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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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!

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.

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.

 

Both young & old should make a budget

Contrary to popular belief, money has no value what so ever until you spend it. It is what you spend it on that has value. The value we place on money is dependent on what we think we can buy with it. The money you are paid as a salary is just a number written on a pay slip or is deposited directly into your bank account in exchange for the service you provided to your employer.

Why is budgeting so important

Since the value of money comes from its buying power, planning your spending ensures that you have enough money for things that you need and for things that are important to you. A spending plan will also keep you from spending money that you don’t have or help you get rid of unwanted debt. (Not all debt is bad)

The buying power of money is determined by the supply and demand for goods in the economy. Inflation in the economy causes the future value of money to reduce its purchasing power. A budget helps you figure out your short and long term goals plus measures your progress.

Budget Categories

  1. Shelter – rent, mortgage, property taxes
  2. Utilities – heat, hydro, water, cable, internet, cell phone
  3. Food
  4. Transportation – bus pass, car payments, gasoline, repairs
  5. Clothes & Accessories
  6. Gifts
  7. Insurance – car, home and life
  8. Entertainment – including vacations
  9. Emergency fund
  10. General savings – major purchases, debt repayments, retirement

It is really important for seniors to have a budget. You don’t want to outlive your money and be a financial burden to your children. There are three stages of retirement, “go go”, “slow go” and “no go”.

You tend to spend more money in the “go go” stage since today’s seniors are healthier than previous generations. Plus, life expectancy has increased so seniors will also have more leisure time.

As more people are living longer, the “no go” stage in retirement can become very costly due to the increasing risk of health problems. The risk of developing a cognitive disease like Dementia or Alzheimer increases with age. Costs for caregivers, assistance living and nursing homes are not cheap. (The cost for my elderly mother’s caregiver is about $20,000 per year)

Why people don’t budget

  1. They’ve got the wrong idea. Budgeting’s got a reputation for being too restrictive; you work hard for your money, why shouldn’t you be able to spend it as you see fit? But it isn’t as terrible as it seems. In fact, when you stick to a budget, you’re likely to have even more money left over to do with as you please. Budgets shouldn’t be about making big restrictive changes. Rather, when you examine your finances, you see small ways to make changes that will have big effects.
  1. It is intimidating. Got a vice that you don’t want to give up? Scared that if you make a budget you won’t be able to stick to it? There are tons of reasons you might fear drawing up a budget, but that shouldn’t keep you from trying! When you create a budget, you’re enabling yourself to find and fix the financial mistakes you make, rather than ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away by themselves.
  1. It is time-consuming & boring.Unless you have a passion for spreadsheets, chances are that budgets bore you to tears. You might not want to budget because the actual act of budgeting just seems like row upon row and column upon column of money that’s no longer yours.
  1. They think they don’t need to. In today’s economy, not many people can say that they don’t need to budget because they have enough money. Even if this is the case for you, a budget can always help you to save more.
  1. They think a budget can’t help. Most of us have heard the adage ‘the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.’ Debt is a very personal issue and it can be difficult to admit, even to yourself. There are a variety of ways to help clear your debt and drawing up a comprehensive budget is the best way to start doing this.

I just put the finishing touches to my 2018 budget, how about you?

Panic at Orlando airport spoiled my golfing trip

Golf season in Canada can be very short because of bad weather. One of my guilty pleasures is heading south for an annual golf trip with the boys every November. We started this tradition sixteen years ago and I would have to be very ill to miss it.

As a volunteer driver, I experienced first-hand the panic at the Orlando airport while dropping off a friend after our last round of golf. We decided to go early so we could have   dinner together at the airport. Walking in, we faced a stampede of frighten travelers running and screaming to the exits.

Some travelers thought they heard gun fire while others thought that they heard an explosion. Standing outside watching the Orlando Police conduct their investigation with weapons drawn was very alarming.

It turns out that a camera battery exploded in a bag which cause people to panic and the airport to be evacuated. Thousands of travelers faced hours of waiting at security checkpoints.

Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said a full ground-stop was issued at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. At a press conference Friday night, Brown said 24 flights were canceled and 27 others were diverted. He acknowledged that some passengers will have to book new flights, and others might struggle to find hotel rooms for the night.

He added that some airport staff and TSA agents instructed the crowd to take cover, when the initial explosion created confusion among staff and passengers.

At first glance, it may seem that the Orlando Aviation Authority may have over reacted to a faulty camera battery. However, it happened on the same day that Americans celebrate veteran’s day.  Plus no one wants to read about children getting hurt after visiting Disney World.

I felt bad for my friend who ended up sleeping at the airport as his flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 2:30 p.m. the next day. I was lucky that my early morning flight was cancelled and I got some extra sleep. It made delays in my rescheduled flight a little more bearable.

Will this unfortunate incidence stop me from going south golfing? Not a chance, however I may decide to spend a few extra days driving instead of flying.

The moral of this story is managing risk extends beyond the financial markets. Panic and over reaction can easily cause a major sell off in stock markets. You can’t predict what will cause a stampede to the exits.