72 points by ericliuche a year ago
From any options theory class you'll learn that you can create any complex position you want with options. If you want to synthetically create a future just buy a put and call at the same strike price, etc.
And all of this is really interesting except this is a terrible idea to open up to recreational traders. I say traders because when the average person thinks of options, they see it as a way to make leveraged bets and get rich quick. Likewise, institutions largely use derivatives (options, swaps, swaptions, etc.) to hedge their positions. The option, for an institution, is a hedging instrument, not a speculative instrument.
Here's the real reason this won't end well for most recreational traders - you're going to get scalped by the desk traders and algos at the prop shops for any illiquid options, and hit by the broader universe of trading algos out of the funds for any liquid options. You won't be able to see the order book and wouldn't know how to trade it even if you could see it. (@SIG @JaneStreet @DRW chime in)
But if you see this as a fun way to gamble knowing that the house (the Street) has a sizable built-in advantage, be my guest.
I agree with the spirit of your comment. But this:
> The option, for an institution, is a hedging instrument, not a speculative instrument.
is not entirely correct. It's not at all uncommon for institutional capital to use options for directional leverage. Options are sophisticated derivatives for increasing upside, not just limiting downside.
Fair point. Looked back in my notes and can't find a percentile breakdown of the use of options in markets. For the derivatives markets as a whole less than 7% are even options.
Arguably, though, the ability to create straddles (and other multi-legged options) enables "recreational" traders to _lower_ their risk trading options. So while I agree with you in general, this particular change is specifically enabling smarter behavior.
Minor nitpick: buy a call and sell a put to make a synthetic forward position
If one had access to the deep order book of some security, how would one start learning how to trade it?
This is literally what trading firms try to do. If you want to know more, ask a trader.
“Multi-leg options strategies have been one of the most frequently requested features by options investors on Robinhood. With multi-leg, you can trade Level 3 strategies such as iron condors, straddles, strangles, call and put debit spreads, and call and put credit spreads more efficiently, invest at a lower risk, and with less capital requirements. ”
I’ve never traded options. Have any non-traders here effectively used any of the above mentioned strategies? If so, how do you learn to use these techniques?
Multi leg options sound weird on paper but aren't too hard to understand when explained properly.
An option is a bet on the future price of a stock. If you think that Stock XYZ will go from $15 today to $20 next month, you can buy an option that will reflect your prediction.
A multi-leg option allows you to bet on the "magnitude" of a stock's price change, rather than the "direction".
For example: "Tesla reports earnings next month. They're either gonna be REALLY good, or REALLY bad. So let me buy a multi-leg option that predicts a 10% price jump either up or down". You'll make money whether Tesla goes up 10% or down 10%. You'll lose a ton of money if Tesla remains roughly the same price.
> A multi-leg option allows you to bet on the "magnitude" of a stock's price change, rather than the "direction".
Or simply define risk/reward (spreads and the like). That's especially useful if you want to sell premium and not risk getting killed.
Actually, it doesn't work like that.
If a stock is volatile, as TSLA is, the out of money (OTM) options will take that into consideration and the premium for it will be very very high.
A OTM straddle options trade probably a very bad choice. Like you said, if TSLA don't make a big move, you will lose. Even if they do make a big move, you will still lose because you are opening a trade on both directions.
My personal opinion on options is this:
1. Find stocks that move
2. Buy in the motion options
3. Expiration at least 6 weeks away, prefer to be longer. If price move into your target, great, take profit early.
I mean, sure, I agree. I was merely describing a type of multi leg option.
The premium on a 10% move option wouldn't be as high as you think. There's a lot of risk/reward here.
You'll pay a really high premium if your prediction is 'i think it will go up 2% in the next 9 months" :)
That's just one approach. There's no right or wrong answer.
You can also find stocks that you don't think will move at all, or that will only trade within a narrow channel and design calendar trades around it.
I suspect you meant to type "2. Buy in the money options"
Given the context, wouldn't 'out of the money' options make more sense? You win big if the price goes into the money.
