April Opportunities in Crude Oil, Cotton Market for Option Sellers
March 29, 2017 Video/Audio Podcast
James Cordier & Michael Gross
Michael: Hello everyone. Welcome to the April edition of the OptionSellers.com Podcast. This podcast will be both video and audio podcast. This is our first video podcast. James, welcome to the podcast.
James: Thank you, Michael. Very excited about doing both video and audio – get our mugs out there!
Michael: I think first on the agenda this month is what we have going on in the stock market right now. Is this going to be the long awaited correction everybody’s been awaiting or is this just a little blip? What do you think?
James: It’s interesting, Michael, the stock market has just been on a historic tear here ever since the election – and with good reason. If we have deregulation and we have a lot of pro-business ideas coming out of Washington along with a U.S. economy that’s doing fairly well right now, a lot of investors have been pouring into the stock market. We had the first shot across the bow, of course, with the healthcare issue being quite a bit of a swing and a miss for Mr. Trump this past week. A lot of investors right now are thinking, “Well, if we can’t get that passed maybe the deregulation and lower taxes and interest rate help may not be as much of a slam dunk as a lot of investors thought.” This could finally be the catalyst for the long-awaited 5-10% correction in the stock market. Everyone was absolutely factoring in the best-case scenario. Now, Washington D.C. quite isn’t as put together as people thought. The whole idea of a strong U.S. economy along with a very business-friendly administration, some of that’s being taken off the table right now. I wouldn’t be surprised that a lot of investors do take some chips off the table. Some of the largest investors in the world right now have thought about that and Goldman Sachs and large banks like that are talking about making their position smaller. That tells me maybe the long awaited correction probably in the 2nd quarter this year might not be such a big surprise after all.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve noticed a lot of the news channels are still bullish, they’re still cheering it on, but you can’t underestimate that public sentiment. If it starts to go, everybody’s pricing in this big economic boom. If that doesn’t happen, you can’t underestimate what that can do to prices, as we’ve seen in commodities, as well.
James: Absolutely. We start getting just a little more selling than buying. We keep buying the dips, buying the dips, buying the dips, and one of these times we’re going to cross a certain moving average that’s going to cause the computer to do some selling. Then all of a sudden, everyone’s racing for the door. The stock market’s not going to collapse. We’re not going to have an epic fall of 20-30%, but this long awaited correction that gets people to re-think their investment, that’s overdue. I think we could see that happen in maybe April or May.
Michael: All right, well, lets talk about some ways people can get diversified, obviously what we specialize in. This month we’re going to talk about the cotton market. Some things are starting to take place there. It’s been on a pretty good bull market here for the last year or so. We’ve had lower supplies and cotton has just been gradually trending up. You and I have been talking about this over the last several weeks about we could be seeing a shift here, we think there’s some opportunities for selling premium. Talk a little bit about it. What do you see happening here?
James: Generally, the ten commodities that we follow will have a spurt of buying from an importing nation and then will have a spurt of selling from producers that have an abundance of whatever the commodity is. What’s happened this past 12 months is we’ve seen Chinese imports have gone up dramatically over the 5-year average. That, of course, rallies the market. Cotton right now is at practically a 1-2 year highs. What’s so interesting, Michael, is that a lot of investors will hear that the Chinese consumption last year was up like it was and they’re going to pile in on this long position. I know we were talking a little while ago about the SPEC position in cotton. It’s at near all-time highs. It’s basically the herd driving into a market that sounds like it has bullish fundamentals, only to have the Chinese buying. Watch this- all of the sudden it will turn off the beginning of 2017. This timing coincides with plantings in the United States. They’re expected to be up some 10% this year. So, you have all this bullishness, you have all the speculators piling in. China is one of the greatest traders of commodities in the world. Obviously, they have the largest population and they need to feed them, clothe them, and provide energy. They seem to be some of the best traders, so they were buying cotton last year when cotton prices were low. Now, they’re at multi-year highs. Speculators pour in and now the U.S. farmer plants 10% more cotton than they did last year and now you watch the market turn back down. It’s a seasonal trade and it lines up with the fundamentals. Doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing right now in commodities has been quite a great trade over the last 12-24 months. Speculators race into the cotton market. All of the sudden, the fundamentals turn and all of the sudden you have them heading for the door probably this 2nd or 3rd quarter of this year, as well.
