Options 1.0.3

Has your stop ever been jumped over?

Yes?

Did it make you angry?

Yes?

It might make you angrier to know that Mrs. Market couldn’t care less about you on a personal level. It’s you who has to adapt, not Mrs. Market.

So, next time you see Mrs. Market moving many points in one shot, you have a choice. Either you can choose to take the chance of having your stop jumped over in the hope of huge rewards, or you can use options as an instrument to trade.

In general, a stop getting jumped over is a non-issue with options, because you are pre-defining your maximum loss here. Your option-premium is the maximum loss you will incur on the trade. Once you’ve mentally aligned yourself with this potential maximum loss, you are actually then asking Mrs. Market to do all the jumping she wishes to do. It just doesn’t bother you anymore. You travel, do other stuff, and then take a sneak-peak at your position.

Once your position starts making money, you might decide to fine-tune your trade-management after achieving your target. If you then make sure that your trailing stop is wide-gapped, you can still relax and do other stuff. Maybe one time out of twenty, Mrs. Market will jump even your wide-gapped trailing stop. Even if she does, you are well in the money, and you do not forget to install a new stop. Also, a little while ago, you were mentally prepared to forgo your whole option-premium, so giving back a part of your profits seems a piece of cake to you.

Welcome to the world of options. We have plunged right in. I believe that the best way to learn something is to plunge right in. Gone are the days of bookish learning.

The options market in India is just about coming into its own. At any given time, there will be at least 20 scrips on the National Stock Exchange showing very high options volume for long trades, and at least 10 scrips showing heavy volume for short trades. Bottomline: you can get into a liquid trade on either side, anytime you want. The number of scrips showing this kind of liquidity is picking up. We are still very, very far away from the mature options market in the US. What can be said is that the Indian options market will offer you liquid trades, anytime, both on the long and the short side. Frankly, that’s all one needs.

On the flip side, options on commodities have yet to come to India. Also, only the current month options are adequately liquid in India. Regarding options, the Indian market is getting there. Well, as long as you get a liquid trade anytime you want, who cares if we’re not as mature as the US options market? I don’t.

Over the last few months, options have been the instruments of choice, with unfathomable volatility abounding. I was dying to have a go, but have been caught up in so much other distracting stuff, that I’ve not traded for two months now. I like sticking to my trading rules. One of them is to not trade if I’m distracted. I really stick to this one.

Those who did trade the options market over this period would have done exceptionally well, because ideal conditions persisted. Big and quick moves, like a see-saw. The scenario would look like this: Long options give quick profits, short options simultaneously becoming very cheap, especially the out of the money ones. One sells the now expensive long options (which were picked up cheap), and stocks up on the now cheap out of the money short options. The market turns around and leaps to the downside, giving quick and large profits on the short options. One sells the short options and picks up now cheap out of the money long options, again. The repeat trades according to this pattern can continue till they stop working. When they stop working, what have you lost? Just your premium on some out of the money options.

Wish I’d had the frame of mind to trade options over the last two months. But then, one can’t have everything!

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The Short-Term History of Idealism

1989, Konstanz, Germany.

I’m quietly eating a Nutella sandwich in the commom-room of our student-hostel. There’s a commotion near the TV area. The Berlin Wall is falling. A few students rush to pack their bags. They are off to Berlin. The one’s not going, including me, request them to bring back a few extra pieces of the Wall. That’s one Nutella sandwich I’ll never forget in my life.

Slowly, communist infrastructure in the Soviet Union starts to fall apart too. With the exception of a few strongholds, most of it is gone today.

The most repeated pro-communism argument I have heard after the fall of the Wall is this: Communism failed (wherever it failed) because it was too idealistic for mankind. So, according to this argument, mankind could not live up to the ideals of communism. All people were equal, but some were more equal than others, to analogically quote George Orwell.

Maybe, maybe.

And here is mankind again, trying to be idealistic. The epicentre of this idealism is, well, Germany. Its leaders, including the Pope, are asking its citizens to dig into their pockets and support the Euro against breakdown, come what may.

No other European nation is financially capable of bailing out the Euro. France’s economic problems are visible. It is now up to Germany. The question that remains is: IS THIS FAIR to the German citizens, who will have to take on pressurizing austerities for the follies of others to achieve this idealistic goal?

Well, what’s fair in life and the History of the world? Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. Is the existence of the Euro “greater good”?

There exist discrepancies between the Euro nations regarding work-attitude and work-ethics. Europe is NOT one nation with one government. We are looking at diverse nations with diverse needs. Some hate to work overall. One likes its retirement age to be 57. The call to behave like one nation to tackle bankruptcy is the imposition of an artificial existence. History has shown mankind, that artificial existences tend not to last.

