All posts by 30DayTrading

Natural Gas for Winter 2021

This Bonfire Night update on our 2021 Natural Gas (NG) position trade explains why our existing NG exposure is being maintained even though the price has run up a lot. We will discuss how the seasonal factors and option pricing skew have persuaded us to add to the position trade and hold through Winter 2021. However due to the high price rise, we will only be adding option trade overlays that take advantage of the higher option volatility on the Natural Gas ETF (UNG). If UNG runs higher then these new option trades will make money up to a target strike – but if UNG stays the same or sells off then they will expire worthless.

Natural Gas Winter 2021 – Existing Position Trade

The existing NG position has already been quite profitable. To recap the existing position trade has two main parts 1) 50 contract Aug/Sept calendar spread – that is short $15 Aug 2021 and long $15 Sept 2021 pair for total cost of $0.22 and 2) 50 contract long underlying LEAP call Jan 2022 $11. See the previous long natural gas since Q1 2021 post (from July of this year) for all of the background to how these UNG positions were traded starting in March 2021 . Anyhow as luck would have it, in August 2021 the NG market pulled back and allowed the short UNG Aug $15 call (the short call in the calendar spread) to expire worthless. Fortunately the market rallied back strongly in Sept 2021 because the only remaining position from the calendar spread was the long Sept $15 Call. This call ended up $2.65 ITM with UNG $17.65 on Sept 17th. This meant that there was a market enforced trading decision to make with following possibilities:
1) Sell to close $15 Sept 2021 call for an immediate profit.
2) Roll into another call in a future month (e.g. Dec 2021 or Jan 2022) further out in time. The term “Rolling” here means sell to close the existing call, then buy to open the new call.
3) Deliberately get assigned UNG at $15 and create a new ETF position

Normally we would consider the original Aug/Sept calendar spread as one self contained trade, and simply close for a nice profit (option 1). However we decided to push the envelope, and keep UNG trade on since it was acting very bullish. Hard to know where the top is in a strongly rallying commodity. Commodities can tend to have blow off tops, when supply/demand move to extremes. This isn’t obviously a guarantee for a similar blow off top high in NG, but the chart pattern is similar. historically NG can rally very fast. So on balance decided to maintain the larger position.

The issue with maintaining position was that option volatility was very high. This meant that rolling (option 2) would have required purchasing $2 or $3 of pure time value to roll to similar $15 strike in Jan 2022. So rolling long calls when volatility is that high is not desirable, even if it is more capital efficient (than just buying the ETF outright). UNG would need to rally about 20% by Jan 2022 just to break even.

Therefore decided to go with getting assigned at $15 and creating a new UNG share position (option 3). Deliberately did nothing until Sept 17th expiration Friday, then as UNG closed over $15 our account got assigned on 5000 shares UNG. As a reminder – one option contracts controls 100 shares, so 50 contracts x 100 shares = 5,000 shares. The trade was already in the money with some profit, so that gives some buffer before losing money on the actual ETF position (if UNG were to pull back). However this requires using $75k cash to buy 5000 shares at $15. The brokerage will assign ITM calls automatically, so on the Monday after expiration will be long 5000 UNG shares. This did not require purchasing any time value with options because a stock or ETF position has no time decay (no theta value). Sometimes it is “ok” to use ETF (or stock) to compliment the overall position, specifically because ETF positions don’t decay with time. It also allows selling options against the stock to bring in some time value.

The overall position is now 5000 UNG and 50 Jan 2022 $11 calls. This combined position has a delta of nearly 100, because the Jan call is so far ITM it is trading almost equivalent to a stock or ETF position. Stock or ETFs always trade with a delta of 100 because they are the actual underlying for any derivative option (and have no time decay). Therefore the overall UNG position here is almost equivalent to 10,000 shares. The average price of the new long UNG 5,000 shares is about $15.22 (including the profit from the expired short Aug call). The average price of the Jan 2022 $11 call was $0.94 so UNG can pull back to about $11.94 before that starts losing money. For simplicity this ignores any time embedded value in the call – in reality there would always be some time value in the call – unless it was the final trading hours into Jan 2022 expiration. Getting back to estimating the breakeven point – this gives us an approximate break even point of $15.22 + $11.94 / 2 = $13.58 for this unrealised long UNG position. This is a very aggressive position sizing, however this is an example of pyramiding into winners – which we are trying to do as improved trading discipline (but it is surprisingly hard to do). We are hoping to get a market top at higher prices, and are willing to let the underlying unrealised profit thrash around. Hopefully it will go higher, because the trend is up. Keeping one very successful unrealised profit trade open is very hard to do physiologically. The pull backs always feel difficult to hold through, because always pricing relative to the latest price peak. For example, “if we’d sold last week, now we’d have $20k more than today”. The issue is that if you sell before a big move is fully realised, then you likely aren’t getting back in – no matter how good your technical analysis is at identifying top and bottoms. We are attempting to apply the trading logic from Reminiscences of a Stock Operator – “The big money was not in the individual fluctuations but in the main movements – that is, not in reading the tape but in sizing up the entire market and its trend.” and “It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It was always my sitting.”. There is no guarantee that NG will hold up and has a history of huge sell offs, however if don’t hold then are foregoing possibility of very large gains.

Natural Gas Winter 2021 – Call Volatility Skew

In additional to the winter seasonality advantage, the overall position trade is being maintained partially because the near term options skew to the upside. As NG is entering into Q4 2021 there is significantly implied volatility in near month options indicating that potentially a much higher price move is still quite possible. Additionally there is currently an incredible call option upside skew, when compared to put options.
The following is the Dec 2021 UNG option chain on 26th Oct 2021:

With UNG at $20.40 comparing the 30 delta calls and puts for Dec 2021 (53 days time) shows a huge call skew. The option market thinks that UNG has a 30% probability of closing at $18 to downside ($18 put with 0.3067 delta) or $32 to upside ($32 call with 0.2970 delta). To put this another way – UNG options were implying in 53 days time that a $2.40 move lower had the same 30% probability as an $11.60 move higher. That is a 4.8 to 1 upside skew in calls versus puts at the 30 delta option! This level of skew is not normal, so we may be able to structure some short option strategies to take advantage.

Since the main position trade consists of long stock and deep ITM calls, we can change option strategy to take advantage of high volatility. Additionally would like to be greedy and make even more if UNG rallies into winter 2021. However do not want to add significantly more capital into UNG. Therefore will look at very wide 2:1 ratio call spreads, partially financed by way OTM short puts.

Both of these high volatility option strategies are available with option legs a long way OTM because UNG volatility is over 100%. As the following 1 year chart of UNG volatility shows – implied volatility has been over 100% at some points in Oct 2021, peaking around 120% in early October with a low point of around 90% in mid October.


The trade construction is Buy 50 contracts of a call at high OTM strike, then sell 100 contracts at even higher strike. This a 2:1 ratio call spread is called that because the number of call contracts at the higher strike is usually double the lower strike – in this example a 100 contract: 50 contract ratio call spread. The 2:1 ratio call spread is typically placed for small credit or debit, then idea being to get the 100 contracts sold to approximately pay for the 50 purchased contracts. It can be hard to find match the exact strikes for an even money (no credit or debit) so often there is a small debit or credit.
To help pay for any debit incurred and to maintain a small positive theta (time decay) in the position, we will also look to sell an OTM put for a small credit. The 2:1 ratio call spread is better added as a compliment to an existing bullish ETF position in a high volatility environment because the strikes can be placed further apart. The further apart the strikes, the more profit potential.

For example this trade was done in the Nov 19th 2021 option expiration cycle with long 50 call contracts at $30, short 100 call contracts at $38, and short 50 put contracts at $13. Note this option structure means that have to deliver 5000 shares at $38 because of the extra 50 contracts short – however this is fully covered because we already own 5000 shares.

This was repeated on Dec 2021 option expiration cycle with long 50 call contracts at $28, short 100 call contracts at $38 and short 50 put contracts at $12. This option structure was also fully covered because we already own the 50 call contracts Jan 2022 at $11. Should UNG reach $38 at Dec expiration we would be able to deliver the 5000 shares (via the 50 contracts of the Jan 2022 calls).

These are covered positions on the upside, but with an another important kicker. If UNG closes over the $38 at Nov expiration, then profit would be equivalent to a close at $46. The embedded call spread (long $30, short $38) would be worth $8. So having to deliver ETF stock at $38 (from the $38 call), would be give an equivalent exit price of $38 (short call strike) + $8 (embedded call spread max value) = $46.

This logic would also repeat for Dec. If UNG closes over $38 at Dec expiration, then profit would be equivalent to a $48 closing price. The embedded call spread (long $28, short $38) would be worth $10. So having to deliver ETF stock at $38 (from the $38 call), would be equivalent exit of $38 (short call strike) + $10 (embedded call spread max value) = $48.

If this very bullish scenario were to take place, then it could be possible to maintain the position by do some rolling adjustments nearer to Nov or Dec expiration. However if UNG was massively over $38 it would probably just be simpler to let the entire option structure expire and take the full position profit.

On the downside the short put is cash secured, and is definitely a downside risk that would need to managed if NG drops significantly into winder 2021. This is a possibility, because anything can happen in the market, but not likely. However on trade entry the short put had an 11 delta, which means that it has an 89% chance of expiring worthless at Nov or Dec expiration. A short put trade seems worth the risk, since we are bullish on NG price (it should maintain over $13 by Nov option expiration) and bearish on NG volatility (think volatility will decline from current elevated levels). Short 50 contracts in Nov expiration at $13, and short 50 contracts in Dec expiration at $12. These short put credits help finance the slightly debit for the 2:1 call ratio spreads.

One nuance to the put selling approach is that they are diagonal at lower strikes the further out in time they go. The Dec $12 strike is lower than the $13 Nov strike. This is to allow for market probabilities to play out into Dec (50+ trading days to expiration) and Nov (only 30+ trading days to expiration). There is more time for the a down move to occur by Dec, so it makes sense to sell a lower strike in Dec than Nov. Either way the probabilities are similar, because on trade entry both Nov and Dec short puts were around 11 delta.

