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A Brief Introduction to Commodity Option Trading
The world of commodity options is diverse and cannot be given justice in a short article such as this. The purpose of this writing is to simply introduce the topic of options on futures. Should you want to learn commodity options trading strategies in more detail, please consider purchasing "Commodity Options" published by FT Press at www.CommodityOptionstheBook.com.
Why Trade Commodity Options?
Just as there are several ways to skin a cat, there are an unlimited number of option trading strategies available in the futures markets. The method that you choose should be based on your personality, risk capital and risk aversion. Plainly, if you don't have an aggressive personality and a high tolerance for pain, you probably shouldn't be employing a futures and options trading strategy that involves elevated risks. Doing so will often results in panic liquidation of trades at inopportune times as well as other unsound emotional decisions.
Commodity options provide a flexible and effective way to trade in the futures markets. Further, options on futures offer investors the ability to capitalize on leverage while still giving them the ability to manage risk. For example, through the combination of long and short call and put options in the commodity markets, an investor can design a trading strategy that fits their needs and expectations; such an arrangement is referred to as an option spread. Keep in mind that the possibilities are endless and will ultimately be determined by a trader's objectives, time horizon, market sentiment, and risk tolerance.
One of the most frustrating aspects of trading commodities is getting comfortable with how each futures and options contract is quoted, what the point value or multiplier of each contract is, and most importantly how to calculate the profit, loss, and risk of a trade.
Each commodity futures contract is standardized, but in comparison to those with differing underlying assets they are often worlds apart. This can be extremely overwhelming for a new futures trader; particularly because stock traders enjoy the simplicity of consistent math regardless of the product being traded. I hope that the following explanations, and my years of experience as a commodity broker, help to shorten your learning curve. Additionally, I hope this article provides you with a good base of information to begin your journey in the challenging trading arena known as commodity options and futures.
Unfortunately, until recently there hadn't been much in the way of uniformity in the commodity industry. Today, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group (CME Group) owns and operates most U.S. futures exchanges, but it wasn’t always that way. Early on, there were a handful of major domestic futures exchanges working completely independent of each other. Each of the exchange had differing rules and procedures; further each commodity listed on those exchanges had, and still have, various contract sizes and specifications. As a result, the point value and quoting format varies widely. For example, some commodities are referred to in fractions and others in decimals. Some decimals depict the difference between dollars and cents, others between cents and fractions of a cent. The merger of the Chicago Board of Trade, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the New York Mercantile Exchange was a big step in bringing some congruency but, regrettably, reading and calculating commodity prices will never become easier.
Reading and Calculating Commodity Prices
Quoting Grain Futures
The grain complex is perhaps the easiest to remember when trading in futures simply because four of the major contracts included are similarly quoted. Wheat, corn, soybeans and oats are all priced in dollars and cents. This is true for both futures and the corresponding option contracts. If you are proficient in adding and subtracting fractions, these contracts should be a breeze; if not it may take you a while to become familiar enough with the pricing method to begin trading.
Each of the grain futures contracts listed above are quoted in fractions using eight as a denominator. In other words, they are referred to in eighths of a cent. Because eight will always be the denominator the fractions are not reduced. The minimum tick for these contracts in the futures market is a quarter of a cent or 2/8ths. Thus, if corn was trading at $4.15 1/4 (four dollars and fifteen and a quarter cents) the price would be displayed on a quote board as simply 415'2. The two represents the un-reduced fraction 2/8. If corn futures ticked lower, the new price would be 415, or $4.15. It cannot trade at 415’1 because the minimum tick is a quarter of a cent.
With this information, you have probably realized that a half of a cent is denoted by 4/8ths and three quarters of a cent would be displayed as 6/8ths or simply 6. In other words, if wheat was trading at $5.70 3/4 it would be displayed on a quote board or price ticker as 570'6. Likewise, $5.70 1/2 would be listed as 570'4. If fractions aren't your thing, you can avoid using them in your calculations by simply replacing the fraction with .25, .50 and .75 respectively.
Calculating Profit and Loss in Grain Futures (Corn, Wheat, Soybeans)
Each penny of movement in these grain futures will result in a profit or loss for the trader in the amount of $50. To illustrate, being long corn futures from $4.00 with the current futures price at $4.01 the trade is profitable by exactly $50. To expand on this idea, the minimum tick of a quarter of a cent (2/8ths) results in a profit or loss of $12.50. Once you are armed with this knowledge, computing profit, loss and risk in terms of actual dollars in your trading account is relatively simple.
A trader long soybeans from 901'4 ($901 1/2) liquidates the position at 926'6 to net a profit of $1,262.50 before considering commissions and exchange fees. This is figured by subtracting 901'4 from 926'6 and multiplying that number by $50.
926'6 - 901'4 = 25'2
25'2 x $50 = $1,262.50 (minus commissions and fees)
The Odd Couple of Soybean Futures (Soybean Meal, and Soybean Oil)
The less talked about soybean contracts are the byproducts of the beans themselves. Soybeans are crushed to extract oil (soybean oil), what is left is a substance known soybean meal. Soybean oil can be found in many of the foods that you consume on a daily basis while soy meal is most often used as animal feed.
Soybean Meal Futures
While both of these products are derived from the same bean, in terms of futures trading they have few similarities. Soybean meal is quoted in dollars and cents per ton based on a contract size of 100 ton. To clarify, if soymeal futures are trading at 390.50 this is referring to three hundred ninety dollars and fifty cents per ton or $390.50. If the market drops by 30 cents (sometimes referred to as points) the new price would be 390.20. Each dime in price movement represents a $10 profit or loss per contract. Thus, if a trader sells soymeal futures at 395.20 and buys the contract back at 390.10 he realizes a profit of $510 per contract. This is calculated by subtracting the purchase price from the sale price and multiplying it by $100. This makes sense because if each dime in the commodity price is equivalent to $10 in your trading account, then each $1 change in the commodity price will represent a profit or loss of $100 before considering transaction costs.
395.20 - 390.10 = 5.10
5.10 x $100 = $510 (minus commissions and fees)
Soybean Oil Futures
Soybean oil futures trade in contracts of 60,000 pounds and are quoted in cents per pound. If you see a price of 38.20 it is actually referring to $0.3820 or 38.20 cents per pound. If the daily change was a positive .10, this represents a tenth of a cent price appreciation. Each 1/100th of a cent is worth $6 to the trader; thus each full handle or cent is equivalent to a profit or loss of $600 in the futures market. For example, if a trader went long soybean oil futures from 37.00 and was forced to sell the position at 36.20 at a loss, the total damage to the trading account of the speculator would have been $480. This is figured by subtracting the purchase price from the sale price and then multiplying by $6.
37.00 - 36.20 = .80
80 x $6 = $480 (minus commission and fees)
Livestock Futures (The Meats)
The complex known as "the meats" consists of feeder cattle, live cattle and lean hogs. Newer commodity traders are sometimes disappointed to learn the infamous pork belly futures contracts have been delisted from the exchange. Nevertheless, as an experienced futures broker I’m confident the trading community is better off without a futures contract written with pork bellies as the underlying asset. Prior to their delisting from exchange offered products, pork belly futures were thinly traded, involved wide bid/ask spreads, excessive volatility, and left countless traders maimed.
