Option traders are benefiting from trade war fears

Last year was among the least volatile in the history of the stock market. The VIX which measures market volatility averaged a little over 11 for 2017. It was the lowest level for the index since it was introduced in 1986.

Fear is back in the markets as talk of tariffs dominate the financial news media. Choppy markets increase option premiums so it is a good time to write options. The reward for giving someone else the option to buy or sell something has gone way up this year.

Option-writing strategies range from conservative (covered calls and collars) to extremely risky (naked puts). With the virtually unlimited variations of strike prices and expiration dates available, investors can customize their risk/reward parameters with remarkable precision.

Here are three common option strategies that can generate income or limit losses from an investment portfolio.

1. Covered calls and collars

The most common, conservative way to take advantage of rich option premiums is to write call options on securities you already own. If you’re invested in stock funds, you can write on stock indexes although the premiums are generally less than on individual stocks.

For example, say you own 100 shares of Apple at $190.00 and you wanted to generate some income.  Selling a call option expiring on Aug. 17 to buy 100 shares of Apple at the strike price of $195 provides $3.40 of income. That amounts to a 1.7 percent return on a monthly basis, roughly 20 percent annually, assuming you can repeat the process for 12 months.

The risk in the strategy is that the stock rises significantly and your shares are called away at the strike price. In other words, you limit your potential upside from owning the stock in return for the premium income you receive. The option premium also provides a small cushion against losses, but if the stock or index falls dramatically, so will the value of your holdings.

If investors want downside protection, they can buy puts on the position simultaneously. A collar, often called a costless collar, is a strategy that uses the premiums from writing call options to purchase out of the money puts that limit the downside risk on an investment. In the Apple example, you would sell one $195 call option for $ 3.40 and use the money to  buy one Aug 17 put at 185.00 for $3.30

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. The longer the term on a call option, the more premium you’ll receive, but the greater the risk that your investment is called away.
  2. Single stock options pay better premiums than those on an index such as the S&P 500. They are also riskier and more volatile.

2. Straddles are for speculating on short-term price movements

Option straddles are not writing strategies that generate premium income, but rather pure plays on volatility.If an investor believes that a stock or index is going to have a big move either up or down, a straddle can help them benefit from it while limiting the potential risk. The strategy involves buying a put and call option with the same strike price and maturity on a single security or index.

The chart below is the three month price movements of the Dow Jones index which has been very sensitive to fears of a trade war.

For this example I will use the  Dow Jones index (DIA) which closed at 249.30 today so you could buy one Aug 17 $250 call option for $3.10 and one Aug 17 $250 put option for $4.15

Option traders hope that one of the options expires worthless and the other results in a windfall. The worst-case scenario is that the underlying index doesn’t move at all and both options expire worthless. You lose your entire investment in that scenario. The break-even point is when the value of one of the options equals the cost of buying the two contracts. We could get lucky and sell the call option if the Dow suddenly moves up in a short period of time and sell the put option if the Dow moves back down just as fast.

3. Writing cash secured put options or writing put spreads

Financial advisors agree that writing put options when you don’t have the cash to fulfill the contract, is a recipe for disaster. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid writing put option contracts. But you do need to have the cash to buy the shares if the market falls and the option is executed by the buyer. The advantage of writing puts is that they generally carry higher premiums than call options do.

For example, you may like Apple stock but are worried that it’s overvalued at $190. If you write a put option with a strike price of $180, you get the premium income and the opportunity to buy the stock at a lower price.

A put spread is used when you don’t have the cash to buy the underlying stock if it falls. For example, you may not have the money to buy 100 shares of Apple but you think the stock price is stuck in a trading range around $180 to $190. You could sell the Aug 17 $180 put option for $1.95 and buy the Aug 17 $170 put option for $0.70 and net $1.25 if both option expire worthless. The caveat is that if Apple tanks, your potential loss on the contract is limited since you bought put protection at the $170 strike price.

Options are powerful tools that carry embedded leverage and are riskier than owning the underlying security. Premiums are richer now because volatility is higher. Buy a call option and it could become worthless overnight after a bad earning release. Sell a naked put and your potential losses can be catastrophic. Most financial advisors suggest that buying or selling options should be left to experts.

I believe that an investor with a good understand of simple mathematics and the willingness to learn can use options to protect their portfolios and earn some extra income.

Disclaimer: The option trades listed in this post are for educational purposes only and recommendations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sorry America, Canada is imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods

We have been good neighbours for 151 years and we share the longest unsecured international border in the whole world.  We have fought and died together in too many wars to even count. However, Canada’s foreign minister announced Friday that Ottawa plans to impose about $12.6 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods on July 1, joining other major U.S. allies striking back in the escalating trade dispute.

