Take Big April Option Premiums From These Two Commodities
Michael : Hello everyone. This is Michael Gross of OptionSellers.com here with head trader James Cordier here for your April Option Sellers Video Podcast. Well, James, we didn’t see any abatement in the volatility in the stock market this month. In fact, Fed chairman Jerome Powell last week coming out, maybe spooking investors, talking about asset prices and maybe even financial markets being overvalued here… a little ghost of 2007. What do you think is going on here?
James : Michael, it’s interesting… for the first time since quantitative easing was first announced practically a decade ago, investors and money managers now actually will have an option of not just pouring money into long stocks but fixed income is going to now be some of the talk. The tenure is approaching 3%. With what Jerome Powell said this past week, we will be reaching 3%, possibly 3.25 and 3.5 coming up over the next 6-12 months. With that in place, does the stock market have now still a free ride to the upside? Investors are going to be putting some of their money into fixed income and for the first time in practically a decade there’s an alternative from just being long the stock market.
Michael : Obviously at this point, a lot of investors, especially high net-worth investors, are always looking to diversify into alternative asset classes. Physical commodities as hard assets always seem to have an appeal in any type of environment really but especially in this type where you have a lot of the jitters about paper assets.
James : There’s probably more jitters now than I can think of over the last decade. As you know, we have investors contacting us on a daily basis, I think, just for that reason. Investors wanting to diversify right now from the stock market, I think, is hitting a really great stride right now. Wanting to get into markets that are uncorrelated to what the DOW does and what the S&P does is not only really popular right now but a lot of the real investors, you know, the people with millions of dollars under management, they are looking for alternatives now and I think they’re going to find some, not only in yield bearing accounts like fixed income but certainly in commodities like what we do, as well.
Michael : Of course, we are in springtime now in the commodities markets. That means there’s a lot of things that happen in a lot of the physical commodities in the springtime, especially the agriculture markets and energy markets. We have some great seasonal tendencies, as well, in the spring.
James : We do. Needless to say, a lot of people look at commodities and they think about the weather. Over the next 90 days the weather will be a really big factor. Quite often, end users for soybeans, corn, and wheat, they need to get insurance and make sure that they’re going to have these products for what they do and basically for animal feed. Of course in the United States, the largest producer of corn and soybeans, the weather is key. Often, they build in a certain premium during the months of May, June, and July just in case the farmers in the United States don’t do exactly what they would have hoped each year. Of course, later on in the year, once again the U.S. farmers are the best in the world and the spring rallies that often happen normally are just great sales for doing what we do.
Michael : Speaking of those rallies or markets, we have a couple we’re going to feature this month that are maybe a little ahead of themselves. Now we have some of that inflated call premium. If you are one of those investors, it’s just learning how to sell options or learning how to sell options on commodities, these are two markets we think are really going to help you… Good opportunities, actually markets we are taking advantage of now in our management portfolios. We are going to cover those for you here in just a minute. Thank you.
Michael : Okay everyone, we are back with our Market Segment for this month’s podcast. The first market we’re going to discuss this month is the soybean market. Soybeans have been in a strong rally the past couple of months primarily as a result of some things going on down in South America. James, do you want to talk a little bit about that and what’s driving prices right now?
James : Michael, corn, soybeans, and wheat are all about the weather. The third largest producer in the world is Argentina. They’ve had a very dry growing season this year. For that reason, they do have reduced yields and we’re going to have a little bit of tightness out of that South American country. They are the third largest producer in the world and basically the U.S. weather is normally the big catalyst for the market moving up or down. This year, Argentina, which of course they have the opposite season here in the United States, their summers/our winter of course, and while there’s not much to talk about in the United States, traders look elsewhere. In South America, especially in Argentina, they had a really dry season. For that reason, the soybean prices have been bumping up to nearly 12-month highs over the last couple weeks.
Michael : Yeah, we have seen some reduced yield expectations right now. We were at 60 million metric tons out of Argentina just a couple of years ago, now we are hearing it might be down as low as 40 million… it’s not reflected yet here. I guess that has been driving prices substantially higher, but we’re nearing the end of that growing season there now, aren’t we?
