How to Cash In on The Commodities Bull Market
June 2018 Video Podcast
James Cordier & Michael Gross
Michael : Hello everyone and welcome to your June edition of the Option Seller Podcast. This is Michael Gross of OptionSellers.com. I’m here with head trader James Cordier. James, a lot of talk this month about bull market in commodities. It’s been getting a lot of media attention, obviously crude oil has been leading the charge, but what are your thoughts on that? Are we in a bull market right now or is it just speculation?
James : You know, most often, Michael, at the 3rd and 4th and 5th year of an expansion economically is usually when prices of commodities start going up. There’s usually a glut of commodities during a recession. As years go by, a lot of the excess commodities are then purchased and consumed, and usually that is when you start normally getting higher prices. I do believe we’re in a bull market in commodities. It is lead by energies, which of course was pretty much facilitated through OPEC cuts in production, but let’s face it, practically everything comes from a barrel of oil. Whether it’s cotton or soybeans or coffee or what have you, everything derives off of a barrel of oil or a gallon of gasoline. Of course, energy prices have really risen quite a bit over the last 18 months. That leads us to believe we are in a bull market in many commodities. There are 1 or 2 that have certainly oversupply in them, but the commodity market has been in a nice uptrend. Usually, this does happen 3 or 4 years after the beginning of an expansion and its kind of textbook so far.
Michael : So, we have oil markets possibly leading the charge here. Some of the grains have been aided by some weather issues. Do you see this spreading to all commodities or is it primarily limited to a few sectors?
James : I think it’s limited to a few sectors. If you look at the price of sugar or coffee, we’ve got just massive production expected in South America this year. The coffee market recently hit a 12 month low, the sugar market recently hit a 12 month low, so it is really a market that needs to be picked, if you will, to be in a bull market. A lot of commodities do have up trends, but some of the major commodities that we follow are over supplied. I think that’s why we really enjoy doing what we do best, and that is analyzing fundamentals on the different markets, simply buying a basket of commodities or selling a basket of commodities. I think you can be more sophisticated than that, and that’s what we try and do here, of course.
Michael : Yeah, in the media they like to get a story line, “Bull Market in Commodities” and that’s what they tag and they really maybe only focusing, as you said, on a few markets, some of the other markets. That’s why you get that play within the commodities where they’re not really as correlated to each other as maybe stocks.
James : Certainly not. That’s where diversification comes in. If you’re long or short the stock market, basically you’re living or dying by if it goes up or down. Of course, in commodities, we follow 4 different sectors about 10 different specific commodities and they really do have their own individual fundamentals, and that’s what makes following the same commodities for so long very prosperous, because you do get to know them. They all do have personalities. You don’t simply buy a basket of commodities like you do stocks. It’s different than that.
Michael : So, the person watching at home now and they’re saying “boy, it’s a bull market in commodities. This must be a good time to sell options”… that’s really kind of irrelevant if you’re an option seller, isn’t it?
James : You know, the interesting commodities, I think, is what bodes well for us. Whether you’re selling options on your own or you’re doing it with ourselves, it does increase premiums of options on both puts and calls. Certainly, the interest by the speculator, whether it’s a bank in London or whether it’s a hedge fund somewhere in San Francisco, it does increase the value of the options. If you are picking up bull or bear market, it allows you to get in at very good levels, sometimes 40-50% out-of-the-money depending on which market it is.
Michael : So now matter which side of the market it’s on, the media coverage of prices going up brings in a lot of public speculators and that drives premium.
James : Whether you’re selling options on your own or you’re doing it with us, it really plays into your hands… it really does.
Michael : Great. We’re going to take a look at a couple of these markets that’ve moving pretty good to the upside or we feel we have some pretty good opportunities to look at this month. Why don’t we go to the trading room and get started?