As the 2:1 ratio calls and short puts have been held for several trading days, the market has moved down from Oct 20th to Oct 26th. However the Nov short put is now almost worthless. The volatility in the calls has reduced, so that the $38 short calls have made money and more or less cancelled out the loss of the $30 call. This entire structure of $30/$38 2:1 call ratio and $13 put short, should expire for an approx $600 profit – if UNG is above $13 by Nov expiration.

Similarly the Dec structure volatility has reduced, however the Dec options still have some bid, because the chances of UNG being able to move to option strikes by Dec is more likely. These Nov and Dec 2:1 call ratios will be maintained until expiration, as they represent a “free shot” at UNG being over $30 in Nov and $38 in Dec (with no incurred cost). If a price near $30 ever happened the calls would jump to life again, even if they have a very low probability and so a low price today. This is “ok” because the market paid the premium of the lower call for us as they were financed by the 2 short calls – which is why it is a “free shot”.

Natural Gas Winter 2021 – Speculative Butterfly

Since there will be a $30 call held until 19th Nov expiration, we wanted to add a small speculative long, but with low risk. So we bought in the Nov 26th weekly cycle a 50 contract butterfly $24.5/$30/$35 for $0.29 – total cost about $1500. Normally don’t pay for premium, but considered it partially financed by the short puts from the earlier Nov/Dec trades. It is total speculation, but would be more likely to hit (as only 20% OTM on trade entry). The maximum theoretical gain for this new speculative trade is exactly $30 on 26th Nov and would be about $28,500. Sometimes added a butterfly in high volatility as a compliment to an existing position gives something to focus on in the next expiration cycle, while waiting for the main underlying UNG position trade to play out. This gives some entertain while waiting for the underlying UNG position trade to hold into Dec 2021 and maybe longer in Jan 2022.

Natural Gas Winter 2021 – Summary

Natural Gas (NG) price has consistent seasonal drawdowns typically in winter for home heating from November to March. In 2021 there are potentially a sharp spike in near term prices, because of recent inventory dropdowns before coming into the typically higher demand winter season.

A good source of fundamental NG news is naturalgasintel.com. Despite fundamentals pointing to warm weather in Nov, NG is flat for October (albeit with huge amount of volatility in a range). The lack of significant decline in October in the face of bearish warmer weather could be seen as bullish for rest of 2021. The following summary chart shows UNG price action and volatility in context of the last year’s trading:

This was an update on how to lever up the existing LEAP call and ETF position, using options to potentially increase position trade return. The aim is to maximize return from a commodity price spike over the next 1 to 3 months over Winter – this is not a forever long term hold. The trade exit for this will possibly be in Dec (to close year end trading nicely) or maybe by Jan 2022 (for 2022 taxes). Not entirely clear if this becomes a structural bull market for NG in next few years (and we accidentally bought the bottom). More likely scenario is that NG supply is tight and demand is up in winter 2021, so better to sell into any major price spikes in Dec or Jan. The underlying NG future (near month Nov) is around $6, so if there was a spike towards $10 then traders would probably look at double figures as a logical point to take profit. When trading UNG it is important to look at underlying /NG futures because that is where the majority of NG trading is done. UNG ETF does trade in a liquid way, but it is not the entire market. Price targets and support/resistance in UNG will not impact trader sentiment as much as price targets being reached in the /NG futures. In short /NG futures drive the NG market, not UNG ETF. UNG can also experience much more volatile trading days leading into monthly /NG future expirations. So knowing the exact monthly /NG future expiration dates can explain UNG moves.

In summary we are maintaining position trade over many months, and complementing it with option strategy overlays to hopefully boost returns. The intent is to be long into year end and re-evaluate along the way. The position is bigger than usual with “high conviction” . The position has been correct for several months now, so some amount of unrealised profit volatility can be tolerated. the position will likely ultimately be stopped out by short calls meeting profit targets.

Long Nat Gas since Q1 2021

Natural Gas (NG) price has been consistently declining due to significant over supply for the last few years. In general there are consistent seasonal drawdowns of NG supply throughout a trading year, usually due to consumer energy demand for heating or cooling. Typically large drawdowns of NG supply in winter for home heating from November to March. However there can also be periodic supply drawdowns during summer heatwaves with energy demand for home cooling.

Natural gas is historically cheap on an absolute basis, but needs a catalyst to justify a longer term higher prices. The historically cheap price is encouraging countries to reevaluate its use. NG is not considered as “clean” as alternative energy being found near oil deposits. However practically energy will have to come from somewhere. As China’s climate change commitments force transition into “cleaner” energy solutions, they need to plug the gap between oil/coal and transition to alternatives like wind/solar. However NG could becomes up to 15% of China’s energy market by 2030 then that potentially increase demand and maintain pricing this decade. Taking the other side of the argument though, the increase in Chinese NG production into 2030 could dampen the NG price further by over supplying the market.

There could be a good decade long position trade here, but history shows that NG has been following the pattern of lower lows for many years. The following chart shows the Nymex natural gas futures price for Aug 2021 settlement. Starting at $8.88 in Nov 2008, down to a low of $2.21 in Feb 2020, followed by the current price with a bounce back to around $4 in July 2021.

Natural Gas (Aug 2021) futures price for last 13 years…

As the commodity price chart shows – it is hard to justify as a long “buy and hold” trade due to this secular bear market. However it’s rapid spikes make it an excellent trading vehicle, with the right timing. Fortunately 2021 appears to have produced a hot summer that has created a natural gas trading catalyst – so there is no need to wait until 2030 to find out how the trade performed…

Long Hot Summer

The main short to medium term factor driving NG prices is energy demand due to higher than normal US temperatures. Natural gas as a fuel has a different trading dynamic to natural gas producers stock (e.g. such as the FCG ETF). Natural gas price tends to trade off near term supply and demand (up to 6 months out), where as natural gas producer stocks tend to trade off medium to long term expectations for natural gas prices (often 12 months or more out in time). Additionally some producers have locked in contracts (“hedged” pricing) – so short term near month price changes don’t impact longer term prices that could be locked in or haven’t moved that much. The /NG futures curve as of July 2021 is an good example of this phenomena:

Natural gas is not a “forever” trade. However the short term market supply issues mean that pricing can potentially spike in the next few months. One of the main trading vehicles for natural gas is the UNG ETF that attempts to track the commodity price. The implied volatility on UNG options is certainly showing that a large move is possible – with implied volatility moving up from about 30% to over 50% in the last month.

However the July 2021 future curve (from Nymex natural gas futures) is implying a return to “normal” pricing in 2022. From a medium term trading perspective, any significant spikes should be used to reduce risk in the next few months.

The July 2021 futures curve is not always the shape of the commodity futures curve. Typically the main ETFs (such as UNG) that track NG have a structural decay problem, due to rolling futures every month. The ETFs do not hold natural gas as a raw commodity because of storage costs, so they maintain exposure using futures. Usually the ETFs futures holdings are near month to get as close as possible to the commodity spot price. However maintaining this position requires the consistent need to “roll” every month, usually when the near month future gets close to expiration. Rolling means selling the expiring near month and buying the next months future contract. This generates transaction costs every month, but more importantly roll costs can eat away at the capital in the ETF. The next section explains this roll cost in detail.

ETF Roll Cost

More importantly though for the Natural Gas ETF is whether commodity pricing is in contango. Contango is where the price of commodity contracts further out in time are more expensive. Futures prices out in time by many months are sometimes referred as “out on the curve”. The following graph that show an example commodity pricing curve in contango. This example is not for natural gas, so the exact numbers and dates are not that important – it is just a sample contango futures curve to show the idea.

Example contango curve (prices higher in the future)

Contango pricing plays an important part in the long term Natural Gas ETF (UNG) price. UNG typically holds near month Natural Gas futures to approximate the natural gas price. The near month futures contract is normally natural gas for delivery in the next 30 days or less. As the near month contract gets closer to expiration, the fund must roll into the next month’s contract to maintain exposure. If this is not done then the near month contract would expire, and the ETF would acquire several hundred million dollars worth of physical natural gas for delivery! Depending on the funds specific mandate, the “roll” may be done over several days and likely several days prior to expiration. The “roll” is a monthly process to maintain the price exposure.

Using the futures symbol for Natural Gas \NG the following example shows a roll between two separate months. The exact date and pricing shown is not as important as demonstrating the concept. For example if \NG August is $3.50 and \NG Sept is $3.55, then the fund has to sell $3.50 and buy $3.55. This generates a “roll cost” of $0.05 per month (difference between $3.55 and $3.50) just maintain the position. Additionally due to the higher price of the new purchased futures contract, the total number of futures contracts held by the ETF gets reduced. This price difference maybe relatively small (e.g. less than 1.5% of the fund) however compounded over time every month it adds up. This roll loss explains UNG terrible long term performance – as well the actual physical natural gas price trending down.

This chart dramatically shows why UNG is not a “buy and hold” investment, down more than 99% since inception:

UNG – not the best long term investment…

It is important to note that the opposite condition to contango can assist the Net Asset Value of the ETF. The reverse of contango is called “backwardation” – when futures prices out several months are less expensive than near month futures. Backwardation helps the ETF maintain value and only contango has the rolling issue above.

Avoid Buy and Hold

Commodity ETFs like UNG or USO that are often in contango and use near month futures to track the commodity price, should not be held for long term trades. They are tradable for daily or monthly trends, but not usually years.

The other important thing to note is that commodity ETFs using futures don’t always rebound after big crashes. Often contango rolling impact is greatly increased after a crash due to market dislocations in the front month. One extreme example has to be this year in April 2021 when the May Oil price briefly traded at negative $40, but month further out were positive (massive contango). They also do not track the underlying commodity price accurately over a number of years.

This can be shown very clearly when comparing two ETFs that track the oil price using futures – USO and USL. Although both ETFs use futures, USO typically tracks only the daily changes in the near month oil future. USL tries to track the daily changes in the near month to 11 months out (from the near month). That is the average price for all futures contracts in the next year, not just the next month. Since the oil price is often in contango, USL will track it much closer than USO. The following chart shows the huge difference in performance, that can be clearly seen around April 2020 during the “negative oil” futures incident (USO is blue and USL is yellow):

Understanding the futures curve shape and the average duration of the futures held inside an ETF is important before placing a trade.