Michael: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. You’re talking about prices going up on SPEC buying and demand. We were looking at the ending stocks for cotton and they are low by maybe historic standards but relatively over the last 4-5 years they are fairly high. I’m going to check my stat over here- I know I don’t want to get the figure wrong. Ending stocks for cotton this year at 4.5 million bales, that’s still the highest in 8 years. Now, what you’re talking about is you have farmers because prices are so high they are planting in 9-10% more cotton this year. We’ll know for sure here in our report at the end of the month. We’ll get planting intentions reports, but early estimates – if we’re planting 9-10% more cotton, plus we have that seasonal tendency for prices to start declining this time of year, those call premiums have really escalated up above the markets. You’re thinking this might be a good time to start picking some of those off?
James: We do. It’s a great way to diversify a portfolio. Cotton right now is overpriced. The supplies worldwide are high enough to not cause any type of shortages over the next year or two. The Chinese buying is probably going to slow down and the United States is probably going to produce quite a bit more cotton than the last several years. It almost turns out to be a perfect seasonal play. We’ll wait and see if that’s the way it turns out.
Michael: All right. Now, in our piece, we did write a piece on this earlier in the month, you can see it on the blog if you haven’t seen it yet, you were looking at the Dec 90 calls. Is that still a strike that you like right now?
James: The Dec. 90 is like our dream call right now. We’re hoping that the market can edge up a little higher to reach that level. Selling cotton in the high 80’s is probably what we’re going to wind up doing. If we can walk into the 90 calls a little bit later in maybe April or May certainly we’d put our tuxedos on and jump into that trade. That one looks like a good one.
Michael: That’s one we put out there for when we write our public articles. Obviously, when you and I are trading we’re doing this, often times a series of strikes, a series of months, sometimes even a series of strategies all in the same market for our clients. I think you kind of picked that one as a good example for people that may not be clients and are just reading this and seeing a typical type of strike we would look at.
James: That’s how we would play it, both for our clients and anyone trading and taking advantage of short options or riding out there. That’s why I would steer them that way, yes.
Michael: Obviously, for any of you listening to this that are interested in how we put these fundamentals together and select this type of trade, like in cotton, you’ll want to get a copy of our book, The Complete Guide to Option Selling: Third Edition. That is available on our website at www.optionsellers.com/book. You’ll get it at a better price there than you will at Amazon or your local bookstore. All right, so let’s move on and talk about one of your favorite markets, the crude oil market. We have been addressing this market over the last month or two, but we’ve come to a point now in crude oil where you think there’s some major fundamental shift going on and I think that’s presenting some pretty good opportunities for option writers. Do you want to give your overview of crude oil right now and what’s happening there?