Michael : Welcome back to the market segment of this month’s podcast. We’re here in the trading room with head trader James Cordier. The title of this month’s podcast is taking advantage of the bull market in commodities, and we’re going to feature a couple of markets this month that are leaders, what’s driving the bull market in commodities, but how to take advantage of it might not be exactly how you think it would be. A lot of people might think, “Oh, well I’ll just go out and buy a commodities index fund or maybe I’ll buy some individual commodities stocks or what have you”, and the problem with that is, one, as James mentioned earlier, sometimes these commodities aren’t all going to move together. So, you may buy one commodity and it’s not going to participate in that bull market like other stocks wood. Also, we don’t know when this bull market might end, so we want to position ourselves so, yes, we can keep taking advantage of this if the bull market continues, but also if it stops tomorrow we still want to be able to make money. So, we’re not going to position how just a common traditional investor might try and position. We’re going to talk about selling options here. Let’s go to the first market for this month… the cotton market has been one of the leaders of the commodities bull here. Obviously we’ve had a pretty sharp rally here since last October, James. We’re up almost 25% in prices through this week. What’s going on here as far as prices go?
James : Cotton’s another example of one of the bull markets of 2018. We do have some more demand out of Asia than we thought. They were speculators that thought that supplies in China were slightly less than what early was previously expected. Cotton production in China is supposed to be down slightly because of some weather. Of course, the big news is we had just an incredible drought to start out the planting season here in west Texas. Basically, commodities like soybeans and cotton, everyone’s so concerned about the weather and when they talk about dry conditions or there’s drought going on, speculators come and bid up the market. A lot of the end users then need to get insurance and they’ll buy futures contracts for cotton, as well, and that really boosts up the price usually right as growing season is beginning. That’s what we’re here looking at again today for the cotton market in 2018.
Michael : Okay. So, that drought has been pushing up prices, but here in the last couple of weeks, that started to lessen a little bit. We’re looking at a map here of Texas, west Texas, big cotton growing region. If you would’ve looked at this map, the darker colors indicate a severe drought portion, so we still have some going up in northern part of Texas, but if you would’ve looked at this chart 3-4 weeks ago, almost half of Texas was in that red. So, this has mitigated quite a bit to where we are right now and that has allowed a lot of these planters to really make some progress in planting over the last couple of weeks. As a matter of fact, stats we just pulled today, James, at the end of the week of May 13th they were 28% planted. At the end of the week of May 20th, Texas farmers were 43% planted, so that’s a lot of progress to make up in a week and that’s due to that they finally got some moisture. They were able to get the crop in the ground. 5-year average is only 33%, so they’re actually ahead, quite a bit ahead, of where they normally are in a 5-year average, so that moisture they did get has really done a lot of good for the Texas crop. USDA just came out with their most recent/first estimate for the ’18-’19 crop. You’ll see here, James, ending stocks actually above last year is what they’re targeting.
James : Really a weather market right now. Anyone who lives in the United States, especially in the eastern half of the United States, I know we have clients and viewers from all over the world, but here in the U.S. it’s raining all the time. Precipitation is just dominating the weather market right now and, in the chart you just mentioned, for the Texas state, that was truly an extremely dry condition and that has mitigated quite a bit. We’re now 5-6% above the 5-year average for plantings. We now have precipitation coming in. We’re going to wind up having a larger crop than a lot of people thought about and then we’re going to have carry-over in the United States, the highest level in 10 years. I know a lot of people are going to look at this, “well, the carry-over was much higher 8-9 years ago”, but cotton was also around $0.40-$0.50 a pound then, too. That’s a big difference.
Michael : One other thing we should probably bring up that’s really carrying a lot of weight here is that cotton also has a very strong seasonal tendency. Actually, it doesn’t even really start to break until about mid-June. What’s usually behind this? What causes this?
James : Just as we were describing, Michael, if there’s any type of weather fears in Alabama, Mississippi, this year it was Texas, generally speaking, until the crop is planting and until the weather conditions look favorable for production that year, generally speaking that’s going to be the high point of the year as planting’s taking place in the southern states of the United States. As the planting is completed, it’s 85-95% completed, which will be probably in the next 2-3 weeks, weather comes in, the dramatic dry conditions no longer are pushing up prices. Sure enough, as you start harvesting the crop in October, November, December, big crop once again, U.S. farmers are the best in the world, and once again we had a lot bigger crop than most people anticipated. That’s what’s winding up in timing right now looks perfect for the seasonal average and it’s setting up the same way into this year.
