weekly options strategies

Options Trading: Three Ways to Win Big with a Bearish Calendar Spread

Think some of Wall Street's higher flyers look vulnerable to a broad market pullback?

If so, they could be perfect candidates for a low-cost, low-risk options trading strategy that could pay off big time if we get another move like last Friday's 169-point Dow plunge.

The strategy is called a "calendar put spread," and it works like this:

  • You sell a slightly out-of-the-money put option with a strike price just below the current market price of the underlying stock - with a near-term expiration date.
  • You then simultaneously buy a put option with the same strike price but with a more distant expiration date.
The cost - and the maximum risk - is the difference between the two option premiums, referred to as the "debit" on the spread. But because the longer-term put you buy "covers" the shorter-term put you sell, there's no added margin requirement.

It may sound complicated, but it's not once you understand how to employ this bearish options trading strategy.

Options Trading Primer: A Potential 900% Gain in Six Weeks

Here's how a bearish calendar spread might work with Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), which has held up better than many other oil stocks in recent weeks, closing last Friday at $84.57, barely $3.00 off its 52-week high:

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How to Trade Weekly Options

To loosely paraphrase Robert Burns, the best-laid plans of mice and stock traders sometimes go awry.

But with some creative use of weekly options, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to take your losses.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Just under two weeks ago, we suggested a "short iron condor" as a possible short-term strategy for playing the release of first-quarter earnings reports for some of the leading financial stocks, using J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) as a specific example.

As it turned out, JPM's earnings handily topped the estimates - coming in at $1.31 per share versus a projected $1.14, on revenues of $26.7 billion ($24.4 billion had been predicted).

That should have sent the stock nicely higher, giving us a quick gain on our condor - and JPM did indeed try to rally - but then our best-laid plans took a wrong turn.

The broad market turned sharply lower that Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrials dropping 136.99 points and the S&P 500 losing 17.31, dragging J.P. Morgan along with it.

Long story short, over the next five days JPM see-sawed higher and lower - but save for a few moments on Thursday, it never moved out of our $43-$45 maximum-loss range. The trade went south.

But had you been on your toes, you would have noticed this about JPM: In spite of the pressure from a weak overall market, the stock demonstrated strong technical support at the $43-a-share level. Both times it tested $43, it bounced quickly back - a pattern it repeated Monday, when it ignored the broad market sell-off and rapidly rebounded from a lower gap opening near $42.

The rest of this week, it's again traded solidly above $43 a share. In fact, a quick look at the long-term chart shows that - with the exception of Monday - JPM hasn't closed below $43 since March 12th. And, given the healthy earnings and a "powerful buy" rating last Thursday from Zacks Investment Research, it probably won't close below that level again.

At least not in the next week or two...

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An Options Strategy That Will Save You Some Money

Whether you credit a Santa Claus rally, an early January Effect, or some other driving market force, there's no disputing the strong finish posted by stocks in 2011 - or the healthy 2012 opening advance added in the first week of January.

To be specific, stocks - as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 Index - rose from 1,204.00 at the close on Monday, Dec. 19, to 1,257.60 on Friday, Dec. 30, then jumped to 1,280.15 at midday yesterday (Monday), a gain of 6.32% in just three weeks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average did almost as well, climbing from 11,751.96 on Dec. 19 to 12,398.29 in Monday trading, a 21-day gain of 5.50%.

While those short-term moves are certainly impressive, they're hardly unique in today's volatile market environment. Three similar advances have occurred in the past five months alone - in late August, early October and late November - but each was followed by a sharp short-term pullback that wiped out much of the value gained in the rallies.

And, while few things in the market are certain, there's a strong probability this current market advance will also be followed by a sizeable retracement in the very near future.

So, how do you protect your most recent gains?

One answer is to turn to the options market.

A Defensive Options Play

As veteran Money Morning readers know, two of the most effective and often-used strategies involving options are writing covered calls to bring in added income and buying put options as "insurance" against possible price pullbacks.

As such, investors would typically look to the latter strategy - buying puts - for protection in the present market situation. However, there are times when unusual conditions can force investors to take an alternative approach to option strategies - and that has certainly been the case recently, thanks to the market's extreme short-term volatility.



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Two Options Strategies That Can Turn Short-Term Price Gyrations Into Big-Time Profits

Everyone acknowledges that at its most basic level the stock market is driven by fear and greed. And, in the past, the immediate impact of fear has been far more dramatic than the short-term effect of greed.

In other words, stock prices have historically tended to fall faster - and further - when investors are running scared than they rise when investors get a pleasant surprise.

Lately, however, with Treasury yields still near all-time lows, commodity prices hovering near record highs, and little else offering significant potential, there's a lot of money out there in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), retirement accounts and other institutional portfolios that's looking for a place to go.

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