Canada’s plan taking effect next week will include imports of U.S. products such as yogurt, caffeinated roasted coffee, toilet paper and sleeping bags. Canada’s announcement is part of larger fallout from U.S. President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed on Canada, the EU and other nations. As a result, some of the U.S.’ biggest trading partners have retaliated with counter-tariffs.

 “We will not escalate, and we will not back down,” Freeland said.

Mexico’s tariffs took effect June 5 on U.S. products such as pork, cheese, cranberries, whiskey and apples. The EU enacted tariffs Friday on more than $3 billion worth of U.S. goods including bourbon, yachts and motorcycles.

The White House’s stated goal in implementing tariffs is protecting U.S. jobs, but the initial business response suggests that U.S. companies are taking a hit. Companies are coping with the tit-for-tat tariffs by increasing prices or making business changes to cope with higher costs.

Harley-Davidson, an American Icon, is an example why Trumps’s protectionist agenda may not work.

In May 2017, Harley said it planned to build a plant in Thailand. Harley’s CEO, Matt Levatich, said the decision was made as part of a “Plan B” when Trump dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The plant would allow Harley to avoid Thailand’s tariffs on imported motorcycles and help the company obtain tax breaks when exporting to neighbouring countries.

In January Harley announced plans to close its Kansas City plant, leaving 800 workers without jobs. It will shift operations to another plant in York, Pennsylvania, and hire some workers there, but ultimately there will be a net loss of 350 jobs. Days later it said it would spend nearly $700 million on stock buybacks that would benefit shareholders.

The company also announced on Monday it will shift the production of its Europe-bound motorcycles overseas as a result of the EU’s retaliatory tariffs. It’s not exactly clear which factories will take on the excess production for Harley. However, Harley’s Street-model bikes are made in India for Italy, Spain, and Portugal. More American jobs could be effected.

Harley-Davidson took its tax cut, closed a plant, and bought back stock.

The chart below is Harley-Davidson’s stock price from Trump being elected President to Friday’s closing prices. Is it safe to assume that both shareholders and workers are not benefiting from Trump’s protectionist agenda?

The automotive industry is Trump’s next target for imposing tariffs. Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross plans two days of public hearings on July 19-20 aimed to wrap up the probe into whether imported vehicles represent a national security threat by late July or August.

Two major auto trade groups warned imposing 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles would cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically hike prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

Lets hope that this trade war with our American neighbours will not accelerate! Wishing them a Happy 4th of July!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads in heaven

My dad left us way too soon. He was far from perfect, in fact his was quite ordinary. I didn’t really appreciated him until I became a dad myself. Traditionally the dad’s job is to put food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head. It is an important job that is often taken for granted.

I never realized how difficult it was for my dad to provide life’s bare necessities until I went back to Italy, his homeland. I can’t imagine leaving all your family and friends behind and moving to a foreign country. He was uneducated with no marketable skills, couldn’t speak English, hoping to provide a better life for his children.

So thanks Dad for coming to Canada, giving me, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren the opportunity for a better life.

Job well done!

 

I like to share my last years father’s day post for my new followers and my daughter’s reply :

what-money-lessons-did-you-learn-from-your-father

my-daughters-reply-what-money-lessons-did-you-learn-from-your-father

 

Happy Father’s Day!

Is Trump creating trade uncertainty to attract investment into the U.S. ?

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The Trump administration has lifted exemptions for Canada, Mexico and the European Union on its punishing steel and aluminum tariffs. Former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge says the United States is deliberately creating global trade uncertainty to drive investment to its shores.

“The White House and the people around the president look at the world in a way that, if they can create uncertainty about investment elsewhere in the world, then both Americans and foreigners will come and invest more in the United States,” Dodge told BNN Bloomberg on Monday.

This strategy has partially worked over the past 18 months as unsuccessful NAFTA talks have caused companies to postpone or delay important investment decisions. Current Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg last Friday that the ongoing NAFTA negotiations threaten to drive investment in Canada away for good.

President Trump is headed for a showdown with America’s allies at a Group of Seven summit today in Quebec, with the European Union and Canada threatening retaliatory measures unless he reverses course on new steel and aluminum levies. The EU has threatened to retaliate with duties on everything from American motorcycles to bourbon. Canada and Mexico have also promised to levy their own tariffs on U.S. goods.