Michael : Yeah, it does seem to be lining up pretty well. If the rains continue, we don’t have a big drought surprise, this seasonal looks like it’s set up to be pretty close. So, we’re looking at a trade here. I’ll let you talk about the trade, James, but you’re looking at a December call right now.
James : Exactly. We have cotton trading in the low-mid 80’s recently. There was a recent spike up with a lot of discussion about the problems in Texas. Generally speaking, we do have the market rally May, June, and then July it usually rolls over. We are now looking at really decent call buying by speculators and hedgers alike at the $1 and the 105. There are no guaranteed investments in this world, but selling cotton at 105 looks like a pretty darn good one and if it does follow along with the seasonal, if it does follow along with the idea that supplies are going to be at 10-year highs at the end of this year, cotton will go from 80’s to a 105 looks very slim chances to us. We think this is going to be one of the better positions going into the 4th quarter of this year.
Michael : So, when you’re talking about taking advantage of a bull market rather than buy into cotton, what James is talking about is the bull market creates interest in these deep out-of-the-money calls. So, how you take advantage of it and sell these deep out-of-the-money calls, we don’t know if the drought’s over. It sure looks like it’s taking a lot of big steps towards mitigating, but if we’re wrong and they don’t get rains and somehow the second half of the planting doesn’t go as well, cotton can still go higher from here. So, we don’t want to bet on that it’s going to turn around right now, right on seasonal. It could keep going. We’re just going to sell calls up here and it can do whatever it wants. It can keep going, it can mitigate, or it can roll over with the seasonal. Either way, there’s a pretty good chance these calls are still going to expire worthless.
James : We really like that as an opportunity selling those calls.
Michael : Okay. If you’d like to learn more about trading these types of markets, taking advantage of upward markets by selling calls, you’ll want to pick up a copy of our book The Complete Guide to Option Selling: Third Edition. You can get it now on our website at a discount than where you’ll get it in the bookstore or on Amazon. That’s www.OptionSellers.com/book. James, let’s move into our next market we’d like to talk about this month.
James : Okay.
Michael : We’re back with out second market we’re going to talk about here in our June Podcast- How to take advantage of the bull market in commodities. That second market is one we talked about here last month… that’s the crude oil market. We’re going to update this trade a little bit to give you some insights into how these type of strategies work. James, last month you talked about selling a strangle on the crude market, the February 45/90 strangle. Why don’t you update us on how the market has done and how that trade is doing?
James : Let’s talk about both sides of this investment. Just 6-12 months ago, there was considered a 300 million barrel oil surplus globally. That has evaporated to approximately 30 million barrels. The market is practically absolutely flat right now. Every barrel of oil that’s being produced right now has an owner before it even comes out of the ground. That fundamental will not be changing in the next 3-6 months. They’re not just going to find oil, it’s not going to go from a 30 million barrel surplus to a 300 million barrel surplus overnight. That’s not going to happen. That’s going to keep oil well above the $40 level. The $45 put that we sold, I think, is excellent sales-ship, not ownership… you don’t want to own those. Crude oil over the next 6 months is likely not going to this level. The call side, what’s developing over the last 60-90 days really is what’s going on in Europe. Basically, the European Union has been dealing with quantitative easing for as long as the United States have. Of course, now we’re no longer doing QEs. The U.S. economy is doing extremely well. Europe? Not so much. We have quantitative easing still in Europe and PMIs in Germany, England, Italy are going straight south. Consumer confidence in Germany is at one of its lowest levels in years. The European economy is starting to roll over while it has quantitative easing. Europe produces practically no oil whatsoever and they are very susceptible to oil shocks. Oil at Brent commodity is up to $80 a barrel. In the United States it’s around $71-$72. That level is practically double of where it was 12 months ago and Europe is really feeling a brunt about that. What OPEC is very keen to know is to not kill economic growth. Oil just went from basically $45-$50, recently now up to $80 on Brent, and economies in Europe, especially, can’t sustain that. We’re looking again about discussion about Greek bonds and if that market rolls over again, and if Europe goes into slight recession going on in the next say 4th quarter of this year 1st quarter of next year, stock markets start to slide, U.S. economy starts to slide. Then, OPEC can basically claim a big part in slowing economic growth. They don’t want that. OPEC is producing oil for $35-$40 a barrel. Rent is up to 80. They’re likely going to start rolling back some of the production cuts and that’s what makes the $90-$95 calls a great sale, as well. Oil is likely not going to be hitting $90 going into the 4th quarter of this year. That’s the shoulder season, that’s when demand worldwide is at its lowest. That should make the $95 a very good sale. We like being short in 90 and 95. We love being long at 40 and 45. This is probably one of the best strangles available right now in all of commodities and the reason why those premiums are so high, as you mentioned Michael, is because the bull market in commodities. It gets people out buying options that they normally wouldn’t, reaching out for higher levels than normally they would, and that’s what makes cherry-picking in puts and calls, selling commodities in options right now, I think, the timing is just about perfect.