Left to sink or swim, people much rather decide to swim. Although a sovereign default will impose upon the concerned nations huge austerities in the short-term, they will opt to stay afloat rather than sink. Long-term work ethics will change. Attitudes will change.

Never-ending bailouts will tend not to affect faulty or wanting work-attitudes. That’s the danger here, a repeat loop mechanism, till the bulk of Germany’s resources are drained in supporting the Euro. That’s what we are looking at. First there’s 370 billion Euros for Greece to clear. The figures for Spain, Portugal and Italy are still unclear to the common-man. Figures are being revealed one by one in the media, from mini-bailout to mini-bailout. How long can this go on? Is Germany some kind of holy grail with a never-ending supply of funds and resources?

The questions Germany and its leaders need to address are these: Is the short-term mayhem after a possible Euro collapse the worst-case scenario for Germany’s industry and people? Or is it the slow, long drawn sucking out of its hard-earned life-time earnings and resources, drop by drop, possibly to the last few drops.

Only after answering these two questions will German leaders be ready to vote for or against the Euro in parliament.

Jumping Jackstops

Recently, Mr. Cool and Mr. System Addict decide to get into a trade.

Yeah, surprise surprise, Mr. Cool is liquid again!

They’ve decided to trade Gold, and are pretty much in the money already. Their trades have come good first up. Both are leveraged 25:1, which is common with Gold derivatives. Mr. Addict has bet 5% of his networth on the trade, and Mr. Cool, true to his name, has matched Mr. Addict’s amount.

Gold prices jump, and Mr. Addict’s target is hit. He exits without thinking twice, and is pretty pleased upon doubling his trade amount within a week. He pickles 90% of the booty in fixed income schemes, and is planning a holiday for his girl-friend with the remaining amount. Instead of trading further, he decides to recuperate for a while.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cool rubs his hands in glee as the price of Gold shoots up further. His notional-profits now far exceed the actually booked profits of Mr. Addict. When’s he planning to exit? Not soon. He wants to make a killing, and once and for all prove to Mr. Addict and to the world, that he rules. He wants to bury Mr. Addict’s trade results below the mountain of his own king-sized profits. Gold soars further.

Mr Cool has trebled his money, and is still not booking any profits. He picks up his cell to call Mr. Addict. Wants to rub it in, you know.

Mr. Addict puts down his daiquiri by the poolside in his hotel in Ibiza. His girl-friend has at last started admiring him. They’ve been swimming all morning. “All right, all right, he’ll take this one call. Oh, it’s Mr. Cool, wonder what he’s up to?” Mr. Addict is one of the few people in the world who are able to switch off. He’s totally forgotten about Gold and his winning trade, and is really enjoying his holiday.

Mr. Cool tries to rub it in, but receives some unperturbed advice from the other end of the line. He’s being asked to be satisfied and to book profits right now. Of course he’s not going to do that. All right, fine, if he wants to play it by “let’s see how high this can go”, he needs to have a wide-gapped trailing stop in place, says Mr. Addict. Of course he’s got a wide-gapped trailing stop in place, says Mr. Cool. Mr. Addict wishes him luck, cuts the call, and forgets about the existence of Mr. Cool, dozing off into a well-deserved snooze.

As Gold moves higher, Cool starts to think about that wide-gapped trailing stop. Let alone having one in place, he doesn’t even know what it means. A quick call to the broker follows. The broker is ordered to install a trailing stop into Mr. Cool’s trade. Since Cool doesn’t know what “wide-gapped” means, he forgets to mention it. The broker doesn’t like Cool’s attitude and his proud tone. He installs a narrow-gapped trailing stop.

Circumstances change, and Gold starts to drop. It’s making big moves on the downside, falling a few percentage points in one shot. Cool’s narrow-gapped trailing stop gets fully jumped over; it doesn’t get a chance to become activated in the first place, because it is narrow-gapped and not wide-gapped. The price of the underlying just leaps over the narrow gap between trigger price and limit price. Happens. Cool does not install a new stop. Stupid.

Next morning, Cool’s jaw drops when he sees Gold down 15% overnight. On a 25:1 leverage, he’s just about to lose his margin. The phone rings. It’s the margin call. Cool panics. He answers the margin call. His next call is to Mr. Addict, asking what he should do. Mr. Addict is shocked to learn that Cool has answered the margin call. He asks him to cut the trade immediately.

Cool’s gone numb. Gold drops another 4%. Phone rings. Second margin call. Cool doesn’t have the money to answer it. In fact , he didn’t have the money to answer the first one. In the broker’s next statement, that amount will show up as a debit, growing at the rate of 18% per annum.

