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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

Trudeau is whistling by the Canadian graveyard

According to Wiktionary:  “whistle-past-the-graveyard” is to attempt to stay cheerful in a dire situation; to proceed with a task, ignoring an upcoming hazard, hoping for a good outcome.

In my humble opinion, this idiom describes our Prime Minister perfectly. The Canadian government missed a golden opportunity to respond to the Trump tax cuts in the February 2018 federal budget.  The United States, our largest trading partner, has made investing in the U.S. more attractive than Canada. Corporate tax rates in the U.S. are 5% lower than Canada and more important is the 100% deduction for new capital spending.

The Canadian dollar has fallen in value from $1.2586 at the end of February to $1.3079 today. A clear sign that foreigners are taking their money out of Canada.  The uncertainly regarding the successful re-negotiation of NAFTA is hurting our dollar and is also responsible for the lack of capital spending in Canada.

Our factors that make Canada less competitive than investing in the U.S.

  • Carbon taxes have increased energy costs.
  • February budget increased taxes for small businesses and individuals.
  • Canadian oil is being sold at a discount by $20 to $25 a barrel costing billions of dollars in lost revenue to Canadian oil companies and loss of tax revenue.
  • Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is being delayed by protesters.
  • Many LNG projects have been scrapped. Meanwhile, this sector is booming in the U.S.
  • The housing market is slowing down due to a 15% foreign buyer’s tax, tightening mortgage rules and higher mortgage rates.
  • Tariffs on softwood lumber, pulp & paper and solar panels. (Steel & aluminium tariffs could become permanent if Trump doesn’t like the NAFTA deal)

No surprise that the Toronto stock exchange is down 4% year to date while the S&P 500 is flat and NASDAQ is up 6%. The Trump tax cuts have already boosted employment and capital spending should kick in the second half of 2018. However, there are still are plenty of risks investing in the U.S. with the Trump circus in Washington. Possible trade wars leading to inflation and higher interest rates.

It is going to be very challenging to make money in 2018!

I am still a Canadian Bear

Trump Tariffs are all about politics and not national security

 

Canada and Brazil are likely to bear the brunt of any tariffs on steel imposed by President Donald Trump. According to the department’s International Trade Administration, Canadian and Brazilian steel comprised 16 percent and 13 percent of U.S. steel imports as of September 2017. China is not one of the top 10 importers of steel to the U.S. (take a good look at the above pie chart)

Top foreign sources of aluminum included Canada (56 percent), Russia (8 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (7 percent) between 2013 and 2016, according to the United States Geological Survey.

In my humble opinion, there is little justification on applying a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% on aluminium based on national security. The majority of steel and aluminium that the U.S. imports comes from military allies.

Now, the timing on this tariffs are somewhat suspect with a congressional election in the 18th district of Pennsylvanian next week. In case you didn’t know, Pennsylvania manufactures a lot of steel. This is Trump country, he carried this district by 20% in the 2016 election. The race is so tight that Trump had a rally in Pennsylvania supporting Rick Saccone.

“Do me a favor,” he said to the large crowd gathered in a hangar at the Pittsburgh airport. “Get out on Tuesday, vote for Rick Saccone, and we can leave right now.”

Trump also using tariffs as a bargaining chip in NAFTA negotiations

Canada and Mexico received a temporary exemption from the tariffs. It will depend on whether the changes that are made to NAFTA will satisfy Trump.  The seventh round of talks in Mexico produced very little process. The final round of NAFTA talks are schedule in Washington sometime in April. The Trump tariffs will put extra pressure on Canada and Mexico to give Trump a deal that will help him get republicans elected this November.

President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum likely precedes an exit from NAFTA, according to Goldman Sachs.

Stock Markets don’t like tariff wars

Tariffs will artificially boost input costs and increase the cost of imported finished products. The fear is an increase of inflation, leading to raising interest rates which would dampen economic growth. The other fear is that corporations will be unable to pass on an increase in input prices which could lead to job cuts.

I expect more tough talk on trade from President Trump because many American voters think that the wealthy will benefit the most from tax cuts. I believe that stock market volatility will intensify over the next few months.

 

It may be a good time to raise some cash and pick up some bargains.

 

Shedding some light on the violent stock market moves

Have you ever heard of the saying Be careful what you wished for? It turns out that traders wished to see some growth in average hourly wages, some inflation over deflation and yields on long duration bonds to go up. They got their wish which started a violent market correction.