James : We really are. Quite often, traders and investors will price on the worst-case scenario, so then once the corn and soybeans are actually harvested, often the weather wasn’t as bad as people thought and then the market readjusts to the current level of the production it actually turns out to be.
Michael : So what you’re saying is although we’ve had some problems out of Argentina, they do about 50% of the production done in the U.S. or Brazil. From what I’m hearing, they’re thinking that production out of Brazil may make up some of those losses out of Argentina already. Is that correct?
James : Unlike Argentina, just to the south of Brazil, Brazil has had just wonderful growing conditions for cocoa, coffee, soybeans, orange juice, sugar. Brazil is just a wonderful garden right now for growing soybeans. I think the Brazilian harvest will be larger than expected and that will make up probably a quarter and a half of what we’re going to be losing out of Argentina this year.
Michael : Of course, as South American harvest is under way, we get started with planting here in the United States. The market probably starts focusing on what’s going on with the U.S. crop here pretty soon. If they do, the United States has some pretty big supplies heading into the planting season this year.
James : We’re certainly going to have harvest pressure probably starting September-October of this year, and the Argentinean drought it probably going to be a forgone memory at that point. Supplies are going to be more than plentiful in the United States, and of course the U.S. is going to be the supplier to the world because of our ending stocks here in the United States, which is something I know we want to talk about as well.
Michael : Starting off the year, we have the second highest ending stocks in the last 30 years and the highest in over a decade, so we’re already starting off the year with big supply. Now, the planting intentions, which we’ll know more for sure the 29th of March when that report comes out, but right now estimates are we’re going to have at least as many acres planted as last year, 90 million with estimates now at 90-92 million, so if we even have average yields we could be looking at all-time record ending stocks for next year. Like you said, that harvest pressure coming in… if they’re harvesting that size of a crop you’ll get some pretty substantial harvest pressure. So, the trade you’re recommending here right now, you’re thinking that this rally is probably going to fizzle and we’re going to see steadier lower prices. What are you looking at to trade here?
James : Michael, we think that come October-November, soybean prices will probably be below $10 a bushel. We’re trading around $10.40-$10.50 right now. Basically, on the dry conditions in Argentina, we’re thinking that soybeans have a little bit of a chance to rally another 20-30 cents. They could get to the mid-upper dollar region. We love the idea of selling soybeans at the $13 level, so we’re going to be recommending soybean calls at $13 and $13.25 thinking that while soybeans might have a big of a rally going into May and June, we love the idea of being short in fall. So kind of like football, we’re not exactly throwing the ball to where we think the market is right now, but we’re selling options to where we think the runner’s going to be, and the runner being a huge harvest in the United States come September and October. $13 level for soybeans, you’ve got to bet on something, and boy we don’t see that happening nowhere being near that price.
Michael : Yeah, that’s a pretty big cushion there to be wrong. The USDA itself has average on-farm price this year at $9.25, which is down here. So, that seems like a pretty safe bet. Let’s go ahead and move on to our next market right now, and that would be the cocoa market.
Michael : James, cocoa is another one of these markets that has had a pretty good run here over the last several weeks. What’s going on here with prices?
James : You know, similar to soybeans that we just talked about, one of the main producers of cocoa is the Ivory Coast. They are the largest producer in the world. They’ve had dry conditions this past year and, while those dry conditions certainly will reduce some of the pods yielding this year, we have what’s estimated to be 2% less cocoa being produced worldwide in 2018; however, a 2% drop in production has now caused and created a 30% increase in price. The balance doesn’t quite weigh out but we do have speculators buying, we have commercials buying on the idea that the Ivory Coast crop is going to be smaller, and it is certainly trading above what we think is going to be fair value in price later this year, probably be a couple hundred dollars a ton.
Michael : So, while this west African crop got hit somewhat, you’re saying global production is probably going to make up for a lot of that?
James : It is. A lot is always made at the Ivory Coast because they are the largest producer. Sometimes they have political turmoil. Sometimes they have the weather that’s not quite right. 2018 and 2019 there’s supposed to be a world production surplus for cocoa. So, all this discussion about the Ivory Coast being too dry is eventually going to take the back seat to the fact that the world does have enough cocoa. It’s not as tight in supply as a lot of people think. Rallying from $2,100-$2,200 a ton all the way up to $2,600 a ton, we think that the rally is overblown and probably, starting in August and September, we’re going to be quite a bit lower than where we are right now.