Mr. Cool’s not liquid anymore. Actually, he’s broke. No, worse that that. He’s in debt. Greed got him.

A Fall to Remember (Part 2)

Part 1 was when Silver fell almost 20 $ an ounce within a week. Like, 40%. Swoosh. Remember? Happened very recently.

And now, Gold does a Silver, and falls 20 % in a few days. These are the signs of the times. “Quick volatility” is the new “rangebound move”. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The wrong question here is “What’s a good entry level in general?” Why is this question wrong?

When something new becomes the norm, there is too little precedence to adhere to. It becomes dangerous to use entry rules which were established using older conditions as a standard.

I believe there is one way to go here. The correct question for me, were I seeking entry into Gold or Silver, would be “Is this entry level good enough FOR ME?” or perhaps “What’s a good enough entry level FOR ME?”

Let’s define “good” for ourselves. Here, “good” is a level at which entry doesn’t bother YOU. It doesn’t bother you, because you are comfortable with the level and with the amount you are entering. You don’t need this sum for a while. It is a small percentage of what you’ve got pickled in debt, yielding very decent returns. If the underlying slides further after your entry, your “good” level of entry still remains “good” till it starts bothering you. You can widen the gap between “not-bothering” and “bothering” by going ahead with a small entry at your “good” level, and postponing further entry for an “even better” level which might or might not come.

If the”even better” level arrives, you go ahead as planned, and enter with a little more. If, however, your “good” level was the bottom, and prices zoom after that, you stick to your plan and do not enter after that. This would be an investment entry strategy, which sigularly looks for a margin of safety. Entry is all-important while investing, as opposed to when one is trading (while trading, trade-management and exit are more important than entry).

Trading entry strategies are totally different. Here, one looks to latch on after the bottom is made and the underlying is on the rise. Small entries can be made as each resistance is broken. It’s called pyramiding. Trading strategies are mostly the complete opposite of investing strategies. Please DO NOT mix the two.

Sort yourself out. What do you want to do? Do you want to invest in Gold and Silver, or do you want to trade in them? ANSWER this question for yourself. Once you have the answer, formulate your strategy accordingly. U – good level – how much here? U – even better level – how much there? U – no more entry – after which level?

Life is so much simpler when one has sorted oneself out and then treads the path.

Putting it all Together – The View from the Mountain-Top

Remember getting into the driver’s seat for the first time?

It all seemed so difficult. You got the brake-clutch-accelerator coordination all wrong. Proper gear changes were a far cry. There was no question of looking into the rear-view or the side-view mirrors, since you were looking straight. And the shoulder-glance – just forget about it, you said to the instructor.

Slowly, it all came together, perhaps after a 1,50,000 km behind the wheel. Now, driving is a piece of cake. It’s all there in your reflexes. It’s as if the car is connected to your brain, and is an extension of your limbs.

It took time and effort, didn’t it? And why would it be any different in the markets?

Flash-back to 1988 – high school – our Chemistry teacher Frau Boetticher used to teach us to strive for the “Ueberblick”. Roughly and applicably translated, this analogical German word means “the view from the mountain-top”. In Street lingo, the Ueberblick is about life in the Zone. Frau Boetticher used to push us to get into the Zone. She knew that then, our reflexes would take over. She passed away before our A-levels, after a very fulfilling and successful lifetime of teaching. She was the best teacher to ever have taught me.

When your reflexes make you enter a market, or exit it, or decide on the level of a stop, or a target etc. etc., you’ve managed to put it all together. Doesn’t happen overnight, though. The ball-park figure of 1,50,000 km behind the wheel changes to roughly 7 years of market experience, before one can expect to put it all together on the Street.

Where does that leave you?

As a thumb rule, money-levels at stake in the first 7 years on the Street need to be low. When you’re getting the hang of things, you just don’t bet the farm. That’s common sense, a rare commodity, so I’m underlining it for you.

On the Street, you only learn from mistakes. They are your teachers, and they prepare you to deal with Mrs. Market. No books, or professors or college will make you fit enough to tackle Mrs. Market, only mistakes will. Make mistakes in your first seven years on the Street – make big mistakes. Learn from them. Don’t make them again. Get the big blunders out of the way while the stakes are small. Round up your learning before the stakes get big.

Once your reflexes all come together, you can start risking larger sums of money, not before. Also, in today’s neon age, it’s difficult to stay in the Zone for prolonged periods of time. Something or the other manages to distract us out of the Zone, whether it is internal health or external affairs. When you feel you’re out of the Zone, just cut back your position-size. When you feel you’re back in, you can scale up your position-size again.

It’s as simple as that. Useful ideas have one characteristic in common – they are simple.

Blowing up Big

Derivatives are to be traded with stops. Period.

