61 (+0.5%). As a result the spread has depreciated by about 60% to around 22c. We can book a profit of $1540 if we buy back the options. Or alternatively hold the position and hopefully accrue further gains.
PS Option trades can involves losses. Please read the site disclaimer.