The White House appeared unfazed by threats from allies. Top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “overreacting” in response to the tariffs, and said the blame for any escalation lies with the U.S.’s trading partners. He said Trump is simply responding to decades of trade abuse.

The president believes that the tariffs being charged against other countries would help to fund the U.S. government and also believes that the U.S. could not lose a trade war in an international climate where the rules were already stacked against American business.

In my humble opinion, Trump’s bullying tactics may have worked in real estate negotiations with contractors and financial institutions. However, it seems to me that world leaders are not going to allow Trump to win concessions without a serious fight.

This trade dispute has triggered one of the biggest crises in the G-7 since the group’s formation by Canada, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Japan and the U.S. In a rare rebuke of a member nation, G-7 finance chiefs said the U.S. duties could “undermine open trade and confidence in the global economy.”

Trump’s “America First” policy could turn into “America Alone” as trade tensions escalate with allies.  So far the world stock markets have not reacted to the fact that tariffs will boost the inflation rate. Leading to higher interest rates and slower global growth.

Lets hope that cooler heads prevail and the world avoids another great recession.

 

 

 

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“Do nothing” is sometimes the best investment strategy

“Sell in May and go away” is a well-known trading saying that warns investors to sell their stock holdings in May to avoid a seasonal decline in equity markets. However, there are too many factors influencing the price of stocks and bonds. Trying to predict what the market is going to do is extremely difficult.

If you are an experienced investor, the term “timing the market” probably sounds familiar. It refers to the idea that investors should buy stocks low and sell them high shortly after. It’s a smart, swift and painless method … or is it?

While timing the market is not a new idea, even professional traders, with all the training, tools and time at their disposal, regularly post losses. Some perform well for a while but it’s very difficult to consistently win over the long term.

Nevertheless, there is no shortage of money managers who claim to know how to beat the odds. You’ll find dozens of stock alert services on the internet, all offering to help you with timing the market. Be warned: the odds are very much stacked against you.

A smarter approach is to spend more time in the market by holding long-term investments rather than trying to time the market.

A perfect example is the recent price movements of Facebook after the privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. The stock price fell from the $185 to $155 in a very short period of time. Many investors panicked and sold. The “Do Nothing” strategy would have been ideal in this case. See the year to date chart below:

Stock traders will argue that selling Facebook and buying it back again when the stock price hit a bottom would have been very profitable. In hind sight, it looks easy but it takes nerves of steel to buy a stock that is in a free fall.

We have all witnessed substantial market upheaval in the past. Many of us have had a window seat to watch how Wall Street responds to uncertainty and turmoil. The financial markets don’t like uncertainty. Why? Because it’s extremely difficult to try to predict the future. Take Tesla for example, lots of uncertainty and turmoil regarding this stock which is illustrated in their one year price chart below.

Odds are more traders lost money then made money trying to trade the ups and downs of Tesla over the past year.

Six tips for portfolio success

  1. The first thing to do is to set up your portfolio in a way that won’t keep you awake at night. For most people, a portfolio of stocks or index funds with some bonds probably works best. A good starting position is to consider a portfolio with 30 percent bonds (government bonds and corporate bonds, for instance) with the remainder in equities.
  2. The second thing to do is stop checking your investments frequently. Two to four times a year is all you need.
  3. Have faith, patience and discipline, markets rise and fall continuously. When they’re down it can be tempting to pull out. Commit to your long-term strategy and stay the course.
  4. Tune out the hypeIf you watch the markets every day and read all the opinions, it will drive you crazy.
  5. Remember that cash is an asset class. Look for buying opportunities when the markets are down.
  6. When in doubt, get sound advice. Even if you’ve decided to buy and hold, you still need to know which investment opportunities are proven performers with a likelihood of continued strength. The right advisor will  help you to wisely diversify your holdings.

 

Disclaimer: I do not own Facebook or Tesla at this time.

Robo-advisor vs. human advisor

The robo-advisor platforms offered by companies like Wealthfront and Betterment are gaining in popularity. The low cost of investment management services is very attractive when compared to fees charged by human financial advisors. It leaves me wondering if financial advice from humans is on its way out.

Advances in artificial intelligence has already replaced some money managers at companies like Blackrock. Last October marked the debut of an AI powered equity ETF. The exchanged traded fund is run by IBM’s Watson, in other words, the new portfolio manager is a computer program. Most ETFs are passively managed and follow indexes or specific sectors in the S&P 500. The AIEQ ETF is an actively managed security that seeks to beat the market.

Here are four advantages that traditional advisors have over robo-advisors.

