Oil for Option Sellers
February 24, 2016 Podcast
James Cordier and Michael Gross
Michael: Hello everyone, this is Michael Gross of OptionSellers.com. I’m here with James Cordier in our home offices in Tampa, Florida. James, what a month of volatility this month.
James: It certainly has been. The commodities markets for the last 18 months have been doing a slow drip to the downside. Mainly because of the slow down in China and the much lower demand for raw goods: nickel, zinc, copper, lead, and iron ore have been slowly falling, and, finally, with the idea that interest rates are not going to go up four times this year, which everyone had plugged in to their calculations, meaning a strong US Dollar, which means lower commodity prices. That has completely reversed, and now we’re having actual ideas about QE. Again, here in the United States, we don’t think that’s going to happen, but that has certainly shot some volatility into the commodities market, something as Option Sellers, we really wanted and waited to see.
Michael: James, I know when we talk about commodities, some commodities are more volatile than others, what we saw a lot of this month was some volatility in the metals markets, particularly gold and silver. We had discussed last month a strangle in the gold market, where we sold puts and calls. I know we adjusted those positions a little bit, and I think our listeners would be eager to hear how that’s done or how you would adjust a strangle in a situation like that.
James: The gold market, like anything else that we put a strangle around, has a very good chance of increasing on one side or the other. In other words, moving towards the put or the call. Often, when we sell a strangle, whether it be gold or any other market, Michael, as you know, normally we are trying to highlight around a $1,200-$1,400 strangle around the market. If one side starts moving up, in other words, the rally that we’ve had in gold, just about $100 an ounce basically overnight, did increase volatility especially on the call side, what we would certainly want to do is protect our clients at all times. Even though the gold market is still some $250-$300 away from those original strike prices, we were able to now roll up into positions that are now $500 and $600 above the current price. It’s a strategy, as far as strangling goes, of selling puts and calls simultaneously. It’s certainly one of our favorite trades, especially when you’re looking at fairly priced commodities. The fact that gold rallied $125 rapidly, certainly did make the call side much more interesting. We did roll up several of our positions to levels that we really don’t think gold can hit. We have no inflation, we have a much more stable stock market right now, the banks in the United States are much more well-capitalized, and the chances of gold going to $1,900 or $2,000 in the next several months, looks like a pretty good thing to bet against, and that’s what we’re doing.
Michael: James, we’ve gotten a lot of mail in this month from people talking about trading metals and some of the moves there, and types of strategies we might recommend. One point you made, that was a great point when we were talking last week, was that now that the volatility is in the market, it’s a ….. A great point you made, James, is that a lot of people trading gold and silver look at it and say “Well, I don’t want to trade that market. It’s too volatile”, and, if you’re an options seller, it’s exactly the opposite. The more volatile it gets, the better it is for you as an option seller, and, the point you made was, now that the volatility is in the market, there’s actually less risk for an option seller.
James: That’s true, Michael. As we both know, having volatility makes it seem actually more risky than it is, in my opinion. When you’re able to sell options 20%-30% out of the money in a quiet market, is that better than selling options 50-60% out of the money in a volatile market, and I would say that the latter is true. Certainly, the higher probability is in markets where you’re able to sell options further from the underlining futures contract, and that is definitely what we have in gold and silver right now. The silver market hasn’t moved nearly as much as some of our articles we’ve written recently about silver being the kind of a market between copper and gold. Gold has made the big move. The large premiums right now are in gold calls, as well as gold puts, simply because the volatility, and we think right now is an ideal time to get involved by selling options on those two markets as the volatility has finally really increased into something that’s really the life blood of option selling.
Michael: It’s like the Warren Buffet mantra: “Be greedy when others are fearful, and be fearful when others are greedy.”
James: I couldn’t paint that picture any better than he does. Right now, that’s really a good observation of where our market is right now.
Michael: Let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on over in the oil markets. That’s had a big month there, too, and some big developments with OPEC. Can you talk a little bit about that and what’s going on with OPEC?