Each of the livestock futures are quoted in cents per pound and there are one hundred points to each cent. With the exception of feeder cattle which have a point value of $5, the meats have a point value of $4. Therefore, a penny move (100 points) would be equivalent to $400 in profit or loss in live cattle and lean hogs. An equivalent move in feeder cattle would yield a profit or loss of $500.
The meat futures contracts are commonly quoted with decimals which causes confusion. Don't assume because there is a decimal in the quote that it is meant to depict dollars and cents. The digits beyond the decimal point are referring to the fraction of a penny in which the price is trading. For example, if feeder cattle futures are trading at 210.90 this is equivalent to $2.10 and 9/10ths of a cent.
Let's look at an example on how profit and loss would be calculated when trading live cattle futures. A trader long live cattle from 199.30 gets filled on a limit order working to sell at 202.40. This trade was profitable by 3.1 cents or $1,240 and can be calculated subtracting the entry price from the sales price and multiplying the difference by the multiplier. In the case of live cattle it is $4 a point or $400 per penny.
202.40 - 199.30 = 3.10
3.10 x $4 = $1,240 (before commissions and fees)
Foods and Fibers (The Softs)
Coffee, orange juice, cocoa and sugar all fall into a commodity futures category often referred to as the "softs". With the exception of cocoa, each of these futures contracts are quoted in cents per pound. Accordingly, although the multiplier will be different, the methodology in figuring out profit, loss and risk on a trade will be very similar to that of the meats.
Cocoa, on the other hand is quoted in even dollar amounts per ton; prices are not broken down into cents. In other words, if cocoa is trading at 3100, it is actually going for three thousand one hundred dollars per ton. There are ten tons in a contract, so multiply by ten or add a zero to get the true dollar amount. If the market closed higher 14 ticks in a trading session, a trader would have either made or lost $140.
Coffee futures trade in contracts of 37,500 pounds making each penny of movement worth $375 to the trader. For example, if prices move from 130.00 to 131.00 a trader would have made or lost $375 before considering transaction costs. Similar to livestock futures, the decimal point isn't meant to separate dollars from cents it is a way of breaking each penny into fractions of a penny. Thus, if the price rises from 130.50 to 131.00 it has appreciated by half of a cent which is equivalent to $187.50 per contract to a commodity futures trader.
Orange Juice Futures
An orange juice contract represents 15,000 pounds of the underlying product. Therefore, each cent of price movement results in a profit or loss of $150 to a trader. Like meat futures and coffee, orange juice is quoted in cents per pound with a decimal that simply represents a fraction of a cent. A tcopprader long orange juice from 120.00 with the current market price at 118.50 has an unrealized loss of 1.5 cents or $225 (1.5 x $150).
Sugar #11 futures (not Sugar #14 futures) are traded based on a contract size of 112,000 pounds. With that said, each tick in sugar is worth $11.20 to the trader and each full handle of price movement (or penny) is equivalent to $1,120. Once again, don't mistake the decimal for separation of dollars and cents. If sugar is trading at 12.20 cents per pound it will be displayed by a quote service as 12.20. A trader long from 11.95 would be profitable at 12.20 by .25 cents, or $280, figured by multiplying the difference between the current price (12.20) and the purchase price (11.95) by the point value ($11.20).
Cotton isn't a food, it is a fiber. Nonetheless it is most often grouped with the softs (sugar, cocoa, orange juice and coffee futures) due to the fact that it trades on the same exchange (Intercontinental Exchange, or ICE). Cotton futures trade in 50,000 pound contracts and are quoted in cents per pound; again, the decimal point isn't intended to separate dollars and cents. Rather it separates cents from fractions of a cent. In other words, if cotton is trading at 68.50 it is read as 68 1/2 cents. Due to the contract size, each tick of price movement is worth $5 to a trader; therefore if a speculator sells cotton at 65.40 and is stopped out with a loss at 67.30 the total amount of the damage would be 1.9 cents or $950 (190 points x $5).
Lumber futures are not traded on ICE with the other softs, but are often referred to in the same category. For reasons unknown, lumber futures attract beginning traders. Perhaps it is because it is the epitome of the definition of a commodity due to its widespread usage. Nonetheless, it is a sparsely traded contract by speculators and until liquidity improves I don't necessarily recommend trading it. Prior to the Chicago Mercantile exchange eliminating open outcry futures trading pits, I can recall walking by the barely recognizable lumber futures trading pit. There were a total of three market makers passing the time by reading a newspaper. As a speculator, it is never a good idea to trade in a market in which your order will be one of a handful of fills in the entire trading day.
If you do insist on trading lumber futures you must be willing to accept wide bid/ask spreads and a considerable amount of slippage getting in and getting out of your position. The contract size for the lumber futures contract is 110,000 board feet and it is quoted in dollars and cents. Accordingly each tick of price movement represents $11. In this case, the decimal is used in its usual context. If the market is trading at 246.80, it is interpreted as $246.80.
Precious Metals Futures
Gold, Platinum and Palladium Futures
Gold, platinum and palladium futures are quoted just as they appear, the decimal included in the quotes are intended to separate dollars and cents. The numbers to the left of the decimal are dollars and the numbers to the right are cents. In other words, a point in these metals contracts is synonymous with a cent. For example, if gold is trading at $1130.20 and rallies 60 cents the price will be 1130.80, or simply $1130.80. Platinum and palladium are treated the same; there are no surprises here. However, their point values do differ. Palladium has an equivalent point value as gold at $100 per dollar of price movement, but the point value and contract size of platinum is half of that of gold and palladium. This is because of their futures contract size; a gold futures contract, as well as palladium futures, represent 100 ounces of the underlying commodity, but platinum is only 50 ounces.
In regards to gold futures, each penny of price movement results in a profit or loss of $10 to the trader. Therefore, each full dollar movement in price represents $100 of profit or loss. Accordingly, if gold rallies from $1149.20 to $1156.80 a long trader would have made $7.60 or $760 and a short trader would have lost that amount (not considering commissions and fees).
1156.80 - 1149.20 = 7.60
7.60 x $100 = $760 (minus commissions and fees)
The manner in which silver futures are quoted is more similar to grains such as corn and wheat than it is the other precious metals. A silver contract represents 5,000 ounces of the underlying commodity creating a cent value of $50; for every penny that the futures market moves a trader will make or lose $50. Likewise, silver trades in dollars and fractions of a cent. If the price is quoted as 16.345 it should be read as $16.34 1/2. Please note that the traditional version of the silver contract traded on the COMEX division of the CME Group trades in halves of a cent, but there are mini versions of silver futures that trade in tenths of a cent, such as 1634.1 or sixteen dollars and thirty four and one tenth of a cent.
Calculating profit and loss in silver futures is identical to doing so in corn, wheat or soybean futures. If you sell silver at 13.450 ($13.45) and are stopped out at 1362.5 ($13.62 1/2) you would have lost 17.5 cents or $875 ($50 x 17.5).