The problem is that the earnings report being bad doesn't mean "stock goes down" or that it will fall 10% or anything, really. If your exact scenario doesn't play out, you're losing money on those options. Multi-leg setups aren't going to help you much, either. It's bullshit, don't do this.
Stocks are manipulated, okay? It's very subtle, but it's a fleecing ceremony. For example, I once bought calls on DIS because my thesis was that the new Force Awakens film would make them a lot of money (which it did). However, ESPN totally shit the bed and cost DIS dearly and thank brought the stock down. Calls didn't do ITM, fucked that up big time.
It's all a big fucking game is all it is and the individual investor is the sheep to be sheared no matter what. It is the law of the universe--you are the sheep getting sheared always and forever. Don't fucking do this stuff. If you're not a securities trader with a real hunting license, don't go near this shit. They will front run on the buy and the sell side, fees and taxes will eat up any profits you make. You are picking up pennies in front of a steamroller.
My layman's take on this: If you really do think you can make money at this, you'd be silly to waste your time mucking about with a retail options platform. Go get a job as a trader instead.
You'll have to go through quite a bit of training and apprenticeship and suchlike first. That's a good thing. It will get you access to higher quality information than is available as an outsider (those in the know don't dilute the earning power of their best knowledge by just giving it away). Possibly even better yet, you'll be getting paid to learn it instead of expending your own resources and free time.
Once that's done and you're set loose as a full-fledged professional trader, you'll quickly have a pretty enormous amount of capital to work with. You'll only get to take home a small cut of what you're able to earn with that money, but the total size of that cut is still going to dwarf what you can make just playing with your own money.
That is just not true. One of your primary advantages as a retail trader is that your positions (being much smaller) don't move the market anywhere near as much as if you're a big institutional investor. So you can pursue strategies that are off limits to institutional investors. Options on small cap companies tend to be illiquid and traded in small quantities, so they often won't be touched by big money. This presents an opportunity for retail investors.
It's true that being small is an advantage, but there's something else to consider:
Long-term investing is a positive sum game--companies grow and return money to investors, so most investors make money over time. Short-term trading is not like this, it's zero sum. Every quick profit comes at someone else's expense. As they say in poker, if you don't know who the fool at the table is...
...it's probably the guy trading on an app he downloaded 5 minutes ago, whose brokerage doesn't even let him use limit orders.
Well, sometimes it's going to be that little guy, but not always. You can also, for example, try to skim off the moves of big institutional players, whose activity frequently moves prices, by trying to get in there and be the one who reaps the benefit of that price shift. The ultimate seller maybe gets a little bit less than they might have, and the ultimate buyer maybe pays a little bit less, and there's maybe a small gap in between those prices that reflects the trader's take.
I do agree that there can be nooks and crannies with ample room for small players on the equity options market. I'm just not convinced that someone who thinks they have the skills (and guts) to reap a reliable reward in that space should be going straight to Robinhood without at least submitting an application to Citadel first.
Can one just go out and get a job as a trader, with no related (formal) education, experience, contacts, etc?
Multi-leg option strategies are designed to constrain the total risk exposure and possible profit of a combination of trades.
One of the simplest example is to sell a call at $X and purchase one at $X+N. The purchased call is insurance against being on the hook for an unknown rise in the prices of security (which would then be exercised against your sold call). The "bet" in this case is that the rise in the price of the stock during the period of the spread is not going to rise above $X by more than the price difference of the two options.
All the rest of the fancy names are combinations of buying or selling these types of combinations. The names come a combination of the desired result (ex: "strangle") or the shape of the profit graph (ex: "condor").
Do a lot of reading before dipping your toes into options trading. On the one hand it's arguably less risky than regular equities as you "know" what you're risking. On the other hand it's very easy to get wiped out as well. Something as stupid as not closing your our spreads before expiration can destroy your account if they get exercised.
Honestly these tools remind me of all the “systems” gamblers are constantly coming up with, thinking they can beat the casino in the long term. Complete with the goofy names and cottage industry of books, experts and courses teaching you the system.