Trading Position

Options that have over 1 year to expiration are called Long-term equity anticipation securities. They are often abbreviated to “LEAP call” (for calls), “LEAP put” (for puts) or “LEAPS”(for any option either calls or puts). UNG OTM LEAP calls cost a relatively small amount, but can control large position sizes. Depending on how far OTM there is a higher probability (say 60% to 75%) that they lost value slowly over time. However they can only lose the entire premium paid for the position. But if natural gas spikes higher they can quickly go ITM and trade with much higher deltas. They therefore have a great asymmetric risk to reward profile, especially if started during low volatility. They are likely to fail, but if they win they can win big.

On trade entry by definition OTM leap calls will ultimately expire worthless more than half the time (if they were held all the way to expiration. This is because they have a delta of less than 50% on trade entry. When a LEAP call is losing money any residual value for the decaying option can reclaimed by selling at 50%. For example, if originally bought Jun 2022 $12 calls for $1.5 then could sell after it has decayed to $0.75 to maintain some value. Another approach is simply to position size appropriately for the portfolio and let it expire worthless (having already accepted the full risk as part of the portfolio). Alternatively can roll out in time to further six months if want to maintain the position. Our approach is normally to exit position and maintain some value if not working or roll out in time. Don’t normally let the LEAP go all the way to expiration.

To manage upside we would typically take some profit off the table at 100%, if reached in short order. For example, consider buying a LEAP more than 1 year away for $1, then after a price rally selling half for $2 two months later. This means a zero risk trade for remaining 10 months of the option lifetime. The position is now half sized, so will not make as much potential profit. However half sized position can now be allowed to run for many months to see how it does. Since this example position contains no risk it could be allowed to run almost to expiration to see how it does. Unless the calls are very deep ITM (low time value) should consider rolling or selling with 60 to 30 days to expiration to avoid option decay.

Implied Volatility

Paying attention to implied volatility (IV) on trade entry for LEAP calls is important to maintain trade value. Since LEAP calls are sensitive to increases in volatility, rising volatility can provide a trade profit even if the underlying does not move that much. The important IV measure is not just the absolute percentage (%) as “high” (e.g. 50%) or “low” (e.g. 10%). The measure used for trade entry is the percentage (%) relative to the recent IV historical trading range (usually 1 year). Ideally LEAP calls are bought when IV is towards the low end of its annual trading range. For example, assume an IV trading range for the previous of year of 9% to 20%. Buying when UNG IV is 10% would be buying at the bottom of the volatility range. Once the trade is on, looking at option vega will show how much the option would increase with a 1% move higher in volatility (all other variables being equal). It is quite possible to see a significant % profit in a LEAP call if volatility rises quickly. Importantly LEAPs trade on expectations for future volatility at option expiration not on for expectations for the next few days or months. Although short term and long term volatility are usually correlated they may not necessarily move with the same magnitude. A short term spike in IV may not move IV in longer dated LEAPs. For example, a natural gas supply crunch that will likely be resolved next month, may not move option pricing in 12 months because the market expects it to be resolved by then.

LEAP calls are not “buy and hold” trades and so do require monitoring and risk management. Holding the LEAP call only can be a valid strategy. However over the long term selling calls mechanically or dynamically can improve returns and risk management. Selling calls does limit the theoretical unlimited upside, but on average it improves and smooths out returns. Selling calls does not have to be done against the entire LEAP call position, so with some strategies the theoretical unlimited upside can be maintained.

Selling Calls Mechanically

Another form of risk management is selling calls against the long LEAP call. This can be done ATM to try and exit position, but still get some premiums for next month. Alternatively this can be a scaling out exit strategy, to sell OTM calls next month, 2 months and 3 months out. For example if UNG is at $12, sell the July calls at $13, Aug at $14 and Sept at $15. This should give similar option premiums for each call sold, but gives more time for trade to rise and different time frames to sell calls. There is no role on the amount of contracts to sell, and it doesn’t have to match the long LEAP calls contract. For example if already own 100 LEAP calls, could sell 40 calls in July, 30 calls in Aug and 30 calls in Sept.

Alternatively if would like to exit half position can sell 50 next month ATM, leave the rest of the 50 contracts open. This gives the richest ATM premium that gets kept if position sells off. However if half the position gets called away in the next month cycle, then this still maintains half the position for further unlimited upside (no sold calls to cap the upside).

Repeating this monthly call selling strategies several times a year can help pay for the entire LEAP call. For example selling 10 calls ATM for $0.30 in six separate trades over 1 year would pay for buying a 20 LEAP calls at $0.90. This is a somewhat idealized example, because it assumes that the sold calls expire worthless each time. More realistic is to assume that half of the sold call premium is captured, so calls sold through out the year for $0.30 can on average to bought back for $0.15. This scenario is more realistic because it covers many call selling trading outcomes each month. For example selling 10 calls ATM for $0.30 in 12 separate trades could have multiple exit scenarios – some calls could expire worthless (full $0.30 gain) or need rolling into next month (e.g. buy back for $0.70 with $0.40 loss, then resell next month at $0.30). Taking loses on the sold calls still allows the position to make money, because the long LEAP call also increases in the rising market. However if the market rises too fast then sold calls could be hard to roll, so would be better just to exit the entire position.

Selling Calls Dynamically

Another more opportunistic strategy is to wait until IV increases during the year. This becomes more likely if the position was entered in relatively low volatility. When IV spikes up start selling “junk” options that are say 25% OTM. Depending on the level of the volatility spike these can be sold for between $0.10 and $0.25. Selling junk options for less than $0.10 is not recommended because commissions are a greater % of the trade. Also in a volatile market options that are way OTM but closer to zero (in the range $0.01 to $0.10) don’t decay that fast until very close to expiration – because there is always the underlying “threat” of a price spike.

Occasionally the commodity market presents some incredible premium on OTM options. For example on SLV in March 2021 during the Reddit meme stock volatility spike the IV doubled in a week from around 35% to briefly over 70%. During that week sold several SLV call options way over $0.10 that would normally have near zero value. Their volatility was implying a more than 100% move in silver by expiration in less than 60 days. Of course the options ultimately expired worthless, but also the premium got crushed within a couple of days after the high volatility mean reverted (see chart).

SLV Feb 2021 Implied Volatility spike

High IV in call options tends to revert back to a the mean value, which means that on average it doesn’t typically stay elevated for long periods of time – so was a quick return on investment. This mean reversion is why on average call selling works in higher volatility. Importantly having a long LEAP call covers when the underlying moves outside of the average price range – that is when the sold calls go way in the money at expiration. In the above SLV example, the call selling was always covered (not “naked”) because it was done against a SLV LEAP call that was already owned earlier in the year (and established in lower volatility). Admittedly this is one of the most extreme example from a commodity ETF in the last few years. However consistently selling the “junk” options to compliment a fully covered LEAP call position, can make regular income and still keep the long commodity trade idea alive. There is always the possibility of being “called away” on a huge market rally, but that would be a happy occurrence because the LEAP call would have greatly benefited.

Selling Calls for Hedging

One word of warning on dynamic call selling is don’t sell calls that are at or beneath the LEAP call strike. When beginning a trading position that will sell calls, it is better to sell way futher OTM or not bother selling any calls initially. Sell calls over time is to reduce cost basis in trade – in this case reduce the amount paid for the LEAP call. If that uncertain on amount at risk when starting a new position, then simply trade a smaller position size – don’t over hedge to start with.

When trying to rescue a position where the LEAP call has lost money, do not sell strikes in the near month below the LEAP call strike. This is sometimes called an “inversion” position. This position can potentially lose money if the commodity price increases, which the opposite of the original trade idea. This is because if the near term short option goes significantly ITM it will start acting like short stock – with a delta that trends towards negative one hundred (-100). The negative delta on the short call will be greater than the positive delta on the LEAP call (likely in the range of 50 to 70 delta). Therefore the entire position becomes net short. For example, 70 delta (from LEAP call) minus 90 delta (from deep ITM short call) is minus 30 delta (short position). These deltas are realistic examples for what would happen if the commodity rallied 20% with this “inversion” position (short strike call lower than long strike call).

Short calls are great to generate income or exit a winning trade. however when selling calls only to reduce long deltas (i.e. reduce risk) it is probably better just to sell (to close) some long LEAP call contracts. Selling calls should always be a compliment to main LEAP call position, not exclusively for reducing risk by adding short positions to a long position (hedging). Sometimes the best risk management is just to sell underlying position, not try and over hedge with calls. If the concern is losing all the LEAP call premium, then the position size is probably too large for the portfolio.

Portfolio Strategy

Importantly however the slower time decay of this strategy allows holding the entire position through a downdraft, because there is time to recover the loss. No action is required with correct portfolio position sizing, because the risk is accepted on trade entry. The position size can be 1% to 2% of the portfolio for a “normal” trade, or up 5% for a high conviction position trade. In previous trading experience we found that these LEAP call strategy should not be sized over 5%. This is because the position is still all time value and as such is decaying every day (even though daily decay is small). Additionally the combination of strategies in a portfolio is very important. Should not have an entire portfolio of OTM LEAPs as strategy for all portfolio positions. For example, having 20 distinct LEAP calls each with a position size of 5% would be have unmanageable theta (time) decay. Essentially an entire portfolio of LEAPs would have be 100% time value with no intrinsic value. If running LEAP strategies on a few underlying ETFs, then other portfolio positions should be in short volatility strategies (e.g. credit spreads) to compensate for the daily theta decay.

Trading Update

Trade entry was to go long natural gas in 2021. In March 2021, bought the UNG Jan 2022 LEAP call (10 months out) for $0.94. A few weeks later UNG went down to around $9, and the LEAP was losing money. However there has been a nice rally into July 2021. When UNG pulled back from peak around $13 to about $12.60, exited half the position in case this was the “big one” for a pull back. Natural gas is hard to trade because spike up quickly with a nice profit, then be back to break even 2 weeks later. Obviously as soon as the position is halved, the market rallies – but that’s just trading. Some physiological experience trading cryptos is helpful, because the UNG short term trading peaks and troughs can have similar severity (even though the fundamental drivers are obviously massively different).

UNG Year to date 2021 price chart – including trade updates

To get some extra juice in the trade, sold the $15 Aug 2021 calls for $0.20 against the entire position. The high premium for selling a 15% OTM call option was possible due to high IV. This trade is to tempt the market to try and hit a $15 target in only a few weeks, but also to hedge a pull back.