James: You know, for the last several months, so much of the analysis that’s taken place right now regarding oil prices, and regarding OPEC as well, you know, Iran is coming on, so they’re not going to cut. Saudi Arabia finally has the new producers, the United States, they have them on the ropes, so they’re not going to cut. Russia’s not going to cut because they all need to have a certain amount of income on a weekly/monthly basis. The bottom line is, they do have to cut. They do have to balance the market. We saw the first beginning of that this past week, as both Russia and Saudi’s did agree to freeze production and, of course, the long awaited production cuts were not there yet. However, a huge step forward was taken place. The market did not hail it with a great bit of fanfare because everyone was hoping for production cuts. We didn’t get those. However, we did have a huge 180 degree turn in the idea that the largest two producers are aware and very conscious of balancing the market. I think that first step certainly was taken place in order to do that. They froze production at basically record levels, which doesn’t sound bullish, but, for the first time, in as long as we can remember, as far as this rampant move down in oil prices, the market realizes and the leaders of OPEC, certainly Saudi’s, realize that they have to balance the market. We finally have that in place right now, and we’re looking at probably production cuts being announced sometime between now and June. Iran kind of threw cold water on it by saying that production freeze is kind of silly. I think that they’ve been out of the market so long that they lost their mind a little bit, because that was certainly not welcome news to hear Iran say that. I’m sure someone’s slapping them up right now saying “Next time that we’re discussing production cuts, don’t say anything like that of the kind”. I think Iran probably learned their lesson shortly after making that little announcement. However, we do see production cuts. There were actually numbers being floated around, and I would bet a dollar right now that the next time where there are production discussions going on, Iran cheers and thinks that it’s a good idea. We’ll see if in fact it turns out that way. The oil market, which has been flirting, once again, with down near 30, is gaining Traction. We think still the chances of seeing a four-handle on crude oil this spring is very good, and we think that being short puts being in the $20-$23 range is going to be a very fruitful idea later on.
Michael: The big development there wasn’t actually the deal itself, but, as you said, the big impact was psychological. It sets the stage for, finally, there’s going to be some cooperation, and, as you said, sets the stage for a possible cut later this spring or maybe early summer time.
James: That would be our guess. The market has to be balanced. The Saudi’s realize that. They will be the ones to lead that charge. When you think about Venezuela and some of the other periphery countries that are in OPEC, they have to see crude oil prices rally $5, $10, $15 just to make ends meet. I think it’s going to happen. How long would a rally last if, in fact, we do have production cuts? Will there be cheating going on? Certainly there will, but when these announcements are made, and I really think they will be, we are going to see a decent rally in crude oil, and hitting $40, I think, is a real high probability going into spring.
Michael: I would imagine that would probably jack up the volatility of call options as well going into summer. One strategy we talked about possibly for the summer time, not just yet, but a couple months down the road, maybe selling calls high above the crude market.
James: That is going to be, in our opinion, one of the best seasonal trades along with the puts that we have on right now. Crude oil is not going to be trading at $20, no matter how many of the talking heads come on CNBC and say “It’s heading to 20”. Just before we started this discussion today, I just heard someone say it’s going to 15. That’s not happening. We love the idea of being short the puts at the $20 level. We should rally into April, May, and June. If, in fact, we do that, we’re going to see call premiums on December crude oil towards the $80 strike price. Michael, crude oil is not going to 80, either. What we really like is the idea that you get through driving season, you go into shoulder season, which is September, October, November. Prices will likely be back down in crude oil, certainly a long ways away from 80. We think that the selling puts now and selling calls this summer for the December contract, probably around $80 or $85 a barrel, is going to be a very nice low hanging free trade for us.
Michael: Plus, if the market does rally $5 or $10, you’ll have all the talking heads coming on saying that it’s going to 100. That’ll help the call option premium, too.
James: That’s exactly what’s going to happen. The talking heads on TV certainly help push the market in whatever direction it seems to be most easily traveling. I think May, June, and July there’s going to be discussion like that. Hopefully, people are listening and buy the $80 calls from us. I think that’s going to work out really well.