James: Michael, one of the markets that we follow most closely is because it has the most trading volume and open interest. We were earlier talking about speculative buying or selling and different commodities. Often, it’s based on headlines. We noticed that when OPEC announced production cuts earlier this year speculators raced in to the long side of crude oil. Headlines The Wall Street Journal: First OPEC Production Cuts in over a Dozen Years. Clearly, the market is going to rally, clearly it’s a great buy, it’s just a matter of how much money you’re going to make buying crude oil. That’s what speculators did. They accumulated the largest SPEC position in history right after the production cut announcement. What’s so interesting is that this herd mentality so often is wrong. Needing to peel back the onion just a little bit just prior to the production cuts, especially from OPEC, non-OPEC nations cut production as well, that’s not as important, with the exception of Russia, of course, which is the second largest producer in the world. The 3 months prior to the production cut announcement, OPEC ramped up levels of new supplies to the largest level ever. As a matter of fact, the production cut that was announced was basically equal to the increase in production the previous 30 days to 60 days just prior to the cut. Nobody hears about that. All people talk about is production cut from OPEC and the market’s going to go to the moon. Investors start buying calls and buying crude oil futures and crude oil companies, for those of you who are investing in stocks, at an all-time record pace. This past week, we’re now starting to count barrels and we’re looking for the supply cuts. Certainly, with all these production cuts by OPEC announced, we’re going to have smaller amounts of crude oil worldwide, right? Didn’t work out that way. Here in the United States, of course, the Permian Basin, the Dakotas, different parts of Oklahoma and Texas are ramping up oil production to all-time, all-time highs. The investors and speculators that push prices up to north of $60 a barrel for far-out contracts built in the greatest hedge that the people in Texas have ever believed that could absolutely happen. Texas production is approximately $16-$18 per barrel to pull it out of the ground. They were just allowed to hedge their production over the next 2-3 years at approximately $60 a barrel, a.k.a. printing money. So, the old adage of low prices curing low prices may not take place this year. Production in the United States is expected to make all-time highs at a time where OPEC is going to start probably becoming slightly fragile. OPEC production cuts, everyone is doing a fairly good job of following along with the cuts that they talked about and oil prices start to fall. OPEC nations then start to cheat and at that point we have a snowball effect. It’s probably too early for that to happen. June and July are very strong demand months here in the United States. We don’t expect to see prices really crater this summer, but this fall if we have a slight tick up in prices in June and July of this year then we’re going to be looking at call selling opportunities for December, January, February, March, the weakest time frames of the year, at the same time when supplies will probably be at their all-time greatest. We are watching with both eyes very closely for a small tick up in energy prices this June and July. Clearly, they’ve fallen off dramatically. We were talking about selling a crude oil when we did not believe production cuts to be so bullish, crude oil fell $7 shortly after that. I remember talking to clients and other people that are in the industry that don’t trade with us. I said, “Watch out! Don’t listen to this OPEC production business. It’s not bullish, the market’s going to likely fall.” We had a couple of colleagues that said, “James, why are you telling me this?” I said, “I’m just warning you because we think that the market’s going to fail here”, and he was basically saying, “Well, the whole world is bullish. We’re going to have less production.” It didn’t turn out that way. Oil fell some $6-$7 a barrel. We’re hoping for a slight up tick with strong demand for driving season this year in the United States. If we get that, we think call selling in crude oil could be good for 6-12 months out. Oil this fall and winter could be in the low 40’s, it could actually have a 3-handle on it, and we’re going to be taking advantage of that when that happens.
Michael: Yeah, I just put together out summary. We sent our summary to CNBC this week on the oil market. Hopefully, they’ll want to have us on and talk about it, but if you’re listening, CNBC, we’re ready for you with our quarterly oil analysis. Feel free to give us a call. I know you, James, talking about the cuts, have not affected supply. In fact, right now, all-time record highs in the United States- 528 million barrels. That’s 27% over the 5-year average. So, I would think that still qualifies as a glut. Would you?
James: Michael, that’s definitely a glut. If we have one more barrel in the world than we need, prices go down. We have just a dramatic over-supply in the United States. Ever since we’ve been counting barrels of oil in the United States, we have never had a higher supply than we do right now. At a time where production in the United States is now going to ramp up, it is a bearish scenario. Am I saying that oil is going to fall every day and it’s going to go down to zero? We’re not saying that, but as far as the investors that like the herd mentality, this June and July we’re probably going to have more ramblings out of OPEC. They’re going to say, “We’re going to extend the cuts. We’re happy with the way it’s working but we’re going to proceed to extend these cuts further.” We’ll probably get another pop from that on the bullish news, and that’s the one we’re going to use to probably lay out some calls out 6-12 months and I think that’s going to work out pretty well.
Michael: For those of your listening that may not be that familiar with option selling, what James is really saying is we don’t need prices to fall, although we think that’s a distinct possibility, we just don’t need them to go skyrocketing up in this environment. With this type of supply we don’t think that’s likely, that’s why we go high above the market and sell calls. As long as the market doesn’t get there, those calls expire and investors keep the premium. Did you have your eye on any strikes you want to share right now or do you want to save that for another podcast?