However as the market rallied again past $13 a couple of days later, realized that had made a mistake on being the start of a big sell off. Therefore was looking keep the long position for potentially higher than $15. This may seem like flipping ideas and being too wishy washy. However UNG looks more bullish then expected and resistance at $13 disappeared quickly. Basically would like to maintain a larger position size, but would like to have finger on the exit button. Also since had just made a nice profit selling half the underlying LEAP, we had the “house money” to do another long trade. So in order to maintain long deltas, bought the $15 Sept 2021 calls for $0.42. This made a calendar spread in the $15 Aug/Sept pair for total cost of $0.22. The calendar spread is in addition to the now half position sized underlying LEAP call Jan 2022 $11.

Trading Summary

This was an overview of how to use LEAP calls and short call overlays to trade commodity ETFs. The aim was to maintain a position, take risk off on the way up, and lighten up towards the end of the trend. Another trading update should be done when the current natural gas position is significantly changed or exited.

Uranium Position Trade

In 2020 and early 2021 we have started what will hopefully be a multi year position trade in uranium stocks. A position trade is taking a significant portfolio % trade (up to 10%) on a high conviction trade idea, to hold for several months until the fundamental trend peaks. Commodity trading is notoriously hard to time, because often there are several years in the wilderness, followed by huge peaks in a few months or years, following by equally rapid declines. Therefore some level of trend following is required to avoid having capital tied up unproductively for years.

Trading Products

The uranium sector is relatively niche compared to commodity sectors like oil, natural gas or gold. Historically the uranium sector has been underserved by ETF products, and there are currently only three URA, URNM and NLR. Both URA and URNM are more direct play on the uranium commodity producers, versus NLR that also includes nuclear power related stocks.

NLR will be ignored for this position trade, because it focuses on nuclear industry conglomerates, utilities and only some uranium miners. It trades more like large cap equity and only requires that companies get 50% of their revenue from uranium sector.

URA has been in existence since 2010 and focuses on large and medium cap uranium producers. URNM started trading in Dec 2019 and seems to have been constructed to only allow strict uranium producers. However to achieve this allocation URNM has to hold significantly smaller cap uranium producers and penny stocks that might not make it into other ETFs. For example the 4th highest URNM holding Yellow Cake PLC only has a market cap of $400 million, and with a 8.9% allocation. This makes URNM a more pure play on uranium but will definitely make it more volatile. Some holdings that have less than 5% allocations are penny stocks and will trade accordingly (high peaks, low troughs etc). The URNM ETF allocation is ideal for Uranium producer exposure in one place, but need to understand what it contains and don’t be surprised if it moves very quickly up or down.

This is direct comparison of URA and URNM top ten holdings. 47% of URA is in the top 2 main sector heavyweight stocks, but for URNM this is only around 32%. The URNM holdings are less concentrated in the larger cap firms. URA and URNM also trades LEAP options but they seem to have wide bid/ask spreads, so it appears more efficient to trade the ETF directly.

Credit: etf.com ETF compare tool

Cameco (CCJ) is the major North American uranium producer. CCJ is widely covered in research in US and Canada and and is often used as a proxy for the uranium sector. In late 2020 and through out 2021 the sector has broken out above previous multi year resistance. The following chart compares 5 years of historical price performance for ETFs URNM, URA & NLR with Cameco (CCJ) stock. During the last 5 years URNM was listed in Dec 2019 but all others were already trading at least 5 years ago. The relative outperformance of URNM is due to it’s mix of pure uranium producers including penny stocks.

5 year historical performance for 3 Uranium ETFs and 1 major producer.

Completely separately there are actually CME traded Uranium futures but they appear very illiquid and don’t have any option liquidity. Logically futures would seem to be a good way to access the physical uranium market, but they seem to be not be actively traded in any time frame (from near month to one year out). Have not researched why this should be, because many other commodities actively trade on CME futures. Whatever the reason, uranium futures are not useful as a trading vehicle. Anyway if the commodity price increases then uranium producers equity should provide more upside leverage than physical uranium.

Uranium Worldwide

Uranium production takes place in many countries around the world, but has significant concentration in only a few countries. More than half of all identified uranium resources are from only 3 countries. Recoverable “identified resources” means reasonably assured Uranium resources in the ground, plus inferred resources from mine surveys. The following pie chart breakdowns the worldwide percentage of identified uranium resources by country:

Credit: Pie chart was generated in house using raw data from world-nuclear.org

Traditionally a commodity producing countries Australia have more than a quarter (28%) of world identified uranium resources. However less expected countries like Kazakhstan have major mines and account for 15% of uranium resources. Canada makes up rest of the top 3 countries with 9%. Many other countries make up the remaining half of uranium resources but always in decreasing percentages. The USA only accounts for 1% of world identified uranium resources.

New Uranium Trust

One very significant event in 2021 is the planned US listing by Sprott Asset Management of a new investment trust to own physical uranium. The uranium price has been accessible for 5 years in Canada on the Toronto exchange as Uranium Participation Corporation (TSX: U). However crucially Sprott’s plan is to buy UPC out and change the investment structure to allow a US listing – which will open it up to many investors portfolios.

Quoting mining-journal.com (with our italics) : “Industry commentators have suggested that Sprott’s market participation has the potential to transform uranium from a sleepy commodity whose consumers dip into an opaque spot market to supplement their long-term contracts, to a more liquid, transparent and easily investable sector for investors who want exposure to a commodity expected to face increasing demand.”

Sprott has already brought gold (PHYS) and silver (PSLV) to market, so has a good track record in the resource space. The current listing date for new Sprott uranium trust is July 19th 2021.

Uranium doesn’t traditionally have speculative investor demand in the same way as commodities like oil and gold. The spot uranium was historically hard to buy as an institutional or retail investor – either with futures or via a physical trust. Having US listed spot uranium trust could provide organic investment demand as an alternative asset diversifier. There is a large pool of investor funds sloshing around the world looking for returns, so it could land on uranium in the next few years.

The other important item with uranium companies is the relatively small market capitalization of the entire sector. The uranium sector’s current market capitalization is about $30 billion. Any significant in flows into uranium equities could result in this rising significantly. The combination of a new physical trust and equity in flows could translate into wider investor interest in the uranium sector.

Trading Update

The original URNM trade entry was in April 2020 on the rebound from the post covid crash, after the market had decided the world wasn’t ending. The URNM position trade strategy was simply long ETF with no options involved. The ETF spread was relatively wide, so trade entry required working some limit orders to get a decent price – but often URNM would still only fill very close to the ask. e.g. if the bid/ask from $27.65 / $28.00 would only fill at $27.95 even by walking up Buy limit orders in $0.01 increments. URNM is too illiquid to trade regularly.

In Jan 2021 the position was doing well (up about 57%), but did not believe that our position size was big enough for the trade conviction. One thing that we had noticed when analyzing trades from last 2 years (including 2019 and 2020 trades) is that generally not getting paid enough for being right – usually because the position sizing was too small for the portfolio. There were also around 20 to 30 distinct ideas and strategies that were not contributing enough to the bottom line. Decision was made to focus on only 10 to 15 ideas at a time for the trading account, which allows idea quality to improve. This also reduced the time monitoring active positions with the constraints of the day job. When getting significant macro calls correct we are attempting to increase size in 2021 to maximize returns. For example with “long oil in 2021” sometimes the “normal” position sizing was increased from 10 contracts up to 30 contracts. It’s a bit out of the comfort zone because the position sizes are 1 or 2 times bigger. However since we always maintain good risk management – the good calls are still beating the losers so far.

In the spirit of getting out the comfort zone on major trade ideas we decided to pyramid up with 2 extra purchases around $44 each in Jan 2021 to bring up with average price to $39. There was fairly clearly some institutional buying in the last couple of months of 2020. So although adding in Jan 2021 was late after the 30% run up, it appeared we were in good company. Having the initial position from April 2020 allowed us to enter a very bullish trend at full position risk, but still have a 10% downside cushion down to the new average price. The following chart shows where the greater risk was added and how the average purchase price moved up.

Summary

This URNM position trade also shows the importance of having some position in trade ideas you care about. Then you will care enough to monitor the position and not miss opportunities to add size. It can be hard to take a brand new position trade in a strongly bullish trending market – even if the trade conviction is high. This trade will be held long term in an IRA and potentially be a multi year hold.

Long Energy in 2021

This outlines the investment thesis for starting and maintaining our long energy position in 2021. This is then followed by implementation of the short selling put strategy on XLE energy sector ETF. Selling XLE puts has been an effective strategy in the first half of 2021, however the year started with quite a bit of uncertainty in energy sector. Fortunately the uncertainty provided “fear” in the option premiums, so running a strategy that benefits from high volatility makes sense. Also covered is why some potential XLE trading strategies were rejected due to the higher volatility.

Pricing note: Unless otherwise stated XLE prices are weekly closing prices, not daily close or extreme high/lows intraday.

Investment Thesis

In the previous year 2020 there had already been one huge XLE sell off into the Covid crisis low, which was ultimately hit at $25.86 on 20th March 2020.
Then followed by a 5th June peak around $44.84 within 2.5 months. This was then followed with a steady fall back to $28.72 on 30th Oct 2020.
The year 2020 ended with a very steep 32% rally in the last two months, ultimately ending at $37.90 on 31st Dec 2020. XLE was trending bullish or bearish in either direction for a few months, but then would reverse direction and trend in the opposite way for a few months. This meant that the energy outlook was somewhat uncertain – specifically investors were taken by surprise with Oct 2020 nearly revisiting the March covid low. This 5 year chart shows the context:

On a multi decade chart XLE is also at the bottom of the trading range. The main bearish case for oil producers in the energy sector is that fossil fuels are a dying industry that is destined to be replaced by alternative energy such as wind or solar. This maybe true on a 10 to 20 year time horizon looking towards 2030 and 2040. However energy is cheaper enough on an absolute basis to take a tradable medium term 2 to 5 years position. XLE is trading at the same price as 15 years ago – obviously XLE has paid significant dividends since 2005 so that isn’t a zero percent return – but it is clearly “cheap” based on historical pricing.