Market watchers remain at odds over what tripped the sell switch. Primarily, the conversation comes down to fundamental vs. technical. In the days since the correction began the markets have recouped more than half the downside since the low point.

Plenty of theories, I call mine “The Domino Effect”

Inflation fears was the first domino to fall hitting the fear of raising interest rates. The next domino to fall was money managers and institutional investors were caught with a lot of leveraged positions. The sharp fall triggered margin calls causing massive sell orders. This initiated sell orders from funds that use technical analysis better known as quantitative funds. The last domino to fall was retail investors (who haven’t seen a correction in over two years) did some panic selling.

The Dow suffered two drops of 1,000 points. The fall seems big but the actual percentage was not extraordinary. There have been larger percentage drops in the past. In my 35 years of investing, I have experienced some worse percentage downward moves.

Rank Date Close Net change % change
1 October 19,1987 1,738.74 −508.00 −22.61
8 October 26, 1987 1,793.93 −156.83 −8.04
9 October 15, 2008 8,577.91 −733.08 −7.87

 

Is the correction over?

The market fundamentals haven’t really changed. U.S. corporate earnings are getting better and the Trump tax cuts should boost economic growth. Plus there is systematic economic growth happening in both developed and emerging markets.

I am not an expert on technical analysis and I don’t believe in buying or selling based on lines on chart. However, pension funds, hedge funds and quantitative funds use technical indicators to manage a large amount of investors’ money. 

Analysis from Kensho, a quantitative analytics tool used by hedge funds, looked at seven occasions of similarly sharp drops in the S&P 500 beginning in 1987. The study found that following such a drop, stocks tended to fall further, with a median decline of 2.29 percent one week later and a drop of 1.68 percent two weeks later.

 

This is the ABCD bullish chart:

This is the year to date chart of the S&P 500:

In my humble opinion, corrections tend to last more than nine days. I put some money to work last week and plan on dollar cost averaging on some more positions. If you are new to my blog, consider reading:  Dollar-cost averaging using an option strategy

What do you think? Are you buying the dips or selling into the rallies?

Market crash or correction could be a good time to buy

 

 

My blog post last week warned of a possible correction due to Trump’s future withdrawal from NAFTA. I believed that a pullback was in the cards but you never know what will trigger a sell off.  The pullback started to get some steam on Thursday afternoon when the Atlanta Fed released their projections for first quarter GDP growth to come in at 5.4 per cent!

That really spooked the stock market since 4th quarter GDP was only 2.6 percent which was below consensus estimates of 3 percent. The Friday’s job numbers fueled the downdraft even further as investors digested a stronger-than-expected jobs report where the average hourly wages rose more than expect.

Higher wages can point to higher inflation, which, in turn, could lead the Fed to raise interest rates more aggressively. Those concerns allowed the 10-year Treasury yield to rise above 2.8 percent.

Keep in mind that the S&P 500 has risen 6 percent in the year to date and is on track for its 10th straight month of gains. At these levels, this would be the best January since 1997. The S&P’s relative strength index ended last week at 90, its highest level on record. (Overbought territory) Its price-to-earnings ratio hit 18.44 times forward earnings this week, its highest level since May 2002.

Two other factors that may have contributed to the main benchmarks suffering their biggest one-day drops in more than a year and posting the steepest weekly losses in about two years.

  1. Friday marked the last day for Janet Yellen as the head of the Federal Reserve, giving way to her successor, 64-year-old Jerome Powell. Powell’s entry adds uncertainty into the markets.
  2. The politics in D.C. with the release of the Nunes memo adds political uncertainty as to whether the business friendly republicans will lose in the November elections.

The Dow Jones futures market points to a negative opening on Monday. There could be even more selling pressure near the end of the week because of a possible government shut down over Trump’s immigration demands.

Why you shouldn’t worry

  • The Atlanta Fed was also optimistic about the 2017 first quarter, estimating growth at one point to be 3.4 percent, where the final reading came in at 1.2 percent.
  • Higher wages doesn’t always lead to higher inflation. Consumers could opt not to spend but pay down debt or increase their savings.
  • Over the long run, good quality stocks will outperform bonds.

In my thirty plus years of investing, I have seen many bear markets and corrections. Ask yourself a simple question. How many millionaires do you know that became wealthy by investing in savings accounts?

What is on my shopping list? U.S. financials and technology.