Stops allow you to get out when the loss is small.

Common sense?

Apparently not.

Who has common sense these days?

Also, the human being has embraced leverage as if it were like taking the daily shower. Bankers and high-profile brokers have free flowing and uncontrolled access to humongous amounts of leverage.

Apart from that, the human being is greedy. There’s nothing as tempting as making quick and big bucks.

Combine humongous amounts of leverage with large amounts of greed and brew this mix together with lack of common sense. That’s the recipe for blowing up big.

Every now and then, a banker or a high-profile broker blows up big, and in the process, at times, brings down the brokerage or the bank in question. In the current case at hand, UBS won’t be going bust, but its credibility has taken a sizable hit.

Bankers are to finance what doctors are to medicine. Where doctors manage physical and perhaps mental health, bankers are supposed to manage financial health. Bankers are taught how to manage risk. Something’s going wrong. Either the teaching is faulty, or the world’s banking systems are faulty. I think both are faulty. There exists a huge lack of awareness about the definition of risk, let alone its management.

Trained professionals lose respect when one of them blows up big. Such an event brings dark disrepute to the whole industry. Most or all of the good work to restore faith in the banking industry thus gets nullified to zilch.

A doctor or an engineer is expected to adhere to basics. I mean, the basics must be guaranteed before one allows a surgeon to perform surgery upon oneself. A surgeon must wash hands, and not leave surgical instruments in the body before stitching up. Similarly, an construction engineer must guarantee the water-tightness or perfection of a foundation before proceeding further with the project.

Similarly, a banker who trades is expected to apply stops. He or she is expected to manage risk by the implementation of position-sizing and by controlling levels of leverage and greed. Responsibility towards society must reflect in his or her actions. A banker needs to realize that he or she is a role model.

All this doesn’t seem to be happening, because every few years, someone from the financial industry blows up big, causing havoc and collateral damage.

Where does that leave you?

I believe that should make your position very clear. You need to manage your assets ON YOUR OWN. Getting a banker into the picture to manage them for you exposes your assets to additional and unnecessary stress cum risk.

In today’s day and age, the face of the financial industry has changed. If you want to manage your own assets, nothing can stop you. There exist wide-spread systems to manage your assets, right from your laptop. All you need to do is plunge in and put in about one hour a day to study this area. Then, with time, you can create your own management network, fully on your laptop.

Your assets are yours. You are extra careful with them. You minimize their risk. That’s an automatic given. Not the case when a third party manages them for you. Commissions and kick-backs blind the third party. Your interests become secondary. Second- or third-rate investments are proposed and implemented, because of your lack of interest, or lack of time, or both.

Do you really want all that? No, right?

So come one, take the plunge. Manage your stuff on your own. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, and it will definitely teach you a lot, simultaneously building up confidence inside of you. Go ahead, you can do it.

The Power of Compounding

At first, the power of compounding is a slow and steady trickle. Then, it starts gathering momentum. Finally, after a long time, it reaches epic proportions.

If you make the power of compounding work for you from as early an age as possible, you could well achieve financial freedom in your early- to mid- 40s. How does that sound?

Let’s say that your investment gives you a steady 8% per annum compounded. In 25 years, it us up almost 7 fold.

If the investment is giving 12% per annum compounded, in 25 years it will be up 17 fold.

15% per annum compounded – will be up almost 33 fold in 25 years.

20% per annum compounded – 95 fold.

27% (Warren Buffett’s average lifetime return per annum compounded, calculated some years before he donated his fortune to charity) – almost 394 fold.

42% (Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s average lifetime return per annum compounded, that’s what they say) – 6415 fold.

What do you say to that? Don’t the figures speak for themselves and prove to you the power of compounding? Wouldn’t you like to start harnessing this power from like right now?

Let’s do another exercise. We are now looking at an investment term of 30 years. Other conditions remain the same.

An investment yielding 8% per annum compounded, in 30 years, will be up 10 fold, or a 1000%.

If the investment is giving 12% per annum compounded, in 30 years it will be up almost 30 fold.

15% per annum compounded – will be up 66 fold in 30 years.

20% per annum compounded – up 237 fold in 30 years.

27% – 1300 fold.

42% – 37038 fold.

Don’t the figures just blow you away? (They are so startling, that I have to ask myself if I’ve made some mathematical error. Why don’t you check these figures for me and inform me if there is an error).

The harnessing of this power of compounding is primarily the domain of the long-term investor. Nevertheless, the prudent trader uses it too. Such a trader ties up vast sums of money in fixed income investments for long periods of time, and then just trades on part of the yielded income, using the rest to live well and reinvesting what is still left.

It’s really time you start making use of the power of compounding. If not for yourself, then at least harness it for the futures of your children.