Obviously looking at price only does not necessarily make a sector relative good value, so looking at historical price to earnings ratio is another well used metric. One such price to earnings ratio is the Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings or CAPE for short. CAPE is defined as a valuation measure that uses real earnings per share (EPS) over a 10-year period to smooth out fluctuations in corporate profits that occur over different periods of a business cycle. Looking at the energy sector CAPE shows relatively cheap valuation in 2020 with two annual reading of around 11 (18.42), rebounding to 18.42 as of first half of 2021. This is significantly cheaper than all other S&P sectors in the table below.

Also the percentage of energy sector in the S&P 500 is 2.53% as of July 2020. This will have increased in 2021 due to energy sector rally, but the percentage size compared to other sectors is still historically low. This reflects the energy sector issues, but is small enough allocation that if only some investor capital flows back into energy the sector could grow quickly. This is not an argument for it returning to 20% of the S & P 500 – only that an investor sentiment could see it rally quickly because it’s absolute base is relatively low.

For the full sector chart with all sector percentages – see visual capitalist .

Trading Strategy

All of this historical bearish price action did generate some good option premiums to sell into 2021. Even though XLE has been rallying in 2021, volatility has been high due to the constant threat of a significant sell off.

For other trading positions we’d often use deep in the money LEAP calls and selling shorter term calls to start a new position. That trading strategy often works best on growth stocks or commodities with zero dividends. However XLE isn’t currently a great candidate for that because of the dividend yield, and higher volatility on the long term LEAP calls. Other option trading considerations come into play with higher dividend stocks like XLE – stocks that don’t pay dividends have less chance of having ITM short calls being exercised on you as the contract owner takes the stock to capture dividends. Also overpaying for longer term LEAP calls in high volatility can be a problem if they were purchased with a lot of time value. Generally it is better to start the deep in the money LEAP and overwriting when volatility is lower. XLE isn’t currently a great candidate for that because of the dividend yield, and higher volatility on the long term LEAP calls.

Due the significant sell off XLE had a dividend in 2020 that moved around in the 4% to 5% range depending on price extremes – so buying the stock outright or selling puts to capture the dividend looked like a good approach. Since the energy sector was in play so much, put option premiums generate some significant put premium volatility. Given the combination of high volatility and excellent dividends, selling put options seemed like the best choice. See this historical volatility chart for the trailing 12 months from July 2020 to July 2021, showing the significant volatility spikes in first half of 2021:

It’s hard to time perfectly, but selling puts should generate monthly premium, and worse case secure a stock position in high dividend stock. The risk of selling puts at lower prices (on stock that you want to own long term) is that XLE runs away to the upside too fast, and the opportunity to own stock at a good yield is gone. Ideally would like avoid XLE running away to the upside and having to chase the market to “avoid missing out”. The ideal market for selling puts is one with a bullish or flat bias, with high option premium. Over a number of months, this is a balancing act to sell without the probability of being assigned. Part of the art is to sell options at higher and higher strikes every month, but not so high that when the market reverses at the top all profit is given back on one “bad” put. Selling put with XLE in the range of $40 to $48 out 45 to 60 days to expiration was done in early months of 2021 – but as the market went over $50 the strategy reverted to longer dated 90 day options at strikes in the $45 to $48 range. No put option was ever sold over $48 even though the market went as high as $55.

The red lines on the chart below show where the puts were sold. The start of a line is an opening position (sell to open), the end of a line is a closing position (buy to close) and the price level of the line gives the $ strike. Shorter lines indicate holding periods of 30 to 45 days, and longer lines indicate 60 to 90 days.

Each red line is trade of 10 contracts. Sometimes the risk was tripled up, with a maximum risk of 3 x 10 contracts = 30 contracts. During April 2021 there was theoretically a risk of ($45 x 10 contracts) + ($46 x 10 contracts) ($48 x 10 contracts) of about $139k (minus put premiums sold).However this was only done in rising markets when the older puts were nearly worthless. There was a theoretical risk of 30 contracts, but looking at probabilities the $45 and $46 strikes only had a delta of less than 10 (so had a greater than 90% of expiring out of the money). Also if the market suddenly turned very quickly they could simply be bought back to reduce risk. If there was a flash crash (e.g. a daily move from $50 to $40) then all 30 contracts would have gone in the money – but that volatility was unlikely according to the options pricing. A flash crash “could” have happened but it seemed worth the risk, as it was a very low probability event and the trade was working.

Although at the end of April the final put did get closer to assignment and the market was now trending down. Therefore made the trading decision to go back to 10 contracts only (1 red line) and keep further out of the money. There were still some decent premiums to be had into May because of the increased volatility. As XLE moved higher into May and June moved some of the strikes up because the market was trending upwards, and was ok to double up contract exposure (have 2 red lines or 20 open contracts).

Ended up taking on more risk in a bullish market while the XLE trend was up, but pulling back contract size when XLE was moving down (due to rapid sell off risk). Importantly “risk” here is a relative concept compared to buying XLE outright. Most puts were sold with a 35 delta or lower – which means that on trade entry they have about a 2 in 3 chance (65% or higher) of expiring worthless (making money) at expiration. So they mathematically have an edge of winning each trade, and can typically tolerate at least a $2 to $3 XLE pullback without losing. There is risk here, but XLE has to surprise rapidly on the downside and there are adjustments that could be made should that happen. Worse case end up with a dividend paying stock at a reduce price.

The selling puts trading strategy does have issues if XLE is chased higher and puts are just sold mechanically without regard for price in low volatility. Option volatility tends to decrease in rising markets, so selling near month options at the top of multi month uptrend is not ideal. For example, selling shorter term 45 day to expiration put options at $55 on a market that has just gone from $45 to $55 in a month can be asking for trouble. If that option is sold in lower volatility for $1 but has to be bought back at $4 in the higher volatility of a declining market – then that is $3 of lost premiums. That could be giving back 3 months of premium profits in a few days. It’s not “free” money, it’s money for taking risk and always need to respect the market’s ability to reverse. Market tend to reverse faster than they increase (“stock take the stairs up, but the elevator down”) – which is why the short put premium exists in the first place. Or those who prefer a more dramatic interpretation from the 1800s can always quote “He who sells what isn’t his’n, Must buy it back or go to prison”. Technically short puts are cash secured, but the short selling warning still stands – selling more put contracts than you can cover can be painful.

Margin Requirements

The short put strategy can require keeping the entire cash amount available to cover the short put liability (should the stock be “put” on a price decline). In accounts such as an IRA that require a cash secured put the full amount of cash needs to be available. In a margin account you are still liable to buy the stock back – for example consider 10 short put contracts on XLE at $40 strike that expires in 45 days. If XLE went to $0 (zero) in 45 days you would be required to buy $40k stock. However a broker typically only requires about $8k to $10k margin for a 10 contract short put option in the price ranges of $40 to $50 – even though the theoretical value of the stock position is in the $40k to $50k. The exact margin calculation requirements will move daily with strike price and stock volatility. The return on margin is a fantastic investment return if run successfully each month e.g. For 10 short puts assume $10k margin to sell a $1 option held for 45 days. Assuming $1 option profit every time, and run it about 8 times a year (365 calendar days / 45 calendar day option holding period) and then dividing by the same $10k margin used every time = about 81% annual return on margin. Note that % annual return is theoretical maximum return assuming all puts expired worthless – achieving half of that would be an excellent trading year.

Trading Summary

In summary, selling XLE puts has worked well for last 7 months and using margin can help juice returns. The strategy worked well because XLE went up or sideways and energy markets still had high volatility. However it is important to manage the risk and respect the power of the market by not fighting significant down moves. Recognizing down trends and adjusting position size to reduce risk are important for selling puts. The current plan is to maintain this working trade for the rest of 2021, but could re-evaluate anytime.

Credits: Oilfield Pump (Texas) image used at the top of this page was created by Jcutrer photos. All other credits are referenced inline.

Long Gold calls into 2023

Despite threatening to breakout to new highs in August 2020, the gold price in July 2021 is actually about the same as one year previous in July 2020.

While the Gold price has moved around in a range for the last year, the volatility in the Gold market has been steadily declining this year. This steady decline in volatility is arguably surprising given all the macro economic fallout from the Covid stimulus and other economic measures. However the Gold market appears to be predicting less pronounced moves, at least in the short to medium term.

Since there is low gold volatility we can take more time premium risk than usual and keep the call strike relatively close to the money. Using deep in the money call options is a favorite strategy to get leverage to an underlying without taking the same principal risk as long stock. Buying in the money call options typically means that the majority of the option premium is intrinsic value (“real” value not time value). However the time value of an ITM call option can still be much cheaper when the underlying volatility is low. The spread will also benefit if Gold volatility increases during trade, which is a possibility given volatility tends to be mean reverting.

Gold LEAP diagonal spread

Therefore we can take advantage some of the lowest gold volatility this year, and buy a very long dated LEAP call for Jan 2023 (with a 66 delta). Buying 10 GLD options is approximately the same size as a single call option on a /GC futures contract (obviously assuming similar strikes and expiration dates).

To try and pay for some commissions on the larger trade and get a small amount of income, the shorted dated Sept 2021 $190 call option will be sold (7 delta). This option has a 93% chance of expiring worthless at Sept expiration (100 delta minus 7 delta). But also a 14% chance of being touched between now and expiration (“double the delta”). Using the shorter dated short call does chip away at the cost basis every month. However it does mean that would likely have to roll and re-evaluate position if GLD price shoots up more than 10% in a couple of months – from todays close price $171 to $190 in September.

As of close on July 14th this gives the spread a long delta of approximately 58 delta. The long dollar amount for 10 contracts gives about $99,180 equivalent gold exposure (specifically $171.04 GLD price x 1000 shares x 0.58 spread delta). The long call Jan 2023 call is $19.85 and the short Sept 2021 call was $0.42, giving a maximum risk is $19,430 until Jan 2023 in approximately 18 months time. The maximum risk amount is calculated by (long 10 contracts x 100 x $19.85) + (short -10 contracts x 100 x $0.42) = $19,850 – $420 = $19,430. However there is plenty of time to adjust between now and Jan 2023, so the likelihood of realizing the full loss is low.