There is a cottage industry of people selling trainings and courses for trading options. As you'd expect, this tends to attract many of the same people as the older day trading training industry. If you visit /r/options or /r/algotrading you'll see plenty of this spam in action. Instead of learning options theory from first principles, these courses focus on rote memorization of common patterns (e.g. "what is an iron condor"). Naturally the market is efficient enough that such a brittle understanding of derivatives and market dynamics is not consistently profitable.
The people in the know (those who actually beat the market) don't teach other people how to trade, because giving away information is strictly less profitable than trading on it yourself (or on behalf of your firm). They also very rarely trade their own capital, and typically work within funds. This sets up a dynamic where it's extraordinarily difficult to learn the "proper" principles of derivatives trading in a sound framework of market microstructure unless you join a firm, because all public information on the subject is almost definitionally misleading. The next best thing is to learn from established textbooks, but surprise, very few people want to read three - five textbooks with advanced mathematics instead of watching a few webinars on "the greeks."
It's just different ways of describing risk/reward. Unlike a casino you can take either side of the contract.
It’s more like poker in the casino. There are at least three sides: player A (you), player B (your counterparty), and the casino (Wall St.). It’s zero sum between A and B, but the casino always takes their cut. +EV for the casino means -EV for the players on average
Yeah, I always visualize large ask/bid spreads as the "rake".
How can you "wipe out" your account if you don't close a spread? AFAIK Robinhood does not allow for naked calls/puts or selling strangles without a collateral upfront.
If you don't close a spread prior to it expiring then it's possible for a execution of the option by the counter party. In that situation you can be forced to either provide the securities (if you sold calls) or forced to buy the stock (if you sold puts). As it happens at the expiration of the option you no longer have the option to exercise the other half of your spread.
As the margin required for a spread is substantially less than the full price of the security (which is the whole point of the spread), you can end up in a situation where you're forced to buy more stock than the total liquidation value of your portfolio. Plus this happens at the close on a Friday (as that's when option expiration happens) so you can't liquidate the stock until Monday morning and you're at the mercy of the opening price. If the quantity of options sold is large enough and the price moves against you far enough, you can get completely wiped out.
It's your responsibility to close out your spreads prior to close. FYI, this situation can happen even if they're out of the money as the counter party to the worthless option could still choose to exercise it.
Could you give me a concrete example?
To me, it sounds like you are describing a naked short call, or a short put.
It is not a spread. By definition, spreads have limited risk, and limited rewards.
The four main types of spreads. Take a look at the PNL diagrams. It is limited risk.
Read this article: http://tastytradenetwork.squarespace.com/tt/blog/options-ass...
The situation I’m describing is when the sold option expires in the money but the purchased cover does not. It won’t automatically execute and you’re left with essentially a naked short.
TC2000 has a really great visual representation of various option payoffs; remembering their names is next to impossible for me. The only thing it's missing are futures and a good depth of market view like NinjaTrader.
Yep! Mainly call/put spreads but also iron condors.
The basic idea of options is that you think the price is going to be somewhere within a certain period of time and you place a bet saying so. If you bet right, you make money, if you bet wrong, you lose it.
The different strategies give you different ways of targeting prices. For example a call debit spread is essentially "I think the price will be below $X in Y days", an Iron Condor is "I think the price will be between $X and $Y in Z days" and a straddle is "I think the price will move by $X in either direction in Y days".
The different strategies also have different profit/loss curves. For example selling a call option has unlimited loss potential (the stock could theoretically soar 1000x before the option expires) while selling a call spread has defined loss potential.
The process for me is basically find somewhere where the option is typically priced higher than it's worth and sell spreads. Sometimes this is year round, sometimes around earnings.
99% of people who make consistent money trading options have little to no view of the price of the underlying.
It's a serious pet peeve of mine when people use arbitrary statistics instead of just saying "most" or "almost all." What's the point of quantifying something if it's made up?
That said...yes, most profitable options trading (especially on intraday time resolutions) is focused on volatility and pricing inefficiency, not forecasting the directional movement of the underlying price.