James: We’re going to be selling crude oils calls with a 7 on them, and I don’t mean 7 or 17, I mean 70. If they’re producing oil in Texas at 17, we’ll go short at 70. We’ll take our chances on that and I think it’ll turn out pretty well.
Michael: All right. For those of you who want to read our full forecast and analysis of the crude oil market, along with some potential trades you can look at, that is coming up in our April newsletter. It’s going to be coming out within the next couple of days. Look for it in your mailbox. If you’re not a subscriber yet, you can subscribe at our website. If you come to our website and order anything you’ll be on our subscription list. We do have a special crude oil feature this month because this is the trade we’re going to be looking at now for the next several months. One thing about option selling is if you’re taking premium out of a market, you don’t just have to sell it once and take it, you can often keep mining premium into that market for months at a time. Am I right?
James: That’s how we do it.
Michael: Okay. In addition, in your upcoming April newsletter there’s also a special feature this month on some of the top mistakes high-net-worth investors make, particularly 1 percenters… people that are in that higher-net-worth strata, that even though we tend to be sophisticated investors, at the same time there are some blind spots there. We did a lot of research here, a lot of different reports we found, and I think you’re really going to be fascinated to see some of these things. A lot of them, James, you wouldn’t even think of as high-net-worth investors making these type of mistakes, and they do. We really put that in perspective and I think a lot of our readers will enjoy it.
James: You know, money doesn’t come with instructions. So often, you hear about investors that are making their money in whatever line of work their business or company that they had, and when they go to invest on their own they don’t quite have the success. A lot of our investors, the clients of ours, made their fortunes being experts at what they do and hiring someone to do it for you is probably a pretty good idea.
Michael: Well, the first hint is don’t keep it all in the stock market. I’m sure most of you probably know that. So, we’re going to move on to our lesson portion of the podcast this month. James, this month we’re going to talk about an aspect of risk management. We did a piece on some more advanced ways to manage risk this week on the blog and we got a lot of feedback and a lot of questions. Thank you, all you viewers, for that. One of the things and questions we got there was, “Well, that’s great for naked options, but what about if I’m doing a strangle? How do I manage my risk on a strangle? I’ve sold a put and I’ve sold a call on the same market- how are you managing risk on those?” I think that’s something we want to talk about and address some of our readers who maybe want to learn how we do that.
James: One of our most attractive commodity options sale that I find when I’m scouring the 10 markets that we’re closely watching, and that is identifying fairly valued markets. Quite often, you will have CNBC or Bloomberg go to the pit and the gold market is down $20 or it’s up $20 and people are talking, “Oh, the gold market got hammered today. The gold market’s soaring today.” A $20 move in gold makes a headline. It makes a headline on T.V. and they go to the pits and they’re talking to the traders and what have you. A $20 move in gold doesn’t move the needle for the options that we sell. When we sell options on crude oil or coffee or gold, often they are 50-60% out-of-the-money. So, these 1-2% blimps in commodity prices for the underlining contract makes a lot of headlines, but as an option seller, whether it’s yourselves doing it for your own account or we’re doing it for you, it very rarely even moves the needle. When selling a put and a call in gold or silver or crude oil, often the distance between the put and the call is the same value as the underlining contract itself. In other words, gold is trading around $1,200. We have option sales where we strangle gold and the strangle is $1,000 wide. So, identifying fairly valued markets, gold happens to be one of them right now, we think it’s pretty close to fairly valued, the put and the call they babysit each other while you’re waiting is basically the best way I can look at it. For example, if you’re short a gold strangle, your call is $500 above the market, your put is $400 below the market, this one is offsetting the other one at the same time. So, in other words, if the gold market moves $20-$30, your call position might go against your slightly, but your put is now taking care of the differential between from where you put the initial position on. If you use the 200% rule, and we do that ourselves, it is a very, not necessarily strategic, but it’s a very easy management tool that you can use. If you have 12 positions on in the year and 2 of them double in price, do the math. That still can be a very, very great return and it does hold your risk parameters in check. If you are selling a strangle in gold, you might take in $600 on the call, $600 on the put, you have $1,200 worth of premium. Not only