Trade Date
Category
Trans Type
Description
Symbol
Quantity
Price
Amount
14-Jul-2021
Portfolio
Sell to Open Short Call
Call GLD 190.00  EXP 17-Sept-2021
GLD210917C190
-10.0
0.42
$420.00
14-Jul-2021
Portfolio
Buy to Open Long Call
Call GLD 160.00  EXP 20-Jan-2023
GLD210120C160
10.0
19.85
-$19,850.00
TOTAL
$ 19,430

Importantly if GLD goes over $180 the Jan 2023 $160 will over its breakeven price, and will begin to trade more like an underlying stock position as the option delta moves towards 100. The call option leverage allows paying less than $20k to control a $100k gold position. The long dated call also reduces the risk in a protracted gold sell off. Giving time to adjust and roll as conditions warrant (e.g. higher volatility) or gold price opinion changes (e.g. gold price declines and would like to exit to maintain some option value for other trades).

In summary this is a leveraged gold long position as a portfolio "hedge" to avoid "missing out" on a run away gold price. It gives plenty of time for the idea to play out. Additionally the capital efficiency of LEAP calls manages the downside risk, but gives a significant upside potential if Gold moves up in next 18 months.

Bitcoin Fund Portfolio Rebalancing

This trade adjustment on European based Bitcoin fund SE:BITCOIN.XBT describes reducing bitcoin exposure inside a “speculative” trading IRA. The main reasons for selling the bitcoin fund are portfolio rebalancing, mitigating long term provider risk and high product expense fees.

Portfolio Rebalancing

This trade has been a multi year Bitcoin long, trading two Bitcoin tracker fund products GBTC and SE:BITCOIN.XBT. Both funds aim to track the Bitcoin price (BTC), and own a claim on underlying Bitcoin. For brevity the underlying Bitcoin owned by either fund will be referred to as the Net Asset Value (“NAV”). As a quick review GBTC is Grayscale’s well known investment trust whose price is tied to Bitcoin. The initial GBTC position was originally purchased in March 2017 with BTC at $1,250 – see initial trade entry for more background.

However in 2018 due to GBTC having a very high premium to the actual underlying bitcoin holdings (NAV), it became very unattractive as a long term holding. Therefore the entire GBTC position was replaced with a more obscure Bitcoin fund SE:BITCOIN.XBT traded in Swedish Krona on the Swedish stock exchange. The fund historically tracks the Bitcoin price much more accurately than GBTC with only a nominal premium to NAV. Bloomberg has average 52 week trailing NAV of -0.12% for SE:BITCOIN.XBT, but a whooping 18.22% for GBTC (as of Feb 4th 2021). Incredibly around year end 2017 and into 2018 the average 52 week trailing NAV premium was 53% for GBTC (on 16th Feb 2018) and occasionally spiked over 90%

GBTC was sold in Feb 2018 due to this huge premium to NAV – see the original trade exit for a detailed discussion. The final sale value contained NAV (the equivalent amount of Bitcoin held by the fund) and the premium (that the market assigned over fair market value for the Bitcoin held in the fund). The NAV amount was then reinvested into crypto with approximately two thirds in Bitcoin (SE:BITCOIN.XBT) and one third in Ethereum (SE:ETHEREUM.XBT). That maintained exactly the same amount of crypto holdings, but with some crypto diversification and greatly reduced exposure to fund premium. The premium part of the sale was “taking money off the table” and was invested into other portfolio assets. This crypto rebalancing trade was done at approximately BTC $10,025. All these trades were IRA eligible so rebalancing was not a taxable event. Rebalancing these XBT funds frequently would not be advised because of the wide trading spreads and international transaction fees. 

Fast forward 3 years to Jan 2021. Crypto prices have gone through a huge decline (a “crypto winter”) from about Dec 2017 to Dec 2018 – with BTC ultimately reaching a low of $3,300 around Dec 2018. Then came the recovery rally from Dec 2018 to Sept 2020 with BTC reclaiming $10,000. Following that Bitcoin has been on a rocket ship launch starting in Oct 2020 at approximately $10,600 about to a high in early Jan 2021 of $40,405. The latest boom is claimed to be institutional money buying in large tranches, chasing exposure for themselves or their clients.

In Feb 2018 felt like we hung around at the party too long, with BTC moving from a peak around $20,000 in Dec 2017 down to our rebalancing trade at $10,025. Were actually saved somewhat by being able to the capture the GBTC premium. So this time we decided to see if we can improve by selling near the top of a huge peak, not waiting for post peak decline (speculation of course). Therefore during decline from high in early Jan 2021, exited two thirds of Bitcoin SE:BITCOIN.XBT position on 20th Jan when BTC was approximately $35,105 (about 13% from peak a few days earlier).

Ethereum (SE:ETHEREUM.XBT) position was maintained with no reallocation. Even after allocation the speculative IRA portfolio still has 25% crypto exposure, of which approximately 60% is Bitcoin and 40% Ethereum. 

Provider Risk and Fees

Any crypto exchange traded product (such as GBTC or SE:BITCOIN.XBT) has some significant counterparty risk if held for several years. Fund could get hacked, the provider may lose private keys or have some other internal company disaster that impacts the underlying crypto holdings. There is also significant provider discretion about how to handle hard forks and how (or whether) they accrue that value back to fund holders. Bluntly there is a constant tail risk that one day investors lose some or all of their investment in a crypto fund (potentially overnight with no warning). Ironically holding these crypto funds puts a single point of failure back on to the provider – that the underlying crypto “trustless” philosophy was supposed to resolve.

Both crypto funds have very high management fees that mimic hedge fund style management fees. GBTC has 2.0% management fee (but higher NAV premium) and SE:BITCOIN.XBT management fee 2.5% (0.5% higher, but less NAV premium). Although crypto funds may be able to justify high fees due to the very specialized product, this has to be a long term holding concern – especially given industry trend towards much lower fees. As any crypto fund position size grows, the management fee becomes much more expensive annually in absolute real $ amounts. Investor alternatives to paying crypto funds management fees are managing their own crypto keys in cold storage. Cold storage approach has no management fee, but requires investor have a detailed crypto knowledge of potential multiple cryptos. An investor needs to balance no management fee in cold storage, with the possibility losing their investment due to their own mismanagement. Therefore the fund management fee is an expensive convenience fee to trade crypto on exchange, manage crypto in cold storage and implement security protocols.  

Investors can currently ignore high fees because crypto is currently trading on Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) momentum – who cares about 2.5% fees when you make 300% plus per year? However through down markets over years or months, the fees begins chip away at long term value. The Nerdwallet Mutual Fund calculator can be used to compares product fees for an initial $10,000 investment in the (clearly hypothetical!) scenario where BTC price is static. Example shows that with no BTC price appreciation simply holding SE:BITCOIN.XBT with its 2.5% management fees loses nearly 12% in fees over 5 years – just for holding.

This clearly shows the impact of high management fees on long term holdings – these funds can only be held if high confidence crypto will rise. However as a medium term trading vehicle for crypto exposure with no taxable gains in an IRA, it is well worth these risks. Just remember to periodically take some off the table to mitigate the provider and management fee risks. 

Summary

GBTC and SE:BITCOIN.XBT products are a good trading proxies for crypto, but are still third party representations of a “promise to pay”. If you don’t have your own private keys, you don’t truly own your crypto. Crypto funds should not be relied on for multiple year long term buy and hold crypto exposure. Only crypto in cold storage does that. 

The crypto asset class is incredibly hard to hold without taking at least some money off the table on the highs. The peak to trough declines were about 85% for BTC and 94% for ETH from Dec 2017 peak to Dec 2018 trough. Unless some house money was already taken off the table in Feb 2018, it is doubtful that would have held all the way through “crypto winter” without finding the need to “do something”.

There is a reasonable chance that BTC goes significantly higher – however there are better asset classes that are less frothy starting from a lower base. BTC can potentially move from $35,000 to $100,000 from high (e.g. 200% return) but there are better opportunities to redeploy some of that crypto capital. Selling some for portfolio allocation is not the same as being bearish on crypto. This speculative IRA portfolio still has 25% crypto exposure, because it is the gift that keeps on giving. However if/when the crypto music stops, we will have made enough to construct an entire new portfolio from one single original Bitcoin position – whatever happens to BTC in future.

 

Bitcoin Halvening and Crypto as Money

Does a cryptocurrency need to represent a store of value to be successful over several years? One aspect of money is as a store of value. Value can be created by scarcity, that is literally limiting supply of any currency. Assuming there is more demand than supply for the currency, then it’s price should rise (becoming a store of value). By design many cryptocurrencies have built in scarcity because they will only create new coins on predictable supply curve.

Crypto as Money and Bitcoin Halvening - Bitcoin Split Photo - 20200507

Bitcoin Halvening image from this original photo under license

Bitcoin Halvening

One aspect of Bitcoin’s approach to this is the “Bitcoin Halvening” that occurs approximately every 4 years (every 210,000 blocks). On a specific Bitcoin Halvening date the amount of Bitcoin supply that can be awarded to a miner on each block is reduced by half. On average a miner can therefore except to receive half the amount of bitcoin for solving the same problem. After the Bitcoin Halvening date passes, this literally halves the supply of newly minted Bitcoin overnight. As a reminder the only way Bitcoin comes into existence is by being “mined”. Bitcoin mining is solving a complexity computer problem becomes progressively more difficult solve using existing computing hardware. If a bitcoin miner (a piece of computer hardware) solves the problem, they are entitled to keep a certain amount of bitcoin from latest block they solved. The scarcity comes from the fact that currently computing power is finite, so the “block solving” problem is hard to solve. If one miner’s computing power was somehow instantly improved by a huge magnitude for several months, then that miner would simply be able to mine the majority of available bitcoin. This is because the fast miner would be able to solve the computing problem before any other miners, so all other miners would not receive as many bitcoin rewards. Bitcoin scarcity therefore relies on finite computing power, essentially enforced by the current hardware speed.

Gold Cryptos

Both Bitcoin and Gold are a store of value because they are scarce. Bitcoin comes into existence via a computer hardware “mining” process, and is assigned market value because it takes lots of computing resources to create. Gold already exists in the ground, but becomes usable only after intensive exploration and physical mining operations. Gold is a hard to find metal that is first located through exploration. Gold then needs to be extracted with an energy intensive physical mining process to remove and refine the raw metal. Therefore Gold has value because it is hard to find and refine. With both Gold & Bitcoin the difficulty of their mining process helps maintain scarcity and is one reason that lets them act as a value store.