Unlike the other metals which are referred to in terms of cents per ounce, copper futures are quoted in cents per pound. The contract size is 25,000 pounds making the multiplier $250 for a penny move. Simply put, if copper rises or falls by one cent a futures trader would make or lose $250. This makes sense because if the price of copper goes up by 1 penny you would make 25,000 pennies on a long futures position. Also unlike gold futures, copper prices trade in fractions of a cent. If you see copper quoted at 3.055 it is trading at $3.05 1/2. Likewise, if copper rallies from this price to 3.450, it represents a gain of 39.5 cents or $9,875 ($250 x 39.5) per contract. This sounds great if you happened to be long, but a short trader during this move likely lost a lot of sleep. There is a mini version of copper futures, which is probably more appropriate to most commodity traders due to it’s reduced contract size of 12,500 pounds.
Crude Oil Futures
Crude oil is one of the most talked about commodities but is also one of the most challenging of the futures markets to speculate. WTI (West Texas Intermediate) Light sweet crude (not to be confused with Brent crude oil) is quoted in dollars per barrel. From a commodity trading standpoint, it is relatively simple to calculate profit, loss, and risk in crude oil futures because it is quoted in dollars and cents, as we are accustomed to in everyday life. The contract size is 1,000 barrels, so each penny of price movement in crude represents $10 of risk to a commodity trader.
A price quote of 65.00 is just as it appears, $65.00 per barrel of crude. A drop in price from 65.00 to 63.00 is equivalent to a $2,000 profit or loss for a futures trader. Remember, each penny is worth $10 to a trader and a $2 move in price is 200 cents.
Heating Oil Futures
Heating oil futures and unleaded gasoline are much more complicated to figure. Both are quoted in cents per gallon, similar to how it is displayed to you at a gas station pump. Consequently, in both cases the decimal point separates the dollars from the cents and each of them trade in fractions of a cent. The contract size for each is 42,000 gallons, so each point in price movement is worth $4.20 cents to a futures trader and each penny (100 points) is worth $420. For example, if heating oil futures are trading at 2.1060 ($2.10 6/10) and rallies to a price of 2.2140 ($4.21 4/10) the futures contract has gained 10.8 cents or $4,536 (10.8 x $420). By this example you can see how easily money can be made or lost in the futures market. A price move of less than 11 cents could result in a profit or loss of several thousand dollars.
Natural Gas Futures
Natural gas futures are quoted in BTU's or British Thermal Units which is a measurement of heat and has a contract size of 10,000 mmBTU or million BTU's. Each tick of price movement in this contract is valued at $10 and there are 1000 ticks in a dollar of price movement. Thus, for every dollar move in the natural gas futures market, the value of the contract appreciates or depreciates by $10,000. To illustrate, if the market rallies from 3.305 or $3.30 1/2 to 4.305 a trader would have made or lost $10,000 on one futures contract. This might be enough to deter you from this market, unless of course you have deep pockets and substantial risk tolerance.
Currency futures are listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and are, for the most part, traded in "American terms". This simply
means that the currency prices listed in the futures market represent the dollar price of each foreign currency. In order to understand the point of view of the futures price ask yourself; "How much of our currency does it take to buy one theirs?"
If the Euro is trading at 1.1639, it takes $1.16 39/100 U.S. greenbacks to purchase one Euro. The value of one futures contract is 125,000 Euro so each tick higher or lower changes the price of the contract by $12.50 and translates into a profit or loss to the trader in that amount. Like the Euro futures contract, the majority of currency futures have a tick value of $12.50; others that share this characteristic are the Swiss Franc, and the Japanese Yen futures contract. The Australian Dollar and the Canadian Dollar both have a tick value of $10 and the British Pound fluctuates in ticks of $6.25. Once you know the tick value of each of these contracts, it is easy to compute the dollar amount of risk, profit and loss. For example, a trader that is long the Euro from 1.1239 and liquidates the position at 1.1432 would be profitable by 193 ticks or $2,412.50 (193 x $12.50).
1. As a futures option seller, it takes money to make money...leave plenty of excess margin in your commodity trading account
Short option traders must be properly funded to be capable of riding out any storm that might materialize. During times of excessive commodity market volatility, many traders turn to the limited risk of option buying. This has a tendency to artificially inflate commodity option prices, due to the increase in demand for the securities. Also, in a more volatile market environment, commodity traders often believe it is more likely that a long option strategy will have an opportunity to pay off. I argue this is a false perception because options on futures buyers must overcome their cost of entry before turning a profit; the higher the price of the option on the way in, the bigger the obstacle to being profitable will be. Nevertheless, in all of the excitement traders often behave emotionally rather than logically; as a result, they exuberantly bid up the prices of low probability options to shocking levels.
Short-Option position sizing
In most options and futures markets, you would want about $10,000 in a trading
account for one, or two, commodity options sold. In some of the higher margined markets such as gold, it would likely be in your best interest to have much more. Another way to determine the appropriate account and position size is excess margin. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to utilize 50% of less of your account when trading short options. Simply put, if your account size is $10,000 you should aim for trades that will require a margin of $3,000 to $5,000. On the flip side, the excess margin listed on the bottom of your statement should be between $7,000 and $5,000.
Some might look at the funds not being used toward margin as a missed opportunity, or a waste of risk capital. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Undercapitalized commodity option sellers will almost undoubtedly get into trouble. Without plenty of excess margin in a commodity trading account, it can be difficult to survive the normal ebb and flow of the futures markets. In addition, a lack of capital dramatically increases the odds of a margin call, which can result in pre-mature liquidation of an option trade. If the situation is dire enough, the liquidation might be at the hand of your commodity broker; which is an unpleasant experience for all parties. With that said, not all commodity option brokers are created equal (see the next talking point).
2. The commodity broker you choose for your option selling account DOES matter!
Unfortunately, many beginning option sellers overlook the impact their choice of commodity broker has on the bottom line of a trading account. Even worse, they assume the only affect their option broker will have on their trading results is the per contract commission charge. As a long-time futures broker I can assure you, there is much more to the relationship between a trader and his commodity brokerage than transaction costs.
Regardless of whether a commodity option trader is placing orders online though a futures trading platform, or by phone or email with a broker, the choice of a brokerage firm will eventually play a big part in the success or failure of a commodity option trading strategy. This is because many futures brokers are averse to allowing their clients sell options on futures; even those brokers that allow it often take other actions to reduce risk exposure to the brokerage such as restricting the commodity option contracts available to trade, increasing short option margin requirements (above and beyond the exchange minimum SPAN margin), and even force liquidating client positions at the first sign of trouble. Futures brokers with heavy handed risk managers can wreak havoc on an option selling account. Imagine your option broker liquidating your trades at a highly inopportune time, before a margin call is triggered, and without notifying you. Such an event can be a costly and frustrating experience; but it can also be avoided by ensuring your commodity option broker is willing and capable of servicing your account type.
My commodity brokerage service, DeCarley Trading, specializes in handling option selling accounts.