will a naked call or put often double, unless the fundamentals change, but that $1,200 in premium that you take in on a strangle, that will almost rarely, practically never, double in value. So, if you have a $1,200 premium in strangle, the $1,200 level for it to double to $1,400, rather $2,400, just happens so rarely. The strangle is our best approach to markets that we find that are fair valued. If you do have your put or your call pinching you just a little bit you’ll notice that the opposite direction option is doing extremely well for your account. Needless to say, you have to have risk control parameters when you first enter a position. You can put in a 100% rule on your short put or your short call. I would put 100% rule on the entire premium itself. It gives your position a great deal of time and room to work. The strangle, I think, is the very best option sale going. If you want to keep a very close reign on your put or your call you can do that. If you wind up stopping yourself out of a strangle on most commodities, in my opinion, you’re not selling enough time. A lot of investors and a lot of books talk about writing options, they talk about a 30 day, 60 day, 90 day option. If you’re getting stopped out of your short position, those are probably the options that you’re selling. I would go further out in time and in price. Commodity options you are paid to wait, and patience is the name of the game. If you’re able to put on a strangle and you’re able to wait, more times than not you’re going to have very good results. You’re not hitting homeruns selling a strangle that far out, but for those of your who want to win the game and are okay with hitting singles all year round I think that’s a great way to do it. I think our investors certainly know about that and our viewers could find that out for themselves if they wanted to.
Michael: One way of looking at that, you’re talking about risking the whole premium of the strangle. In other words, you’re saying if you take in $1,200 you can risk up to $1,200 on either side. So, actually, you can be a little more aggressive on your risk management on both sides because you have that balancing affect on the opposite side. Correct?
James: Exactly right.
Michael: So, instead of risking your call to double value, you can almost risk it to triple value and still get away with it because you have some extra risk management with the strangle if you’re following that.
James: The stay ability in a strangle, and that is the key to option selling, is being able to ride out the small blips in the market that change the premiums. Patience and the ability to wait is the key and a properly placed strangle will give practically anyone the ability to stay with that market. That is something that we find at our office for our clients that we do a great deal. The proof is in the pudding. The strangle is a great way to go. You need to identify a fair value market. If you’re able to do that, the strangle is going to be very fruitful.
Michael: One of the things we talked about this week in our risk management lesson is the purpose of the risk management tactics often is just to slow the market down long enough to let them expire because time is always working in your favor. So, if you’re using a strategy like the strangle where you’re risking premium to a certain value, you can also incorporate things like a roll. You can use a roll in a strangle where you’re rolling up or if fundamentals change then maybe you just roll it into a one-sided trade instead of just a strangle. Getting a little more creative there, but all of those strategies that we talked about can also be applied to spread, even to a strangle, to get a little more advanced. James, when you’re talking about that, the 200% rule is a good basic rule that can be used either with naked or with a strangle you just described.
James: Correct. For all the times you put a strangle on, there’s a chance your put or your call will double in value. As long as the fundamentals in that market didn’t change, feel free to roll down the put or roll up the call. 9 times out of 10 that will not double again and you will be collecting 75% of the premium that you originally sold for instead of 100%, but that’s a very great investment.
Michael: Excellent. Well, I hope everyone’s enjoyed our first audio and video podcast this month. For those of you that are writing in asking questions and sending them, please keep those coming. We love to address those on our shows, such as this. For those of you interested in our accounts, unfortunately we are fully booked for April. We are working into our May availability now. We still have some availability for new accounts in May. If you’re interested in learning more about this, please call Rosemary at the office. It’s (800) 346-1949. She’s scheduling consultations, which will take place in April. So, if you’re interested in one of those, give her a call. She can get your scheduled. James, I appreciate your input this month. We’ll be back next month and we’ll update some of these trades and see what’s going on then. Thank you, James, for everything this month.
James: My pleasure. Always happy to do this.
Michael: For all of you out there, we will talk to you in 30 days. Thank you.