Recently there have been some new crypto tokens that have create a coin backed by real world assets. These “real asset” crypto tokens represent a true claim on a financial asset, not simply the tokenisation of a technology idea. For example PAX Gold is a very new product launched in Sept 2019 that combines advantages of blockchain and gold, with each PAXG token being backed by exactly 1oz gold. However “real asset” cryptos that represent a real world asset still come down to one word – trust. The entire system hinges on trust, specifically that you can provable verify that 1oz of gold in a London vault is actually really represented by the 1 token in your wallet. If you can have trust in the company auditing, it can be a very innovative way to store wealth on the blockchain.

Crypto Sectors

Bitcoin has been alive for over a decade, and many other crypto coins have been around for five years or more. “Long term” is relative – in crypto it is probably any coin or token that has been alive for more than five years. Widespread adoption is both a critical measure of success for a crypto to be considered currency like “medium of exchange”. Currently those who believe in Bitcoin Maximalism appear to have an edge as first mover in the currency space, as Bitcoin has the largest payment adoption and approximately 65% dominance of all crypto market cap in April 2020.

Crypto is notoriously hard to place into neat boxes. However if there is such as thing as crypto “sectors”, then some candidates would be “currency”, “privacy”, “tokenisation platforms”, “real assets” and “utility coins/tokens”. In currency, privacy and tokenisation platforms “sectors” there is nearly always the first mover that the advantage. For example Bitcoin (BTC) is considered the primary currency coin, Monero (XMR) the first mover for privacy and Etheruem (ETH) the first token platform. However due to the huge array of use cases it is hard to define one single “winner” from all the utility tokens/coins.

As a very general observation in 2020, currently crypto projects that act as money or enable tokenisation seem to be the main winners. Crypto needs to either be used as a store of value, be asset backed or provide a tokenisation platform (the plumbing) to allow the value tokenisations to occur. Crypto projects that only rely on a technology or business idea to “create value” do not appear to gain market cap long term, even if the project is succeeding with its technical objectives. Many crypto projects are finding it hard to build their own ecosystem, because investors tend to get focused on a few winning projects, while the rest die. Essentially there a few categories of use cases, with winner take all in each one. The losers die off slowly over several months and years. This is not necessarily because a project “failed” from a technical perspective, just that it failed to consistently attractive new capital to justify a higher price.
Increasingly crypto that have highest market capitalisation are maturing into money (for exchange), a real asset (that has real world value outside of crypto) or the tech platform that enables tokenisation. The next wave of cryptos with long term staying power could to be tokenising financial “real assets” in the real world, not simply to tokenise a whitepaper idea.

Below are some “sector” examples. Nearly all of the top 20 coins are currency, privacy or token platforms. There are few true utility coins/tokens with larger market caps, but some interesting use case projects are listed below. These are not exhaustive list, just an overview. For reference, here is the latest and greatest CoinMarketCap ranking list.

Currency : Bitcoin (BTC), Ripple (XRP), Litecoin (LTC), Decred (DCR)
Privacy: Monero (XMR), PIVX (PIVX), AEON (AEON)
Real Asset : Tether (USDT – USD stable coin), Pax Gold (PAXG – physical gold)
Token platform : Ethereum (ETH), EOS (EOS), Texos (XTZ), Neo (NEO)
Utility coins/tokens: Salt (SALT – Crypto Lending), Filecoin (FIL – Storage), Golem (GNT – Distributed Computing)

Crypto as Money

Currency and privacy are related aspects of money. Sometimes there is a somewhat artificial distinction made between “currency” coins that function as “money” and “privacy” coins do “private transactions”. However surely two main requirements of money are both privacy and fungibility? Cash banknotes traditionally have a high degree of privacy, even though they are sometimes tracked by law enforcement by serial numbers. Generally each banknote is interchangeable with another – one banknote of the same amount can be exchanged by two parties for another banknote with the amount. The specific banknote itself is not important, just the exact value it represents.

Confidence in the liquidity and fungibility of any currency is a crucial factor enabling adoption. However Bitcoin is clearly NOT fungible. Indeed any crypto “currency” coin (not just Bitcoin) with publicly visible blockchains allows positions and transactions on coin addresses to become fully traceable with more advanced analytics. As long as you can identifier a natural person (owner) of a bitcoin address via some method, you can see every transaction they make on the blockchain and their current address balance. This would be equivalent to your bank publicly showing on their website, all of their customers transactions and month end balances – just without any personally identifiable information. An alternative way to think about this, would be if every banknote in the world had a public list of every transaction it has ever been used in since it was created (just without the name of the from and to parties involved in the transaction). It is doubtful if consumer privacy advocates or customers would accept this with a “real world” bank.

This everyday reality for Bitcoin or any other publicly visible blockchain is becoming problem. It means that individual Bitcoins have a full history. If you can piece together all the owners of the addresses via social engineering or know your customer rules, then all of Bitcoins anonymity disappears. For example, most crypto exchanges (and any “on ramp” into the cryptosphere) require a large know your customer regulations (e.g. driving license, passport, proof of address etc).

This blockchain forensics is a problem because it basically breaks the fungibility of Bitcoin. This analysis allows identifying “good” bitcoins that have never been used for any thing questionable, and “bad” bitcoins that have (perhaps unwittingly) had some criminal use. For example, assume you open a small business selling coffee that can legitimating accept Bitcoin payments. If a dubious actor decides to use their “bad” bitcoin to buy your coffee, your legitimate coffee selling business could have it’s crypto exchange or bank accounts shutdown for dealing with a “bad” actor. This could occur even if the majority of your business was with “good” bitcoin. The issue is that the “good” and “bad” bitcoin decisions are not decided by yourself, they are decided by the crypto institutions (e.g. exchanges) you signed up with.
The “real world” cash equivalent would be something like being banned from your local coffee shop, because you used a bank note previously involved in a historical crime committed by different person.

Monero (XMR) is the only privacy coin to fully resolve this fungibilty issue by design. There are many technical features that ensure Monero fungibilty, but two features to highlight are 1) not having publicly viewable transactions on a blockchain and 2) having read only view keys.

Monero less transparent blockchain, where the specific transaction history of a coin cannot be viewed. Therefore 1 XMR will always be the same another 1 XMR – it doesn’t matter how the individual coin has been previously used. Monero is much more similar to cash (banknotes) because it is untraceable, whereas Bitcoin is trackable digital money.

As transactions are not viewable on Monero blockchain there needs to be some way for other parties to be able to verify holdings without controlling them. With Bitcoin the public blockchain does this because you can send anyone an address to look up. Monero has the concept of view keys give the ability to prove address balance to only interested parties (not the entire world).

Some other cryptos do have privacy features, but typically they are not enabled by default. Typically a privacy feature has to be “turned on” for a specific transaction. Some coins are therefore “private” (privacy enabled) and “public” (default), so these coins are by definition “different”. Therefore even in the same crypto coin since the “private” coins are not viewable on the public blockchain, as they are not identical to “public” coins. This means that coins are not truly fungible even within the same crypto. Monero is private on the actual protocol level with the option to be transparent, whereas with Bitcoin every transactions will by definition only every be “psuedo anonymous” because of the publicly viewable blockchain. Monero (XMR) is unique because the idea of privacy is built in by design.

If you are interested in learning more we have written an Amazon Kindle eBook Better than Bitcoin – A Beginners Guide to investing in Monero.

COVID-19 Coronavirus Portfolio

This is a COVID-19 coronavirus portfolio of trading ideas generated in the last two months. The portfolio aim is to identify and invest in new trends in commodities or sector ETFs generated by either government policy monetary policy response or “shelter in place” lockdowns.

Covid-19 coronavirus portfolio - world map - 20200416

This collection of trading ideas was setup somewhat quickly as a tactical portfolio in response to the COVID-19 Corona Virus situation. The fundamental portfolio theme is that the market has been almost instantly split into winners and losers, Some industries have simply been decimated overnight that they can’t function as viable businesses for the immediate future. For example, even Warren Buffet completely sold all Berkshire Hathaway’s US airlines in April 2020. The aim of this tactical portfolio is to think about trading ideas that can generate winners in the “new normal”.

COVID-19 coronavirus portfolio – Option Volatility

Volatility is very high in most commodities and sectors, so it is critical to use option trading strategies for high volatility environments. Specifically Implied Volatility Rank (IVR) is in the range of 75% to 100% for many ETFs this month. Simple one leg option strategies such as buying out of the money calls in high volatility products will likely not do well. The “go to” trade on ETF options has typically been to buy long dated deep in the calls (LEAPs greater than 9 months out). This means that the majority of premium paid is intrinsic not extrinsic (time) value – the extrinsic value will likely reduce over the course of several months as the current volatility premium likely goes lower. To help with any downside, call spread overwriting and put butterflies on the same ETFs. There was also call spread overwriting in major tech indexes to hedge some downside in tech ETFs that do not have any options. Where no ETF options were available, actual ETF equity positions were taken, but sized appropriately at less than 10% of portfolio size.

COVID-19 coronavirus portfolio – Trade Ideas

The exact thinking behind the ideas need more detailed separate blog posts to fully justify their inclusion. However this tactical portfolio blog post is just to give the trade ideas, their high level implementation and any hedging strategy. This following ideas show the sector, idea rating (buy/hold/sell), the conviction level (low/medium/high) and a high level idea description.

New trades with “Buy” where started in the last 45 days. If a “Hold” is included in this portfolio that means it was already owned, but think performance would improve because of COVID-19 Corona Virus environment. The aim would be to hold most of these for 2020, or until stopped out.

Each paragraph describes a trade idea within a sector (including trade direction), rating (Buy/Hold/Sell) and overall conviction level.

Real Estate and Liquidity

Real Estate (Long). Hold/Buy. Medium. Select international opportunities mostly due to strong USD creating weaker local currencies and lower prices on local real estate. Here “local” means local to a target country in question, specifically Canada and UK whose currencies have been beaten up quite a bit due to flight to safety buying of USD. Keeping liquid in USD to maybe a currency conversion later in 2020 for a property purchase. Not rushing into anything. Actively writing a new Ebook for US investors on future opportunities with international real estate in 2020 and beyond.