Michael: For all you listeners out there that are listening to the discussion on the metals and OPEC, we address both of those markets in your upcoming Option Seller newsletter. It should be coming out on or around March 1st, so look for that in both your e-mail box and your physical mailbox. Speaking of the Option Seller newsletter, you’ve probably read we have a number of different guest analysts that now are volunteering to work with us, come on, and be interviewed in the newsletter. Some very great option talent there that’s wiling to share opinions and insights into selling premium. We’re also lining up a number of those people to participate in our future issues. James, you’ve recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by a stock option selling newsletter, Born to Sell, and you talked a little bit about differences between stocks and commodity options and how you go about managing a portfolio. I know one of the key points you were talking about there was structuring a portfolio, how we go about being in different markets, and the type of different markets you look for. Can you talk about that a little bit and what you talked about in that interview?
James: Michael, that’s probably the biggest transition from most investors to writing covered calls, or what have you, on their stock portfolio, and wanting to get diversified, certainly with all the volatility. Michael, you’ve seen a lot of people come over to Selling Options with us and building their own and having their own portfolio with us. Everything is about diversifying, as you know, and we want to be in the different sectors that have very little correlation to either the stock market or sometimes to the economy. I think what I enjoy most about building portfolios is that we are able to hopefully prosper in bull, bear, and neutral markets, and, also, by being able to diversify inside the commodities market itself. Sometimes the price of wheat will have very little to do with the price of silver, and coffee very little do that with the price of crude oil. It really gives us a lot of the balancing power in order to make sure that a portfolio is diversified. Certainly we have some interesting times ahead of us with a 0% interest rates and sometimes negative interest rates all around the world. We probably are going to have some interesting moves in the stock market and in commodities over the next 12 months, and I think being able to diversify is going to allow us to prosper from them, and, of course, now we finally have the volatility to sell high premiums.
Michael: Yeah, it was a great point that came up in that interview, and I don’t know if it made the final cut, but I know he asked you “How would a portfolio like this perform in a down market or a bad economy?”, because a lot of the stock option sellers are selling calls, they’re selling covered calls, or they’re selling puts and waiting for the market to go down so they can buy the stock. That works great, except when stocks go into a bear market. Then, those guys are sucking wind. He said “Well, how’s your portfolio doing in a down market?” and you said “Well, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t correlate to down markets, and it doesn’t really matter what the market is doing because you can be on either side of it.”
James: Right, and the fact that we can be, you know, positioned for a weaker economy. We can be positioned for China, continuing to slow down, or there’s even people talking now about a possible recession in the United States. I know that sounds really dramatic, but people like Carl Icahn are usually listened to. I know he’s getting a little bit older now, but he’s a very, very intelligent man and people are following words that he says. The fact that we are able to, you know, be diversified to a point where we can prosper in a market that’s falling or an economy that’s weakening, I think, makes what we do, you know, kind of a sweet spot right now. We are able to sell calls in markets that might follow a trend down with the stock market. I think crude oil, the one that you mentioned here a little while ago, is going to be a prime example. After a small rally this spring and summer, I think a lot of the energies, and maybe the stock market, has a weakening period going into the last third and fourth quarter of this year. That’s going to be one of our, probably, favorite positions. Michael: All right, for anyone interested in learning about our managed accounts or how they work, you can request our investor discovery pack. That’s at OptionSellers.com/Discovery, or you can always give us a call at 800-346-1949, and we’ll get one of those right out to you. James, we are going to shift gears here a little bit and we’re going to talk a little bit about strategy. We spoke a little bit earlier about positioning portfolios and the type of systems we incorporate into that. One of the more popular items that people like to talk about is the concept we describe in The Complete Guide to Option Selling as “staggering”, where we’re staggering our expiration dates with the objective of having options expiring, if not every month, close to every month. Can you talk a little bit about how you do that or how you recommend other investors do that? James: Whether an option seller is doing that on his own portfolio, or, certainly we do that for portfolios ourselves, the idea is if you have a fundamental view on a particular market, say for example, the silver market has been trading around $14-$15 an ounce recently, we expect silver to probably stay in this trading