3. Most futures and options traders lose money!
Whether trading futures or options, a common mistake commodity traders make is to blindly follow the lead of random trading books, business news stations, popular financial newspapers, and magazines. The ugly truth is most commodity traders lose money. Knowing this, why in the world would you want to do what "everyone else" is doing? In light of the success rate of the masses, you probably don’t want to join them. Most traders are buying options, and or employing futures trading strategies; a much smaller percentage of traders are selling commodity options. Perhaps option selling is the prime “contrarian” strategy, and should be considered by all market participants for the simple reason that it is unpopular…and historically speaking, unpopular ideas in trading sometimes turn out to be the gems.
4. Sell Commodity Options on the contrary
As opposed to simple premium collection without a purpose, such as carelessly selling calls and hoping nothing happens, I feel like the best odds of success is to patiently wait for market panic or excitement of the masses and to play the other side of the trade. Warren Buffet said it simply, "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful"; he wasn’t referring to option trading but the concept can certainly be applied. For instance, some of the best option selling opportunities occur following massive price spikes in a particular direction. When such a price extension occurs most speculators are busy buying options in the direction of the trend at obscenely high prices, when the best trade is often to be a seller of those over-priced options. Of course, this type of approach is equivalent to catching the proverbial “falling knife”. If what you believe to be the exhaustion of a trend, turns out to be the early stages of a much larger move the trade could be in danger of substantial losses.
Selling options as a contrarian isn't easy money, but I do believe it might be advantageous from an odds perspective. After all, times of directional volatility and emotion often involve excessive option premium and this makes it a great time to be an options on futures seller. If you were a store owner, you would prefer to sell hot products at high prices, as opposed to items on the discount rack. Option selling is no different.
Of course, the trick is to be patient enough to improve the probability of your entry being at the peak of volatility; this is easier said than done. However, completely disregarding commodity market volatility when implementing a short option strategy could lead to painfully large losses regardless of whether the futures price ever touches the strike price of the short option.
5. Who are candidates to sell commodity options?
Before choosing to implement an option selling strategy in the futures markets, you must first honestly assess your ability to accept the prospects of unlimited risk and margin calls. Not everyone is capable of managing the emotions that come with these two characteristics of the strategy; and even those who are, will have moments of weakness. As a seasoned commodity option broker, I can attest the markets are capable of making a grown man cry. Failure to keep trading emotions in check could mean letting losers get out of hand, or panicked liquidation at unfortunate prices. Either scenario could be psychologically and financially devastating to an option selling strategy.
The missing piece to the puzzle?
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Futures Option Volatility Trading with the VIX
The adage buy low and sell high was originally used in reference to price, but can also be applied to the practice of trading volatility. In fact, even as a commodity option trader looking to trade market price as opposed to volatility, ignoring measures of potential explosiveness while entering or exiting a market could mean financial peril. While many commodity traders, whether beginner or pro, understand the concept of buying options during times of low volatility and selling them during times of high volatility, emotions often lead a well-planned strategy astray.
Unlike traders that are looking to profit from a directional move in price, volatility traders are more interested in the pace at which the market is moving than the direction. However, I argue that it is important to chart both price and volatility in a commodity market before speculating in options. Doing so provides trades with a better understanding of the 'big picture'.
In my opinion, the most efficient means of trading equity market volatility isn't through the VIX index, or any other similar measure. High levels of leverage, a lack of options on futures market, and a tendency for the index value to erode over time are major factors working against the viability of doing so. Instead, I believe that traders should look to buy or sell options on S&P 500 futures, or more specifically the e-mini S&P (symbol ES). The S&P 500 is a broad based stock index and its value is sharply impacted by market sentiment and the corresponding volatility. Thus, a trader that is of the opinion that volatility will increase may look to buy volatility through the purchase of options written on S&P 500 futures and those looking for volatility to decrease may look to sell volatility buy going short options on the index. Accordingly, insiders often refer to the practice of buying or selling options as "going long volatility" or "going short volatility".
Trading S&P 500 Volatility through Premium Collection in the Futures Market
As mentioned, one way to speculate on variations in volatility is through the practice of option selling, often referred to as premium collection. It is important to realize that I am referring to trading American style options which allow traders to buy, sell or exercise options at any time prior to expiration. This differs from the European style versions that offer far less flexibility. The increased level of flexibility tends to have a positive impact on the value of the option and thus the amount of premium collected for selling it. In other words, option buyers may get more value using European style options (referred to as end-of-month options in the S&P) due to lower premiums; conversely this concept works in favor of option sellers of American style options.
Why Option Selling?
Option sellers are in the business of collecting premium, much like an insurance company, under the assertion that in the long run the premium collected should outweigh any potential payouts. This theory is based on the assumption that more options than not expire worthless, which has been suggested by several studies including one conducted by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Unfortunately, similar to insurance companies who are sometimes forced to honor their policies on excessive claims, commodity option sellers are vulnerable to monster market moves than can be potentially account threatening. Preventing such disasters ultimately come down to timing of entry along with a good understanding of futures market volatility, market sentiment, and market knowledge. Additionally, experience, instinct and, of course, luck will also come into play. Yet, in my judgment option selling is a superior strategy in the long run.
Futures options selling advocates and equity market volatility traders seem to migrate to the S&P 500 futures market (e-mini S&P). There are other stock index futures such as the e-mini Dow Jones Industrial Average and the e-mini NASDAQ, but the e-mini S&P offers the most liquidity as well as a broader based index with smoother price movement.
CBOE's Volatility Index Futures (VIX)
An important measure of volatility when referring to the S&P 500 is the now infamous Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index, often simply referred to as the VIX. According to the CBOE, the VIX is a "key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility as conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices" and has become one of the most prominent measures of market sentiment in the world. In “normal” market conditions, the VIX spends a majority of its time below 20. As chaotic price action in the financial markets heat up, the VIX can see spikes into the 30 or 40 levels. However, in historically extreme circumstances such as the 2008 financial crisis, the VIX can trade into the 70s, or even higher.
The VIX futures contract is the sole futures offering on the CBOE exchange. As a result, not all futures brokers offer access to trade it. Additionally, receiving real-time VIX quotes in a futures trading platform isn’t necessarily a given.
The VIX futures market offers contracts expiring each month. The margin to trade VIX futures fluctuates around $3,000 per contract and the point value is $1,000, making it a very volatile holding in any commodity trading portfolio. For instance, fi the VIX moves from 15.00 to 16.00, the trader would have made or lost $1,000 per contract with a margin deposit of just $3,000. If you’ve followed the VIX, you know that it doesn’t take much time to travel a full point. Thus, most traders are probably better suited trading e-mini S&P options, than dabbling with highly levered VIX futures.
Increased values of VIX are highly correlated with higher option premium in the ES (e-mini S&P) options due to inflated expectations of future volatility built into options on futures prices. Assuming he is willing to accept the risk of participating in such a market, times of inflated expectations of volatility, and therefore over-priced options, are ideal conditions for an experienced option seller.