Michael : Yeah, the trade we recommended last month, you were talking about this trade… 45/90 February. You’ll notice last month we were about here, so the market has bumped up about $3 a barrel, but it’s still right in the middle of the strangle and this strangle is actually profitable now from where we recommended it. So, just what we talked about last month, we’re not trying to pick highs or lows or guess what the market’s going to do. We don’t care as long as it stays between these levels. This strangle is performing just about optimally as how you’d want it.
James : This form of investing is much more simplistic than trying to pick exactly where all these markets are going. This could look like Apple stock and trying to figure out what Apple is going to do next week or next month. Basically, selling options, especially on a strangle, you’re throwing the football to where you think the market is going to be. So, if you’re in the lower 3rd of the trading range and you still think the market has got a little bit higher to go, look where we’re winding up right now with the $2 or $3 rally. We’re right in the middle of the strangle… right where we like to see it.
Michael : Okay. Now you did mention you think oil prices could be starting to slow here over the next several months. Again, we’re not calling a talk, but you think as it goes along there’s going to be a second conversation here with OPEC as far as their quotas.
James : I really think so. 2 years ago, Saudi Arabia and Russia got together and said, “We’ve got to try something. We just saw oil for under $40 a barrel, we’re basically making little money.” They basically said, “Let’s try and reduce production by 3%, 4%, 5% and see what happens. The U.S. is now the largest producer. We have to do something or the market’s going to stay low.” That conversation worked extremely well… oil at Brent to $80. The second conversation now is let’s not get greedy. If the oil goes up another $2, $3, or $4 a barrel what difference does it make to you as a producer? If you’re making $40 a barrel or $42, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but to consuming areas like the Euro area, another $3, $4, or $5 can tip that economy over and that is a big deal. I think that’s the conversation they’re going to have in June when OPEC meets.
Michael : James, you just gave this talk you had on the oil markets to TDAmeritrade and they’re, what, 11 million trading customers?
James : Yeah, we had a lot of investor eyeballs on us today. It’s quite interesting how many people actually do invest in commodities. There is an advertisement on TV recently… people aren’t investing in this and they aren’t investing in that and they aren’t investing in commodities. They really are investing in commodities and we certainly saw that this morning with the viewership that we had talking strictly about options on commodities. We really blew it off the charts today.
Michael : Great. You can see that interview on our website probably later this week or early next week. It’ll be on the blog. The full interview will be posted there and you can take a look at that. If you’d like to learn more about some of the things we’ve been talking about here, you’ll want to take a look at the June OptionSeller Newsletter. That should be out on or before June 1st. If you’re already a subscriber, it’ll be in your e-mail box and your physical mailbox around that time. Let’s go ahead and move into our Q & A section and see what our readers have to ask this month.
Michael : Welcome back to the Q & A portion of this month’s podcast. James, we’re going to take some questions from some of our viewers and readers here and see if you can answer what they have to ask. Our first question this month comes from Omar Fallon of Galveston, Texas. Omar asks, “Dear James, I am currently selling options with the assistance of your excellent book, The Complete Guide to Option Selling. I’m also following your 200% rule that you recommend. My question is, do you still follow the 200% rule when you’re writing a strangle or is there a different risk strategy for a strangle?”
James : Okay. Omar, thanks for the question. We often consider that every time we do write a strangle. From time to time, of course, one side or the other goes against us slightly while we’re waiting… patiently waiting in most cases. I do like using the 200% rule on the total value of the strangle itself. If you take into consideration the fact that both sides of the put and the call combined premium has to first double before you exit the trade, that is truly putting a lot of room between you and the market and giving you a lot of time, hopefully, to hold onto that position. I do recommend using a 200% rule on the total value of both the put and the call sale.