range for quite some time. A position that would inquire staggering would be selling, say, the $9.00-$9.50 put in Silver. For example, say the December contract: if, in fact, time goes by and that December contract starts to decay, and if the fundamentals are the same, we would look then on to the most active contracts in silver and then start selling the same $9.50 put there. As, certainly, the front contract starts to loose some ground, and, as a matter of fact, eventually come off, we will be looking at selling the next contract and silver. Certainly, the fundamentals change from time to time and the range that silver, or any of the commodity would be trading in, is going to vary slightly and, of course, we just sell a slightly different option that way. The idea is that once a portfolio is built, and it does take several weeks to do that, as you know, you can have options expiring worthless or getting to a buy-back point every other month or every other two months. It certainly is fun once the pipeline is filled. Basically, you’re looking at options that are coming off every one to three months. If you are in six or seven different commodities, it is possible that that staggering does offer good liquidity every 30 days and, certainly, that is our objective with staggering. It takes a while to fill the pipeline, but, once it’s done, it can be very rewarding going forward as these options start coming off. Michael: An important point to make there that you brought up is that you don’t necessarily have to wait for those options to expire. For instance, if you sold silver puts and they’ve lost 50% of their value so far, you don’t have to wait for those silver puts to expire. You can go ahead and go the next month out and take in some more silver premium in the same strikes. That’s a prime example of staggering. What does that do for the investor? James: Well, like you mentioned, you don’t have to wait for the option to expire to sell another silver put or another coffee call. Basically, as you initiate a position, you have a certain amount of margin that’s earmarked from your account to hold the position. If in fact, like the example you said, Michael, an option is now trading at half of what you sold it for, what that does is it frees up the margin. If you were putting down $1,000 to hold the position, now there’s only $500 to hold that same position. Let’s utilize that additional margin money to write an option on the same commodity, possibly, and, that way, you have the staggering affect. Often, what we will do, is sell an option for a certain amount of money. As it starts approaching maybe 10% or 15% of its current trading value that you initially sold if for, that makes it a great buyback. At that point, the option that you sold after that might be looking at 50% decay and it’s a nice snowball effect, once it’s in place and working correctly. Michael: Efficiency of capital…
Michael: That is really what staggering is all about. Making it work as hard as it can be working at any given time. If you’re interested in those types of things and structuring a portfolio, we feel it’s probably one of the most important aspects of selling options that most option sellers overlook. They’re thinking about what market to get in, they’re thinking about what strike they want to sell, and they’re forgetting that probably the most important part is how your portfolio is structured to begin with. What market you’re going to be in, how your capital is going to be allocated, those are the type of things we really talk a lot about in The Complete Guide to Option Selling, and, of course, that book is available at book stores and online retailers. You can also get it on our website through a special offer at optionsellers.com/book. Before we close out here this month, a couple of announcements: one, we do have some consultation dates open in March for new investors. If you’re interested in a managed account, or discussing one, you can give us a call at 800-346-1949 or 813-472-5760. Again, that is to schedule a free, no obligation consultation for a managed option selling account. James, before we go, we are coming into a time of year where there’s a lot of a seasonals coming up, and are there any markets that you see, coming up in the month of March, that may have a big seasonal impact here? James: A lot of the grains, Michael, actually, in the past, had seasonalities that would take place in June, July, and August because of the crop growing season in the United States, but so many commodities now are grown in the southern of the hemisphere in Australia, and Brazil. Quite often, a lot of the grain markets right now have seasonalities that take place the opposite of what they did, certainly. February and March has been a very fruitful time for selling options in grains and soybeans, so those are something that we’re going to be looking at over the next 30 to 60 days, as well. Michael: It is a great time for seasonal tendencies. In the April and May newsletters, we are going to be talking a lot more about that. In fact, I think we’re going to see if we can get somebody from Moore Research to come on in and do an interview for a newsletter, so we’ll talk a little bit about that. Anyone who’s interested, again, we have consultation dates open in March. I believe the second part of March, we still have some dates. You can give us a call if you’d like to schedule them at 800-346-1949. Otherwise, we wish you all a great month of premium collection, and look for your newsletter next week. We will talk to you next month. Thank you.