The Quest for Implied Volatility in Futures Options
Unlike the VIX which is derived from the underlying futures price, among other factors, implied volatility is a component of option price. The implied volatility of a futures option, is the amount of volatility implied by the market value, or price, of the option. In other words, the implied volatility is forward looking in that it incorporates the current market precariousness as well as what market participants are expecting at some point in the future.
You may also find that market emotion and sentiment are a component of futures option implied volatility. As long commodity option traders scramble to “buy” volatility through the purchase of options in an attempt to profit from the latest hype, option premiums can and do explode exponentially. As a sidelined options on futures seller, these types of conditions should be inviting. The premise of this approach is to attempt to sell options to buyers that are simply "late to the party". The key is making sure that as a seller you aren't too early.
Selling Puts can be Lucrative, but the Option Strategy Comes with a Hefty Price Tag
It is often the case that selling puts is more lucrative than calls, but the added reward carries baggage in the form of additional risk. Due to the increased levels of risk, timing becomes crucial. By nature an option selling program in the futures markets tend to leave room for error in the execution. Nonetheless, being short puts in a spiraling market can quickly change that.
The phenomenon of put premium in the stock indices being larger than call premium is often referred to as the volatility smile. The volatility smile is a long observed pattern in which at-the-money options have lower implied volatility than out-of-the-money options along with the idea that there is more value in owning a put relative to an equally distant call. This scenario seemed to be born after the crash of 1987 in the U.S.
While there are no crystal balls to let us know when a futures market will turn around and how low that it might go before it does, being aware of historical patterns in price, volatility and market sentiment may help to avoid a compromising situation. Let's take a look at the relationship between the VIX and the S&P.
VIX and the S&P 500
Looking at the chart below, it is obvious that the S&P 500 has been able to forge recoveries during times of spiked volatility as measured by the VIX. Armed with this knowledge, it may be a viable strategy to look at erratic, and many times irrational, trade as a point of entry for put sellers.
Short Put Option Trading Example
For example, based on this assumption put sellers may have fared well during the lows in 2001, 2003 and 2007, and 2011. That is of course assuming that the option seller wasn't early in his entry. If a short volatility trader enters a market prematurely, there is a strong possibility that the trader will be forced out of the market prematurely due to lack of financing or margin. Let's take a look at one of the most opportune times in history to be a volatility seller (sell puts in the S&P).
Beginning in the middle of 2002 and throughout the beginning of 2003, put sellers with savvy timing may have done very well. However, trading is a game of risk and those selling puts during those times were accepting great amounts of risk in order to reap the reward.
Let's take a look at a continuous S&P 500 futures chart during the 2002/2003 lows. While the VIX is a great indication of volatility and extreme market sentiment, it is also helpful to look at indicators of volatility such as standard deviations. Luckily, the creation of Bollinger Bands allows us to visually determine market volatility through the line plot of two standard deviations from its mean. Times of high volatility are denoted by wider bands, or a larger standard deviation, and times of decreasing volatility result in narrowing bands.
As futures market volatility increases, so will option prices. During such times, commodity option buyers are forced to pay extremely high prices for options that in theory are more likely to expire worthless than not. On the other hand, option sellers are provided top dollar for accepting theoretically unlimited risk.
Higher premiums collected not only increase a futures market trader’s profit potential but it also increases the room for error. The money collected for a short option can be viewed as "cushion" in that it defines the amount in which the trader can be wrong and still make money by shifting the reverse break even further from the market. The RBE of a short put is calculated as follows:
RBE = Put Strike Price - Premium Collected + Commissions and Fees
As you can see, the more money that the option seller collects, the deeper-in-the-money the option can be at expiration without resulting in a loss to the trader.
According to the hypothetical data available to us, in July of 2002 with the September futures e-mini S&P price near 780, it may have been possible to sell the August S&P 500 futures 680 put for $4.3 in premium which is equivalent to $215 before commissions and fees (each point in the e-mini S&P is worth $50). If this was the case, a trader could have collected a little over $200 U.S. dollars for an option that was, at the time, approximately 100 points or nearly 13% out-of-the-money.
$215 per contract before transaction costs might not sound like a lot of money, but considering the margin on the trade (required deposit in a trading account) was under $1,000 most traders could have sold them in reasonable multiples. For instance, selling 5 of the August 680 puts might have brought in a little over $1,000 in premium for a margin requirement of less than $5,000. Those that like to calculate return on margin, it would have been roughly 20% had the option seller held the short futures options to expiration a mere four weeks down the road.
*This chart assumes selling a single option in the full-sized S&P futures, which is equivalent to 5 e-mini S&P options. We recommend using the e-mini version of the options due to liquidity and option market transparency benefits.
At expiration, this trade would yield the maximum profit of $1,075 before commissions and fees if the futures price is above 680. Ignoring transaction costs the reverse break even on the trade is at 675.70. This simply means that this particular trade makes money with the e-mini S&P futures price trade anywhere above 675.70 before commissions and fees. Please note that the amount of commission paid will reduce the premium collected and shift the RBE closer to the market. To look at it in another perspective, the trader can be wrong by 104.3 points after entering the trade still manage to break even. If the trader's goal is to put the odds in their favor, this seems to be a commodity option trading strategy to consider.
Selling Options on Futures with the VIX can be an Attractive Trading Strategy
Without regard to transaction costs, futures and options trading is a zero sum game; for every winner there will be a loser. Thus, putting your odds ahead of those of your competition is a must. In my opinion, selling options during times of high volatility, while exercising patience, and incorporating experience, is doing just that.
With that said, where there is reward there is risk; in efficient markets you cannot have one without the other. A short option strategy in the futures markets should only be attempted by those that have ample risk capital to allow for potential drawdowns as well as the ability to manage fear and greed. Fearful traders are vulnerable to panic liquidation at inopportune times in terms of market volatility and option pricing. Likewise, greedy traders are tempted to sell options closer-to-the-money in hopes of higher payouts but the risk may turn out to be unmanageable. I strongly believe that less is actually more when it comes to premium collection. Trade less, collect less, and hopefully enjoy more success.
An Introduction to Popular Commodity Option Trading Strategies
There have been many books written on options on futures trading, however I sometimes question the usefulness of the information provided. It seems as though much of the literature available leaves the reader in a state of confusion; perhaps a majority of the bewilderment stems from the fact that most option theory is based on stock option trading and the transition to commodities isn't without its hitches. In my opinion, the practice of repackaging stock option trading strategy and theory in an attempt to appeal to and educate commodity traders can be misleading. Additionally, there are large differences between option theory and option trading. Some of what looks good on paper is difficult to execute efficiently in the real world, this is especially true in the world of commodity option trading.
It is a false assumption to believe that an “option is an option”. They may be spelled the same, but they are vastly different due to the nature of the underlying vehicles. As a result options on commodities take on completely different characteristics. After all, everybody agrees that trading stocks is poles apart from trading futures. Why would anybody believe that trading options on stocks is synonymous with trading options on futures?
There are advantages and disadvantages to every commodity trading strategy, but in my opinion, option selling delivers the best overall odds of trading success.