Michael : There’s the numbers you were talking about. That’s the latest from the ICO (International Cocoa Organization) and it’s showing only 2.3%, so that’s a pretty good rally for the bigger picture short fall.
James : It’s interesting. Commodities do have a reputation for overshooting on the downside and overshooting on the upside, and I think cocoa is a prime example of that here in 2018. Let’s say the cocoa production falls off 2.5-3%… we’ve had a nearly 30% increase in price and I think things will come into equilibrium the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year.
Michael : So, how do you recommend that option sellers at home take advantage of this?
James : You know, like we’re looking at on the chart here, $3,000 a ton, $3,100 a ton, yet a large leap above where we are right now, those options right now are fetching $500, $600, $700 each. We think those are a great sale. The market, needless to say, is still in an uptrend. It could still go slightly higher, but as harvest around the world starts taking place we will have harvest pressure again and a lot of the commercial and speculative buying will probably back off. We expect cocoa to probably be around $2,300-$2,400 later this year. If we’re short from $3,100 by selling those calls at $3,000 and higher, we think that’s going to be a really good way to position in this market.
Michael : Yeah, especially I see the speed this moved up… probably really goosed those option premiums up there. Maybe just like the market, they’re probably overpriced too now at this point.
James : Michael, it’s interesting. As you know, we follow 10 commodities. We don’t trade all 10 all the time. Cocoa is on our radar screen. It is one of the markets we follow extremely closely. When you have extremes in this market, cocoa is an absolute necessity to many households and many consumers around the world. Cocoa is not so much an exotic. It is a market that everyone is in touch with and the fact that we’ve had that large increase in a very short period of time, those options now open up to large premium and, we think, we’re going to be taking advantage of those in a very good way over the next 30 days.
Michael : I know for me chocolate is a necessity, so I know how those people feel. Okay, let’s go ahead and move into our Q&A session now and answer some of our questions from readers.
Michael : We’re back with out Q&A with the Trader section and, James, our first question this month comes from Orson Falck of Manchester, New Hampshire. Orson asks, “Dear James, I noticed when you talk about positioning an account, you say you keep a large cash reserve for your client accounts – fifty percent I believe. Are your published results based on the entire amount in the account, including the non-invested cash, or is it based on the amount you have invested?”
James : Orson, that’s a good question. If you’ve been following our materials over the last period of time, we follow 8-10 commodities. We rarely find opportunities in all of them at one time. Therefore, Orson, what we do, for example, we want to keep our margin levels at 50% or lower so that when we do have an opportunity in cocoa or soybeans or coffee positions that we don’t currently hold, we have dry powder in which to take advantage of them. Even when we are fully positioned and we are in 2 energies, 2 metals, 2 foods, and 2 grains, we still don’t raise our margin level to much more than 50%. There’s not a right way or a wrong way to do this. For us, that’s been the sweet spot for margin and leverage. I know how we did last year, I know how our returns were last year, and that was on less than 50% margin. Our client is never going to receive a margin call, we’re never getting shaken out of the market because one market or another market moved a certain level. We like the comfort of that. That allows us to make the yield curve as flat as possible so that we have smaller equity swings in people’s accounts that have invested with us. To answer your second question, the published results last year and years prior is on the total amount of money invested, not just the amount of money that is put up as margin. It is the 100% of exactly what the client invested.
Michael : Very good. I get that question a lot. People, especially stock investors, that aren’t used to how those margin fluctuations, they aren’t used to that big cash cushion, and knowing how to use leverage in commodities is really one of the biggest keys to being successful in it. This is how you use leverage properly, by keeping that cushion there.
James : Absolutely. There’s no reason to push this type of investment product. I know how we’ve done the last several years, being invested less than 50%, I know what the results were, and I don’t feel the need to really push that envelope. I like the ability to be nimble in the market. If we have something on that we need to add to, we have extra cushion to do that. If a market moves against us slightly it doesn’t really mess up a portfolio to any great extent, and that is why we utilize the 50% rule. We rarely are going to be invested above that.