Michael : And that’s primarily because if the market starts moving against one of your strikes, that option on the other side of the market is balancing that out. So, you can afford to let it go a little further because you’re making some of that up on the other side of the market.
James : Exactly right. Omar, if you sold your option fairly well, you’re going to have a really good opportunity for the market to stay inside that strangle and, as you approach option expiration, if you choose to hold on to it the very last day, we don’t always do that; however, that window should be extremely large and I do like giving the whole 200% risk tolerance on both the put and the call. If you sold the option fairly well, the market should wind up inside that window when it is time to close them out.
Michael : Let’s go to our next question. This one comes from Jonathan Hartwig from Springdale, Arkansas. Jonathan asks, “Dear James, I’ve noticed from your videos that you seem to focus more on some commodities and less on others. I traded commodities about 11 years ago and did markets like hogs and orange juice, even pork bellies. Is there a reason you don’t feature these markets and how many markets do you actually trade at your firm?”
James : Jonathan, great question. It sounds like questions from my favorite movie, Trading Places… orange juice and pork bellies. Those are certainly near and dear to our hearts here. Basically, we ant to be in the most liquid commodity markets that there are. Pork bellies, lean hogs, orange juice is a very domestic trade here in the United States. Orange juice, of course, is produced 90% in the United States, pork bellies is certainly a U.S. domestic commodity in market. Lean hogs, of course, is a U.S. domestic market. What that does is it allows the fundamentals to change dramatically in a very short period of time. We like investing in crude oil produced in so many nations. Gold, silver, sugar is produced in over 2 dozen different nations and coffee is produced all over the world. Wheat is produced in almost every nation of the world. So, if the fundamentals or dry conditions in one zone of the United States or in part of Asia, 90% of the world is going to have a different weather pattern or a different structure that’s causing the market to move. That’s going to give the commodity a lot more stability. We always want to sell options based on fundamentals, and the fundamentals in every sector of the world rarely are going to change at the same time. Where if you’re trading a domestic market like orange juice or pork bellies, a small freeze, a terrible draught in a certain location, swine flu in Iowa can determine the entire investment. Here at OptionSellers, we want to be in markets that are extremely liquid and will not have changing fundamentals on a small whim. We sell options based on a 3, 6, 12 month time period. If you’re trading and investing in options that are based on commodities that are grown all around the world, produced all around the world, you’ll rarely have a really brief quick change in fundamentals. Right up our alley for the way we do things.
Michael : Yeah, a lot of people are surprised when they’re asking about what commodities you actually trade. There’s really only about 10 or 12 that we follow and those are those high volume markets you’re talking about. It’s not like we’re following 500 stocks here. There’s 10 or 12 markets, you just get to know them really well.
James : They all have personalities, Michael. I’ve been trading silver and gold, coffee and sugar, natural gas and crude oil for decades. That doesn’t mean we’re right all the time, but they do have a personality. You get to know the fundamentals and when there’s a little headline or blip here or there it really doesn’t rattle you, nor should it with your investment.
Michael : So, the point is, Jonathan, if you’re selling options you’ll probably want to stick to your highest volume markets that are going to have the highest volume, most liquidity in the options. That’s where you’re going to get the safest type of trades. If you’re watching this at home, thank you for watching this month’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed what you learned here today. James, thank you for your insights on the markets.
James : Of course. Always.
Michael : If you’d like to learn more about managed option selling portfolios here with OptionSellers.com, you’ll want to be sure to request your Option Sellers Discovery Pack. This is available on our website for free. It comes with a DVD. You can get that at www.OptionSellers.com/Discovery . As far as our account openings go, we still have a couple openings left in June for consultations. Those would be for our account openings in July and August. So, if you’re thinking about possibly, you want to make an allocation this summer, now is the time to give a call and get your consultation/interviews scheduled. You can call Rosemary at the office… that’s 800-346-1949. If you’re calling from outside the United States, that’s 813-472-5760. Have a great month of option selling and we’ll talk to you again in 30 days. Thank you.