The favorable probabilities are due to the simple fact that options are priced to lose, and time is on the side of the option seller. To illustrate, an option buyer must see the market move in the desired direction, in a minimum magnitude, in a finite time frame, in order to see a profit. Option sellers, however, have far more room for error and can even make money when moderately wrong in regard to futures market direction. With that said, there is no such thing as "easy money" in the commodity markets. Successful commodity option premium collection requires proper risk management, keen instinct, patience and even a little bit of luck.
*There is unlimited risk in commodity option selling!
Introduction to Commodity Option Selling
The premise of commodity option selling is to collect premium through the sale of options on futures in hopes that the time erosion and volatility decay of a particular short option will overcome any increase in option value due to adverse price movement in the underlying futures market. An option selling strategy offers unlimited risk and limited reward, which is opposite of what many might consider rational. Nonetheless, the odds of success on any given short option trade are arguably in favor of the seller over the buyer.
The concept of an option is nearly identical to that of an insurance policy. The buyer purchased the instrument to receive a payout should a substantial event occur. The seller of the instrument, is collecting a payment in hopes of the “policy” expiring worthless. Accordingly, the practice of commodity option selling is similar to the business of selling insurance policies.
Most of the time, premium is collected by the insurance company and kept as a profit, but there will be times in which unexpected circumstances arise and trigger "claims" against the policy, or in the case of option trading a large drawdown at the hands of an increasing option value. In other words, like that of insurance policies, the odds of success on each individual option selling venture is high, but the challenge is to keep the magnitude of the losing option selling positions to a level in which it is possible to be profitable in the long run.
Types of short options on futures
Short Call – Bearish Option Strategy
Call option “writers” receive income (option premium) in return for the liability of honoring the option buyer’s right to buy the futures contract at the strike price. A short call is an eroding asset to the buyer and an eroding liability to the seller.
The buyer has the right, but not the obligation to take delivery of the underlying futures contract at the stated strike price but the seller is obligated to accept the assignment of a short futures contract at the strike if the option is exercised. The seller's risk of being forced to honor the buyer’s rights diminishes with time; all else being equal the value of the option will erode.
In a nutshell, the seller of a call option keeps the premium collect if the trade is held to expiration and the futures price at that time is below the strike price of the call option.
Short Put – Bullish Option Strategy
Put “writers” receive income (option premium) in return for the liability of honoring the option buyer’s right to sell the futures contract at the strike price. If exercised, the option buyer has opted to exercise the right to go short a futures contract at the strike price and the put seller is obligated to buy the futures at the same price. Identical to a short call, a short put is an eroding asset to the buyer and an eroding liability to the seller. Also, the seller's risk of being forced to honor the buyer's rights diminishes with time and volatility.
To summarize, if held to expiration, the seller of a put option keeps the entire premium collected if the futures market is trading above the strike price of the put. We’ll go over an example of a short put to give you a clearer picture of how a short option trade works.
Short Strangle – Neutral Option Strategy
Some option sellers practice what is known as a delta neutral strategy in which both call options and put options are sold simultaneously to create a trade without any directional bias. In its simplest form, a short commodity option strangle seller sells a call for every put sold; generally the strike prices are equidistant to the current futures price.
The advantage of selling an options strangle in the futures market, as opposed to selling only one side of the trade (a call or a put), is increased profit potential and more room for error. Obviously, by selling both a call and a put, the trader has automatically doubled the potential gain on the trade. Further, the sale of both calls and puts along with the additional premium collected, provides a bigger buffer to cushion losses should the futures price trade beyond the strike price of either commodity option. Accordingly, many believe this to be a lower risk strategy relative to selling calls or puts outright on a directional basis.
Selling a Commodity Put Example (Crude Oil)
In the example portrayed in the displayed chart, it might have been possible to sell a September $62 crude oil put for 53 cents, or $530, at a time in which crude oil was valued near $80. The same option was worth only 17 cents ($170) just two days earlier prior to a multi-day plunge. Options that have tripled in value, as such, often have a tendency to see sharp premium erosion should the futures market stabilize. Accordingly, these types of spikes in option premium are attractive to option sellers.
On the contrary, those that were already the 62 put prior to the two-day sell-off would be an unpleasant situation. This just goes to show you how important timing and volatility can be, even in a so-called passive strategy such as option selling. Simply put, making money by selling commodity options isn’t as easy as selling calls or puts and hoping for the best. Traders must be patient in order to be in a position to capitalize on an increase in volatility, as opposed to getting run over by it.
The maximum profit of this particular short option trading example, is $530 minus transaction cost. The max payout occurs if the option is held to expiration and the futures price is above the strike price of $64. However, even if the price is a little below $64, all is not lost; this short option position pays off at expiration with the price of crude anywhere above $63.47. This is because the premium collected of 53 cents, or $530, acts as a buffer to the risk of being assigned a futures contract at the strike price of $64.
Should the price of crude be trading below $64 at expiration, the risk is similar to that of being long a futures contract. The option value will fluctuate quickly and the trade faces theoretically unlimited risk.
As you can see from the chart , it is possible for this trader to be profitable whether the market goes up, down, or sideways; the only risk is in a massive price collapse (in this case below $64). If the price of crude is above $64 at expiration ($64 to infinity), the max payout is received by the option seller. In other words, the profit zone is large and likely, while the loss zone is far less likely to be seen.
The Key to Option Selling is Premium Erosion
Similar to buying a car and watching its value drop as you drive it off the lot, (all else being equal) options on futures lose value with every minute that passes. This is because as time passes, the odds of an extreme event diminish. Assuming the futures price doesn’t increase in volatility, and more importantly do so in an adverse direction of the short option, time is money to an option seller. On the other hand, option buyers often suffer slow and painful losses in the absence of a dramatic price change. In fact, some studies have suggested that somewhere between 70% to 90% of all futures options expire worthless.
Because of these characteristics, option selling is the only strategy in which a trader can be wrong and still make money! For example, a trader going short a call option is accepting the risk of the futures price going above the strike price of the short call. However, the futures price can go up, down, or sideways and still produce a profit to the option seller as long as the futures price doesn’t exceed the strike price of the commodity option.
The most common turn-offs to options on futures selling are fears of margin calls, stories of account threatening losses but the truth is trading of any futures or options strategy involves substantial risk. At least commodity option sellers are putting the odds in their favor. On the contrary, option buyers are in essence purchasing lottery tickets in which their risk is limited, but the odds of success are unattractive. In other words, although option buyers face limited price risk, they are more likely to incur a high percentage of losing trades.
The bottom line on option selling strategies
Selling options can be a high probability trading strategy, but it doesn't come without stress and risk. Although option sellers are betting against extreme price moves, it is critical that traders attempt to time their entry in regard to market analysis, sentiment and, most importantly volatility. Failure to do this will increase the odds of panicked premature liquidation, large draw-downs, or worse. Be selective and remember, it is better to miss a trade than to impatiently enter a market only to suffer the consequences of exploding market volatility, and therefore option values.