Read Option Pricing and Volatility, by Sheldon Natenburg. This is the bible for option trading. As a former member of the now defunct AMEX, every trader from here to Chicago is familiar with this book.
Options greatly expand the universe of possibilities when it comes to investing in markets. You can make money if a stock goes up, if it goes down, and even if it doesn't go anywhere at all.
Options can be used to increase leverage and they can also be used to decrease risk.
You can use options to change the risk / reward profile in non-linear ways. Meaning you can do things like, I'll sacrifice a little bit of my upside to reduce the risk on the downside (and vice versa).
You can also design positions such that if the stock goes up a little bit I make money much easier but if it goes up a lot I don't get as big of a win.
One of the best books on the subject I know of is "Option Investing as a Strategic Investment". It is sufficiently technical and yet approachable as well. It goes from introductory basic theory to complex multi-legged strategies.
Me personally I don't touch the market at all any more and choose to invest in real estate. I can't speak to the current option trading environment. I used to trade options in the past and didn't see anything significant from it. No catastrophic loses, no big wins. I don't know what the landscape looks like now with more algo type trading.
Books. This is definitely an area where book study is important. You must learn the “Greeks” as most of the different strategies are tradeoffs among those variables. It isn’t hard if you remember your multivariate calculus.
The biggest issue I had back when I played is commission. If this is commission free, that’s a whole new ballgame.
Though if we are talking multi-leg options, bid/ask spreads are likely significant too.
Investopedia has good resources for understanding the various types of options spreads. They have nice cartoon graphs that illustrate what happens in each one. For example, the page on the iron condor or the straddle.
Check out the Options Clearing Corporation https://www.theocc.com/education/options/
these are for the advanced gamblers on the market, once you get bored of regular equities trading (short and long), and basic put and call options. they’re names for various combinations of the aforementioned basic trades.
they don’t actually give you a real advantage, because that only comes from (insider) information. rather, they’re designed to increase your investment/involvement and prolong the gambling time (and enjoyment possibly).
As I get older, the more I agree with this sentiment. Before the stock market, businesses made money for the owners. Stocks allowed anyone to share ownership of businesses, who thereby benefited from the influx of capital. An investor could put his money away with long term gains if the company made money. And by diversifying he could shield himself from the ones that didn't.
What tangible value do options actually bring anyone besides gambling? Oh they allow shareholders to rent out their shares, or allow you to structure sales before/after the fiscal year? Big deal.
All it does is create a market for pseudo science middle men/rent seekers who sell "vehicles" that many use to try to get rich quick.
All this does is divert funds from markets that are actually tied to something useful like legitimate businesses that sell products or services
agreed, the legitimate uses of these financial tools (as you noted) are dwarfed by the actions of rent seekers.
let's support creators (of all stripes) over rent seekers. there's no need to reward a person for simple ownership over some capital or good. rewards should go to those who wield them effectively by making something useful out of it. it's trickier to do than it sounds, but absolutely worth the effort.
Also forgot the biggest reason: "they allow you to buy and sell volatility".
Ok, but volatility isn't an asset. So this must be the original "synthetic asset", long before all the other exotics came on the scene.
On one hand, why should I care what other people do with their money. But what worries me is that with normal markets, assets have intrinsic value: corn, oil, securities. They're all things people want. The market can always assume this is true, but with synthetic "assets" like trading volatility, it's not true and that creates a market built on a false pretense.
you have a few ways:
* a paper trading account, where you can experiment with trading strategies without risking real money
* reading about the strategies and their payoff scheme, eg: http://www.theoptionsguide.com/long-straddle.aspx
Thanks -- Is there some software (mostly free) where I can model these strategies and understand the payoffs, etc?
http://www.optionsprofitcalculator.com/ seems to be kind of popular, but it's not the most intuitive to use. I think of this as something that many brokerages offer...
This is a pretty clean list of all the common strategies along with charts showing their P/L:
My recommendation is to read, read, read and build out the models yourself in the language or application of your choice (Python is pretty easy, Excel is even easier to start with).