Michael : Let’s go to our second question. Our second question this month comes from Harold W. Corson. Harold is writing in from Monterey, California. Harold asks, “Dear James, Thank you for your outstanding book that introduced me to selling options on commodities contracts. So far, I’ve sold options in oil, gold, and just started out in wheat. So far, so good. I’ve noticed some commodities don’t have much trading volume. How many commodities do you typically recommend trading in an option selling account?”
James : The four sectors that we follow are energies, metals, foods, and grains. Generally, we’re watching about 8 or 9. We are often in 5 or 6 of these commodities, as I mentioned in the last question. Rarely are we in all 8 or 9 at a time. I like being in all 4 sectors. We definitely want to be in the grain market, that is the main staples, of course, in the world. Precious metals, energies are extremely high-volume trades. Great liquidity there, very large premiums generally, and in the foods, as well. Basically, volume is going to be mostly in these 8 commodities. We don’t like straying outside of them. Liquidity and volume is very important. Basically, you want to look at the round strikes. For example, if you’re managing your own portfolio and you’re looking at crude oil you’re going to be looking at the $70 strike. Don’t look at the $71. In gold, don’t look at the $1,825 option, look at the $1,800 or the $1,900 option. Easy tricks like that to find the volume in the open interest will help you get in and out of the market if you choose to do this on your own.
Michael : Yeah, I mean, it’s a great point you make that, again, going back to stock traders and stock option sellers, they’ve got 2,000 or more stocks they can pick from. We’ve got 10-12 commodities we watched and maybe 6-8 you’re trading at any given time. So, there’s not a big universe there. You focus on the ones with the highest volume. Obviously, there are markets like lumber and aluminum or what have you that there’s really no volume there for option sellers, so you don’t have to bother with them.
James : Right. The 8 or 10 that we follow are just absolute staples of life both here in the United States and abroad. They have excellent volume and excellent open interest, for the most part, and that’s where you want to be. The exotics so much, you know, every once in a while there’s an opportunity there, but having liquidity for our clients is of the utmost importance and it should be for you, as well.
Michael : A couple resources if you are interested in learning more about selling options on commodities… obviously our book, The Complete Guide to Option Selling. You can get it on our website at a discount to where you’ll get it at the bookstore or Amazon. That link is www.optionsellers.com/book. If you’re not yet a subscriber to our newsletter, you can get a free copy by going to www.optionsellers.com/newsletter and get some of these trades we’ve been talking about and also more answers to option selling questions. That does it for our Q&A section for this month. We’re going to go ahead and move into our final section of the podcast.
Michael : Thank you for joining us for the April podcast. We hope you’ve enjoyed what you saw here today. Next month, we’re going into May and we have even more seasonals coming up. James, some of your favorite markets come into some major seasonals next month.
James : We will look at an active calendar starting in May, certainly. Soybeans and corn are probably the main feature. We’re selling options and call options during the next 60 days. Of course, cocoa is on our radar screen right now with 2% smaller production and an increase of 30% in the last several months. We’ve got a lot of activity going on in the next May, June, and July it really looks like.
Michael : We also have the energy markets coming into play, as well, so there’ll be a lot to talk about next month. We’ll probably continue talking about some of these great seasonals that happen during the spring and how you can take advantage of them here. For those of you that are interested in how the accounts work here or may be interested in becoming a client of OptionSellers.com, we do recommend you get our free Discovery kit. That’s an information pack for investors. It’ll tell you all about our accounts and how you can invest directly with OptionSellers.com in a managed option selling account. If you’d like to get that, the website link is www.optionsellers.com/Discovery . Speaking with Rosie, we do have all our April consultations booked, so there is no further availability for them; however, we do have consultations still available in May. If you’re interested in discussing an account with OptionSellers.com, you can call Rosemary at the main office. That’s 800-346-1949 or Internationally at 813-472-5760. Depending on availability, Rosemary can get you scheduled with a consultation. As a reminder, our minimum account level did go up this month. The minimum account level is now $500,000. James, thanks for all of your insights this month.
James : My pleasure, Michael. Always fun and very insightful to help our viewers and listeners out with this.
Michael : We’ll talk to you right here in 30 days. Thank you.