A New Look at an Old Futures Trading Topic
There are an unlimited number of ways to skin a cat, and trading is no different. Despite your futures trading strategy, risk tolerance or trading capital, having a plan is one of the most important components of achieving success in these treacherous commodity markets. However, we believe that the most important characteristic of a profitable futures and options trader is the ability to adapt to ever-changing market conditions. Assuming this, it seems logical to infer that a commodity trading plan should be established; nevertheless, just as rules are meant to be broken, futures trading plans should be flexible to accommodate altering environments and new events.
The premise of properly planning a commodity trade is similar in nature to a business plan. It is a relatively detailed outline of the structure of the futures and options speculation and the contingency plan, or plans, should the market go against the trade. Once again, I believe that trading plans should not necessarily be set in stone; behaving as if they are could lead to financial peril.
There are two primary components of a commodity trading plan: price prediction and risk management. Price prediction is simply the method used to signal the direction and timing of trade execution. This may involve fundamental or technical analysis, or both. Risk management specifies when to cut losses, when and how to adjust a position, or better yet when to take profits.
Commodity Futures Price Speculation (Hopefully Prediction)
The only way to make profitable futures and options trades is to buy low and sell high. This is true whether you are trading derivatives, or baseball cards. Although it is a simple concept in theory, in practice, it is much more difficult to implement than one may think. In order to successfully buy something at a low price and sell it at a higher price, the trader must first be accurate in his speculation.
Determining an opinion on where commodity market prices could, or should, go is only half the battle. Once you have done your homework in both fundamental and technical analysis, you must be able to construct a prospective commodity trade that will be profitable if you are correct and hopefully relatively painless if you are wrong.
Timing is Everything when Trading in Commodities
In futures and options trading, timing is everything. I constantly remind my clients and prospects that there is a big difference between being right in the direction of a commodity market and actually making money. I have witnessed traders be absolutely correct in their speculation of futures price movement, but miss getting into the trade due to unfilled limit orders, or entering the commodity position too early (which can cause the trader to run out of money or patience before the price move occurs).
Attempts at commodity price prediction can be based on technical oscillators, psychological barometers, supply and demand, or anything else that provides clues to price direction and timing. I am a firm believer that there aren't right or wrong trading tools but there are right and wrong ways to use them. Simply put, trading indicators can be compared to guns; guns don't kill people, people kill people. In trading, oscillators or charting tools don't siphon trading accounts; unfortunately traders sometimes do it to themselves by acting too aggressively to trading signals, or ignoring them altogether.
Further, while it isn't important which indicator you use to time a futures trade entry and exit, it is important how comfortable and confident you are in using it. This is especially true in reference to computer generated oscillators such as the MACD and Slow Stochastics. In the long run, I believe blindly taking all buy and sell signals triggered by such indicators would yield similar results. Accordingly, the primary factors playing a part in whether a trader experiences profits or losses are likely the ability to avoid panic liquidation, properly placing commodity risk management techniques in place, and exiting option trades that have gone bad before it is too late. In other words, I believe that good instincts and experience are more valuable than any technical indicator, or supply and demand graph, that you will run across.
Once you have determined your speculative tool of choice and determined your conclusion on the direction, or lack of, it is time to construct a strategy that will benefit if your assessments are accurate and mitigate risk if you are wrong. This may include the use of options, futures or a combination of both. The method that you choose should be based on your risk tolerance, personality and risk capital.
Options, Futures, or Both
Commodity speculators have an unlimited number of "options" when it comes to trading vehicles. The key is to find an approach that will provide you with a manageable risk profile, while still leaving the potential for a profit that you will be satisfied with. Throughout the process, keep in mind that the relationship between risk and reward isn’t linear. Only a fine balance between the two will allow the trader the probability of a reward rather than the dream of one. Accepting reckless amounts of risk may pay off for a lucky few, but for the masses the results will be dismal.
Depending on the characteristics and personality of the trader, a stock market bull might purchase an e-mini S&P futures contract, purchase an e-mini S&P 500 call option, sell an e-mini S&P 500 put option, or even use a combination of long and short options and futures contracts, to construct a trade with various risk and reward prospects.
Likewise, a crude oil bear might opt for a limited risk option spread such as an iron butterfly or he be willing to accept large amounts of risk and volatility by choosing to short a futures contract outright. I couldn't possibly touch on each of the commodity market strategy possibilities in within the realm of this article but you should be aware of the opportunities available to you, and which fits your personal trading profile, before ever putting money on the line. If you are interested in exploring commodity trading strategies outside of simply buying or selling a futures contract, you might find my book “Commodity Options” helpful. It outlines several commodity option spreads and even synthetic strategies in which futures and options are combined to construct a hedged position in the futures markets.
Risk Management is Imperative when Trading in Commodities
The "meat" of a proper futures trading plan is risk management. This is concerned with establishing thresholds of loss that you are capable and willing to accept in exchange for potential rewards. In the case of futures traders, this may simply mean picking a stop loss price and placing the order in conjunction with a profit target (limit order).
Once again, trading plans are for guidance and shouldn't be followed blindly. Don't be the futures trader that misses taking a healthy profit while trying to squeeze out an extra $20 because the price came within ticks of a working limit order but failed to trigger. Also, even if your trading plan doesn't involve a trailing stop don't be a fool. Markets don't go up or down forever, if you have a large open profit tighten your stop loss order, or place protective options or option spreads and walk away.
Managing Commodity Market Risk is an Art not a Science
Creativity can be a valuable tool in futures trading. Think beyond the traditional practice of using stop loss orders to manage risk, because there are an unlimited number of possibilities. For instance, experienced futures traders might choose to incorporate selling option premium against a correctly speculated futures contract as a form of risk management. Doing so converts the trade into a type of “covered call” or “covered put”. The premium collected from the short option not only produces income, but it provides a hedge against a price reversal. This is because a long futures contract and a short call option benefit when the market moves in the opposite direction (they counter act one another). Likewise, in-line with this strategy you may want to use the proceeds of the covered call or put strategy to purchase an option to protect your risk of an adverse futures price movement.
As you can see, well-informed traders have a plethora of strategies to adjust the risk and reward of a futures position. A trading plan couldn't possibly cover all market scenarios, and adjustment possibilities, but writing down a few potential ideas may keep you from freezing in the heat of the moment.
If you are interested in exploring the endless possibilities in regard to futures trading management, and strategy creation, please visit our futures and options trading educational video archive.
Risk and Reward: Give Yourself a Chance!
When deciding how much risk you are willing to take in the commodity markets and setting your profit objectives, you must be realistic. Beginning futures traders are often surprised to hear that many of the best traders struggle to keep their win/loss average above 50%. With these odds in mind, it doesn't make sense to consistently risk more on a trade than you hope to make should you be right. For instance, if your average risk is $500 you should have an average profit target of at least $500. Anything other than this puts the odds greatly in favor of your competition.
Commodity Option Sellers Face Optimal Win/Loss Ratios but That Doesn't Guarantee Success
Because more options than not expire worthless, commodity option sellers often have much better win/loss ratios than futures traders. However, the drawback of an option selling strategy is the reality of accepting theoretically unlimited risk in exchange for limited profit potential. In the game of commodity option selling, winning far more trades than you lose is only the beginning. An option seller must be savvy enough to prevent the small percentage of losing trades from wiping out months of profit. My intention isn't to deter you from selling options, in fact this is the strategy that I prefer and recommend as a commodity broker to my clients. However, those that partake in this practice must be ready and willing to face the consequences during draw-downs.