  1. Human emotions

Robo-advisors only have one job, to use algorithms to manage your investment portfolio. They are not designed to manage the emotional component of investing and building wealth. For traditional advisors, this is a daily role they fulfill. When markets decline or clients experience an important financial event, the traditional advisor is there to talk them down off the proverbial ledge and help them make a rational decision void of strong emotions.

  1. Accountability

Many people are capable of holding themselves accountable on their own but having someone else committed to helping you in the endeavor only ups your chances of success. Computers are certainly capable of creating tasks and sending you reminders but they have little to no flexibility in helping you devise an accountability system that truly works for you and is tailored towards your specific goals.

  1. Flexibility

Let’s face it; over time our lives can change quite drastically. You get married, have kids, buy a house or become unemployed. The list goes on and on. Each of these events creates what we call “money in motion.” When money is in motion, planning, adjusting and taking thoughtful action needs to occur in order to ensure a positive outcome. Over time, many discussions are required during this process and having a human expert helps you adjust and adapt as needed.

  1. One-size-fits-all vs. tailored service

Part of why robo-advisors are cheap, relative to financial advisors, is due to the fact that they are a streamlined, automated service. As great as this can be, it also creates a lot of limitations. Rather than being built and catered specifically to you and your current financial situation, robo-advisors are designed to serve the masses. This means a somewhat cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach in their offerings.

Traditional advisors, on the other hand, can tailor the services and investment management style they provide according to your unique financial situation. (Insurance coverage, debt reduction, tax plan & estate planning)

Having worked as a financial advisor, I am somewhat bias and prefer the traditional advisor over the robo-advisor. However, a robo-advisor provides a service to a select group of clients and financial advisors provide services to a different group. Each cater to the preferences of their unique clientele.

 

 

Why China will outlast the U.S. in trade war

In the political terms, President Xi Jinping runs a communist country that has just granted him the ability to rule for life. He enjoys advantages that may allow him to cope with the economic fallout far better than President Trump. His authoritarian grip on the news media and the party means there is little room for criticism of his policies, while Trump must contend with complaints from American companies and consumers before important midterm elections in November.

The Chinese government also has much greater control over their economy, allowing it to shield the public from job cuts or factory closings by ordering banks to support industries suffering from American tariffs. It can spread the pain of a trade war while tolerating years of losses from state-run companies that dominate major sectors of the economy. In addition, China is also sitting on top of about $3 trillion in surplus cash.

At best, the American actions could shave one-tenth of a percentage point off China’s economic growth. Not enough to force a drastic reversal of policies, given the enormous benefits that Chinese leaders see in the state-heavy economic model they have relied on in recent decades.

Chinese tariffs on the American agricultural sector is very influential in the Congress. Many states that have voted republican in the past will be hardest hit by these tariffs.

Hopefully the president is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, “China is guilty of many things, but the president has no actual plan to win right now. He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire.”

In addition to agriculture, China threatened to retaliate with tariffs on American cars, chemicals and other products. The 106 goods, many produced in parts of the country that have supported Mr. Trump, were selected to deliver a warning that American workers and consumers would suffer in a protracted standoff.

The mere talk of a possible trade war has sent investors on a rolling coaster ride of uncertainty. The six month chart of the S&P 500 below clearly illustrates increased volatility.

China also has the upper hand because it holds $1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. Trump’s tax cuts and infrastructure spending will require issuing more debt. The U.S. government has relied on foreigners to purchase treasuries to finance their spending because American saving rates are so low and they can’t participate fully. Add the fact that the biggest buyer of treasuries was the Federal Reserve which has started to sell it’s holdings.

What would happen to the bond yields if China doesn’t buy additional American debt?

The economic law of supply and demand dictates that more supply will cause prices to fall. If bond prices fall then yields will go up, causing interest rates to raise. Wage and price pressures are already rising, higher tariffs would only intensify these pressures forcing the Fed to raise interest rates even more.

A worst case scenario, the talking war turns into a trade war that could slow U.S. growth, tank the stock market and cause a U.S. recession.

 

President Trump is approaching this like does everything else, by talking tough and expecting his opponent to give in. Unfortunately for Trump, it’s not the 80s anymore. China was dramatically underdeveloped then and it wanted access to Western technology and manufacturing techniques. China is relatively mature today and it can easily obtain what it needs from other vendors outside the United States. While the U.S. market looked enticing a few decades ago, Beijing is more interested in newer emerging market countries.

Trump is not only gambling his political future but the financial well-being of Americans if he starts a trade war.