Start by drawing the simplest payoff diagrams you can, then layer various additional positions to build up strategies until you can recall the payoffs of your combined position with your eyes closed.
There are plenty of options models available online in various formats, but by taking the time to build it yourself you will have a much deeper understanding of the structure of the positions and you will be able to extend the model to fit your needs as you move beyond simple strategy payoffs.
Source: I was a TA for a graduate finance class for 3 years
I personally liked the Bible of Options Strategies that I read 10 years ago.
I loved trading butterflies on Thursday-Friday. Butterflies are a form of debit spread.
> I’ve never traded options.
Then please stay away from multi leg options stuff because it gets even more complicated.
Agreed. Learn the basics first before doing anything advanced. At a minimum, know what trading "naked" means and don't do it unless you REALLY know what you are doing.
Learn by doing. what could go wrong?
Its the best way. What happens is that you lose money. This is the best way to enjoy your privilege in society, capital loss deductions aren't bad.
Better yet, if you want to REALLY amplify your socioeconomic privilege, you can turn capital losses into Net Operating Losses and deduct the entire thing as an income expense. Do this by forming an LLC and sending a Section 475 election to the IRS before April. This is specific for traders doing short term strategies in the equity and equity options market.
You will then lose your money experimenting with options and the government will pay you back, from taxes you sent them in prior years, current and future years.
I don't understand how brokers offer options trading without also offering an options analytics package (vol, greeks, etc.) or are people using some third party service and just coming to robinhood for execution? seems like its just leading the lambs to the slaughter...
Robinhood is the dumbest of dumb retail money. I suspect that a significant number of options users on there treat it more like gambling (OTM weeklies) than investing.
"brokers" generally don't. Are there any other than Robinhood? I've tried quite a few and all have greeks, volatility etc.
It does provide the volume and greeks:
> Seems like its just leading the lambs to the slaughter...
Well why do you think they aren't charging commissions?
You are exactly right. The electronic options exchanges facilitate market makers paying brokers for order flow.
The broker can send the order to the exchange with a field denoting their preferred market maker. In the absence of that field being populated, orders are allocated either by size (% of the best bid) or by time (who established the best bid first).
If that field is populated and the preferred market maker is on the best bid or best offer, he receives an outsized allocation of the order. The market maker keeps track of the number of contracts it has traded with that broker where the field was set and pays the broker whatever fee they've contractually agreed upon multiplied by the number of contracts.
The market maker can afford to do this because retail order flow is highly profitable to trade against (it's "dumb money"). In fact when a market maker runs a look back analysis on the profitability of his trading, he will see that his trading with other market makers and institutional orders results in almost no profit, whereas the retail flow is highly profitable.
This "payment for order flow" (PFOF) is not shared with the customer. So even if the customer pays no fee to trade, Robinhood can still earn a profit.
Source: Was an electronic options trader
> Source: Was an electronic options trader
So did you make your millions and retire to an island, or did the options trading not work out?
Why is retail flow specifically profitable? Nearly entirely market orders? Something else?
Option strategies can actually make a lot of sense in many cases. Ex, a zero cost collar lets you lock the value of a stock position in a narrow band in case you are worried about the market but don't want to sell of right now.
A good source of info is:
Good descriptions and visual tools for building and pricing strategies.
If you like that you can sign up for early access to more advanced tools at:
Happy to discuss other uses or applications of options, just drop me a message.
It’s weird to me that they’ve prioritized these complicated options strategies before shipping a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP).
Not weird when you realize what the target market is, which is basically those that want to get a little bit of "gamble" on. I'm sure their valuation is also closely tied to the volume of trades they provide, so they want people to be trading as much as possible on their accounts. A DRIP would just take away liquidity for amateur traders. They want people to see money in their account and trade with it, the DRIP would keep that money out of their accounts.
While I obviously think Robinhood is amazing for disrupting an industry with pretty high fees, I worry that it is basically becoming gambling for a certain part of the population.