U.S. futures exchanges don’t accept stop loss orders on options. Even if they did, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of traders. This is because it wouldn’t be feasible to place stop orders on most options, or option spreads, due to the nature of the bid/ask spread and the seemingly high probability of being stopped out prematurely. Remember, a stop order becomes a market order as soon as the named stop price becomes part of the bid/ask spread. If the bid/ask spread is wide due to a lack of liquidity, a stop order will be triggered and filled at a dramatically inopportune time and price (unfavorable slippage).
Instead of placing stop loss orders, short options should be monitored closely; keeping a "mental" stop in mind is important. I typically advise traders to use a double out rule. This means for every naked short option, whether it is within an option spread strategy or sold individually, you should strongly consider buying it back at a loss if its value doubles from your entry point. In essence, if you sell a crude oil option for .50 cents or $500 ($10 x 50) and following your entry the option doubles in value (appreciates to $1.00 or $1,000) it may be fair to say that you were wrong. At this point, a trader should strongly consider liquidating the position and moving to the next opportunity. Failure to do so may convert a moderate loss into something much more.
Unfortunately, in fast moving markets the value of an option sometimes explodes in value very quickly, making the double-out rule impossible to implement. Even so, the double out rule should be part of the overall trading plan. This doesn't necessarily mean it is an exact science; trading is an art and should be treated as such. Imagine being short a put option in a declining market that has reached the designated double out point, but the market is approaching significant support. If you strongly believe that the futures price will hold support, exiting your position at top dollar in panic, doesn't make sense. However, on the flip side; if you find yourself counting on hope rather than rational logic, you have let it go too far. Sometimes the line is difficult to see until it has already been crossed but its times like this that make or break a trader. I believe the ability to properly manage these scenarios come from instinct and experience; it cannot be attained from reading a book or attending a seminar.
The 10% Rule in Trading
Many futures trading courses and literature claim that a commodity trader shouldn't risk more than 10% of their trading account on any one trade. This seems to be relatively sound advice but might, or might not, be feasible for everyone. For example, a risk averse trader may not be psychologically equipped to handle such a loss which can easily lead to irrational trading behavior. On the contrary, a well-funded-trading account might be risking a substantial amount of money if risking 10% of the commodity trading account.
Most beginners underestimate the value of psychology. Once the balance is broken it is hard to regain logic and can lead to large losses. For example, a trader that opens an account with $10,000 and immediately loses $1,000 on the first trade may dedicate subsequent trades to recovering losses sustained on the original. In other words, they are often tempted enter a market prematurely and aggressively to make up for lost ground. This behavior would demonstrate an example of a trader that simply isn't capable of taking such a large loss without detrimentally impacting the original trading plan.
An additional drawback of the 10% rule is the fact that during volatile market conditions, whether trading options or futures and depending on the risk capital available, it may not be possible to construct a trade with reasonable odds of success without surpassing the appropriate percentage. In this case, the market is often best untouched, but as humans we are naturally drawn to that of which we shouldn't.
Leave Multiple Contract Trading to the Pros and Well Capitalized
As a long-time commodity broker, one of the most destructive things that I have witnessed traders do is execute multiple futures contracts in a moderately funded account. Inexperienced traders are under the assumption that trading several futures contracts simultaneously will maximize their "return", but what they are actually doing is maximizing risk and minimizing the probability of a successful trade. Despite the emotions involved, commodity trading isn't about feeding your ego it is about making money...right?
Stop the Loss!
Futures traders often look to manage risk of loss through the use of stop loss orders. A stop order instructs the broker to exit an outstanding futures position if market prices move adversely enough to reach the named price. However, keep in mind that a stop order can also be used to enter a market. Such a stop order is often placed above areas of significant technical resistance or below support in an attempt to capitalize on a potential price break-out.
In order for stop orders to be effective, they must be properly placed. Anything less will result in either too much risk, or premature liquidation of a trade that may eventually go in favor of the position. This too is an art and not a science. Where stop orders should and shouldn't be placed isn't a black and white decision. There are many areas of gray involving market conditions and characteristics as well as the personality, account funding and risk tolerance of the commodity trader.
If you are a beginning trader this may be a good argument in favor of using a full service commodity broker. However, you must realize that even a well experienced futures broker or advisor can't see into the future and is subject to the same frustrations as you may be. Nonetheless, in theory she may be a little more savvy, and that could have a positive impact on performance in spite of the slightly higher commission rate.
Be warned, stop orders aren't a guarantee of risk. Because a stop order becomes a market order once the stated price is reached, there may be slippage; in rare cases, a substantial amount of slippage. An experienced commodity broker might be able to help you in constructing an option strategy to be used as an alternative in risk aversion. The use of options in place of stop loss orders provide traders with additional lasting power because it eliminates the possibility of being stopped out of a commodity market on a temporary price spike. For example, a short option or futures position may be hedged by a one by two ratio write if the volatility and premium allows.
The ability to place a stop order or limit the risk of a futures trade through options and option spreads should eliminate some of the stress and emotion involved in trading. Rather than losing sleep over a trade gone bad, those with stop orders or protective option positions (insurance) can relax knowing that he has done his homework and has mitigated his risk in commodity trading.
It is Your Money
We don't all wear the same shoe size, or have the same hobbies, so why should we all use the same trading strategy and risk management techniques? The truth is that we shouldn't. My perception of what constitutes reasonable timing of entry, and how much money and emotion to risk on a particular trade, is likely far different than yours. Commodity trading is an ambiguous game; there isn't a right or wrong answer to most aspects of speculation. For example, the same trading "ingredients" may work for one person but not for another due to differences in experience, education, risk capital and emotional constraint.
Only you will be able to determine what works for you; discovering what that is requires patience, discipline, and an open mind. The most important feedback on your progress will be your commodity account statements. This isn't to say that you should hang up your trading jacket if you experience a drawdown, or even a complete account blow up, but it is important that you are realistic. Some people tend to only remember the good trades and others only remember the bad. Each of these distorted perceptions of reality can have an adverse effect on your commodity trading. Successful traders remember the good trades and the bad trades, but most importantly learn from all of them.
The Fed and triple witching Friday are generally bullish events for the stock market
Although the CME has mitigated some of the impact of the triple witch with their addition of weekly expiring options, the event still influences the quarterly expirations (March, June, September, and December). The most common course of action is a short squeeze going into expiration. In this particular instance, we are referring to Friday, June 17th. The squeeze higher often extends itself into the time the June contract goes off the board, which will be at 8:30 am Friday morning. Accordingly, those wishing to get bearish this market should look for opportunities late next week.
Similarly, Fed meetings have generally enticed S&P buyers in the days before the FOMC's interest rate policy announcement. The two-day meeting begins on Tuesday, so we could see some buying early in the week.