You make some interesting points about incentives. Robinhood obviously doesn’t make money off of transactions, so they have to make it somewhere else. There’s the premium memberships, and I believe others have mentioned that they make money off of the cash that sits in your account (not sure how that works or if it’s true). In the latter case, DRIP would be directly opposed to their business model, since the dividends that would otherwise sit in your account are being funneled into a share of some sort, instead.
It’s not entirely true that robinhood doesn’t make money on transactions, given that they receive payment for order flow.
Can you expand on how this works? What is "order flow" and who is paying them for it?
If they're smart they are also just simply taking the opposite of all their user's bets, and pocketing the winnings. Statistically speaking most people's options bets expire worthless. All robinhood has to do is take the opposite bet and they are printing money.
They would sweep the cash into an interest-bearing account, and simply pocket the interest.
That's what I figured, but I was wondering what kinds of rules are in place around what kind of interest-bearing accounts they can park the cash in.
From the screenshots I have seen on reddit it appears they could be making a killing selling these orders. Market makers love doing options transactions with people who literally have no idea what they're buying. It's like hosting swimming lessons in a chummed up shark pool.
Wait. They don't have an option for automatic dividend reinvestment? That would probably be in the top five most-obvious features to have.
Of course, it's hard to make money on dividend reinvestment.
Complicated options strategies == more money for the brokers.
They make money off of money sitting around doing nothing I hear.
/r/wallstreetbets need to be careful here, so many new and interesting ways to end up homeless.
I think you mean /r/robinhood... WSB is mostly just going to laugh at people over there detonating their accounts
I'm confused as to the popularity of Robinhood and others, do people really think they can beat the market? It's just gambling at this point, not investing.
Are casinos not popular?
They are, but we don't refer to them as "investing" ;)
Options can be used for speculation and to increase leverage. They can ALSO be used to reduce risk. It all depends on how you chose to use them. Both are common.
I've been trading options for several years with some incredible luck (turned a few thousand $ into six figures in my early 20's). Granted my risk tolerance has changed quite a bit since - many would consider buying OTM calls/puts prior to earnings straight-up gambling. That said there are many fun yet effective strategies to hedge risk using these multi-leg trades (Reverse iron condor etc).
Hmm, can we say this is the modern version of taxi drivers giving out stock tips and the market is near the top?
For anyone interested Chris O’Neil, Robinhood Product Manager will be doing an ama on /r/robinhood Wednesday, June 13, at 2:30pm Pacific // 5:30pm Eastern.
Introducing more ways to lose money
Why this sudden rise in option trading facilities for retailers? Whats being cooked behind the scenes?
As an amateur retail investor, my theory is that stocks are too expensive. It used to be common practice for companies to do stock splits to make it more affordable but that doesn't happen anymore. Options provide a cheaper way of speculating on stocks.
Looks like it's US only. Bummer.
Its about time!
No point using all these option strategies. Once you start using these strategies it means you don't know the direction. Why waste your profits and pay premiums.
Find options you like and get in on them.
TSLA over $347.50 buy short term options, targets are $400.
What are you talking about? You can do directional with multi-leg just fine. Like you could buy the August TSLA 350 for $25.50 and sell the August TSLA 400 for $9.25. Selling the higher contract lowers your entry price to $16.25 and you'll make money at expiration from TSLA being $366.25 instead of having to be above $375.50. Max upside ends at $409.25, but more likely to actually be profitable.
Why am I going to sell and pay premiums when I can just make the money wasted on premiums. If you are hedging options then you are unsure of direction is all and limiting max profits.
www.plainsitemanagement.com --> I hit winners. Better than anyone out there.
Also, I don't hold until expiration but I want maximum profits, not basic money.
Just to take a step back and look at the big picture here, isn’t it amazing what tech has done to the distribution of access to wealth? Instead of “blaming the system” like yesteryears idealists, now one can ‘bring home
the bacon’ by doing some of those multi-leg options strategies (that we all love) themselves, without even leaving the house.
Reminds me of the app’s namesake, Robinhood .
Yes! And the results have been outstanding! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_Unite...
Yikes, was unaware. Have an upvote!