Metals

Gold (Long). Buy. High. Gold is one of the best performing assets YTD in USD, and rebounded very quickly with after an initial March 2020 sell offs. The rebound was a direct response to the FED stimulus packages for the general economy. Gold is trading at 7 year highs in USD (near $1700) but importantly gold has made already made new all time highs in just about every other major currency such as Euro, UK Pounds, Canadian Dollars (etc). Select currency and 20 years on this Bullion Vault to chart historical gold price in each currency. Bought deep in the money calls on physical gold ETF (GLD) with an approximately 90 delta for Jan 2022. Aim is maintain a gold position, to ultimately replace with some actual physical gold, when the current spot to physical price premium subside. Aside from just the physical metal, gold miners should benefit from lower oil prices and therefore have reduced input costs, that should increase earnings per share in 2020 and beyond. Gold miners are up about 30% since purchase of Jan 2021 deep in the money calls in both major (GDX) and juniors (GDXJ). These are potentially multi year longs.

Silver (Long). Buy. High. The gold/silver ratio is at about 113 which means that silver is historically very undervalued compared to gold. Interestingly the silver price is approximately tracked the Dow (DIA) year to date, being down about 15% – so it does have more of an industrial market supply and demand component. Gold tends to function as a true safe haven, but silver can influenced by industrial supply and demand from economic conditions. Silver can definitely sell off in a general market downturn, where as gold is holding its value better. However if there is to be a significant gold bull market, silver will tag along for the ride, but may take more time to turn around. Trade was bought physical silver and silver metal (SLV). Bought deep in the money calls with an approximately 85 delta for Jan 2021.

Uranium mining stocks (Long). Potental new uranium bull market for 2020s. Uranium producers and explorer stocks have been one of best performing sector and are up YTD – beating general indexes. Uranium equity could definitely get caught in a wide market downtown, but has tracked higher physical uranium prices that have increased from low $20 to $32 in last month. Ideally this is a very specific sector mining play that should be a play on the physical price of uranium, and should not be correlated to the general market. We play this with a small position in a very small ($4 million market cap!) and brand new ETF of uranium producers URNM. This could be a multi year trade, but the risk reward setup seems good.

Energy

Oil drillers (Long, short vol). Buy. High. Added new full size positions in OIH. Made bullish call last month on OIH was trading at around $4. In OIH sold cash secured $3 puts in July 2020 and Sept 2020, because the implied volatiliy was insane (over 100%), and combined with half a position in long OIH stock. This position bounced nicely, so bought back the short puts for good profit, then hedged the remaining stock with a wide put bufferfly in July 2020. Sold 40% out of the money call in July 2020 to help finance the put butterfly a bit. This is neutral to long ish bias on OIH until July, but it has run up a lot in April so it is sells off in May (seems likely to take a break) then the put buttefly will make some good money, even if the OIH stock loses money. Note that OIH has had a 20:1 reverse split this month, so the $ option strikes mentioned above will need to be multipled by 20 to compare to a current OIH chart.

Oil explorers (Long, short vol). Buy. High. Added new full size position last month on XOP (same timing as OIH trade). Bought a deep in the money for Jan 2021, then overwrite with call spread for May 2020. The call spread recently had both legs in the money and was only 2 weeks to go to expiration. Therefore overwritten call spread was rolled to Jun 2020 for a minor debt. The aim is to maintain the deep in the money Jan 2021 call, and keep overwriting for the rest of the year. If XOP goes up a lot we will capture majority of move. If stays same we can get some income from the high volatility in the call spreads (if they expire worthless). If goes down we will lose, but much less than stock. One advantage is if XOP price goes down fast the implied volality will go up, and so the deep in the money call will stay bid. Note that XOP has had a 4:1 reverse split this month, so the $ option strikes mentioned above will need to be multipled by 4 to compare to a current XOP chart.

Natural Gas (Slightly long, short vol). Hold. Medium. The natural gas etf (UNG) is hard to hold long stock for several months, due to the current contango in natural gas futures. Contango is when near month natural gas futures trade lower than far month future prices. (UNG) maintains its natural gas price exposure by constantly rolling contracts – specifically buying more expensive far month futures contracts, by selling the expiring (and cheaper) near month contract. This enforced rolling built into the product, creates a long term drag on prices while natural gas is in contango (look at any multi year chart of UNG). This is a less extreme version of the same problem with USO contango this week – when the oil price went negative (!). Since owning (UNG) stock is not a good idea, the setup is usually buy a long term calendar call spread, and also selling near dated call spreads on (UNG). This takes advantage of high implied volatility with limited risk, but can still benefit if prices are higher or neutral. This does sacrifice large profits if (UNG) spikes higher quickly and cannot roll fast enough into the price increase.

Natural Gas Producers (Long). Buy. Medium. US natural gas equities have been beaten up in 2020. Clearly there are is a huge over supply of natural gas and a massive worldwide demand shock for energy. (FCG) tracks an equal-weighted index of US companies that derive a substantial portion of their revenue from the exploration & production of natural gas. Approximately 15% of its portfolio is in MLPs and the remaining 85% to equities. Interestingly the (FCG) attempts to recovers some of its 0.6% management fee by securities lending, and it does have a dividend yield but that will likely disappear to much smaller amount in 2020. However to place this in some historical context, many US natural gas equities are trading at the lowest price for 20 years. For example, buying natural gas producers index (FCG) for $5.50, when its all time high is about $155 in July 2008. The US natural gas producers sector at these prices is low enough to be a binary trade. Either the majority of the US energy complex is going bankrupt and this is a slow grind lower for many years (“lose”). Alternatively some energy demand returns, the survivors consolidate and a restructured sector operates at higher price levels at some point in the next few years (“win”).

Equity

Cloud Computing (Long). Buy. Medium. More e-business activity (e.g. Shopify) for starting new businesses and tools for people working for home. This is long equity ETF but focusing on cloud technology (CLOU). Actively trying to ignore struggling parts of economy (e.g. airlines, manufacturing, automative, consumer financing etc). Positions in CLOU and other tech ETFs will be actively hedged with QQQ OTM call spreads.

Mortgage REITs (Long). Buy. Medium. MReits were trading at significant discounts to book value in April 2020 This was definitely a speculative buy with high yields around 11%, especially because dividends could be heavily reduced in next year. However if MReits can simply maintain their value, and allowed to DRIP for a number of years (even at these levels), then they can add some welcome yield and maybe some capital appreciation. MReit ETF (MORT) is a high yield trade great for a portfolio position in an IRA, because it can be allowed to DRIP long term. This is relatively risky play, and only medium conviction. There is no simple way to hedge this using options, so will only take a half position size to manage the risk.

Solar ETF (Neutral). Sold. Medium. Fortunate enough to sell Solar ETF (TAN) around $34 after the bounce back up to $37 in early March 2020 (not the top, but about 20% off the high the way down). This was a risk off trade, which preserved some capital initiate some of the other new ideas in this portfolio.

Emerging Market Equity (Short). Buy. High. Emerging market companies that have debt denominated could have a hard time paying it back, with economic shutdown and currencies depreciating against USD. Emerging market equity like Brazil (EWZ), Mexico (EWW) and India (INDA) have not bounced back as fast as the main US equity markets. For example Brazil has traded in an approximate range of $21 to $26 over last month, down from a Feb 2020 peak of (this is a “L” market chart, not the “V” market chart). Two trades here were 1) out of the money Long Put EWZ butterfly in May 2020, fully financed with short call spread on India market (INDA). This was neutral to bearish. 2) in the money Long Put EWZ butterfly in May 2020 for a debit, and no short call spread. This was more bearish. Brazil equity market has proven to be weaken than India in April 2020 so that seems like a good trade choice approaching May 15th 2020 expiration. INDA trade should expire worthless. Brazil trade already in the money and likely to still be there closer to expiration.

High Yield Corporate Debt (Short). Buy. High, now Medium. Corporate credit quality is being impacted by an unknown amount due to corona virus shutdowns, so that uncertainty would cause high yield corporate bond ETFs to trade significantly lower in the next couple of months. Entered an in the money (ITM) put butterfly as a limited risk reward way to short high yield bond ETF (HYG) on 17th March. HYG was at about $77 then went down 10% in a hurry to around $70. The risk was managed with the limited risk trade structure of an ITM put butterfly, but still got “taken to the cleaners” by the announcement that the FED would be buying junk corporate bonds. This policy announcement caused a huge HYG rally in April from about $70 to $80. Unless there are signs a sharp move down in high yield this week, it will be closed this week approximately 10 days before 15th May expiration – losing about two thirds of original trade capital this week. This is to preserve one third of the remaining principal from a losing trade, as a put butterfly that is now out of the money will decay much faster into expiration. A classic example of a good initially profitable good trade entered for the right reasons, but taken out by unprecedented policy decision. Trade was a loser, but have successfully managed the short risk by not having an unlimited short risk trade on.

Crypto

Cryptocurrency (Long). Hold. High. Bitcoin (BTC) and other alt coins (e.g. XMR). Holding not adding any more.

Liquidity and Hedging

Peer to peer lending – Lending Club (Neutral). Sell/Hold. High. Already dialed back risk here several years ago due to lending club management issues. However this month turned off auto re-investment of cash into new notes. Definitely do not want any more exposure to consumer credit for next year or so. Peer to peer is a small position, but turning off re-investment seems prudent until can figure out what is going with the general consumer lending (does not look good in short or medium term).

Cash (Long). High. Long USD for investment opportunities and saving up to get properties with low LTV. On existing international property businesses we are looking to open small home equity line of credits on properties with low LTVs in local currency (assuming local bank allows it). A small amount of debt exposure in local currency is effectively a long USD position (since we are based in USD). If the local currency for a country where we own property declines significantly we may consider paying down mortgage principal from USD cash.

Hedges (short, combined with underlying positions). Buy. High. Index call spreads overwriting out about 2 months. similar idea to covered covered calls, but with limited risk reward so that if the market does go massively higher are not losing so much (and can probably roll out of it in following months). Selectively combining put butterflies with hedges.

COVID-19 coronavirus portfolio – Summary

This tactical portfolio was created relatively quickly. The main themes were long metals and energy, with some technology and potentially some real estate later in the year. There are also some relatively aggressive hedging and other complimentary short positions. This is a long/short portfolio, that would be much more heavily hedged if world goes “risk off” again. Having good entry points in April 2020 should definitely help holding positions for longer term. The other main theme is keeping very liquid and not over allocating to make sure money is available for opportunities. In summary, only trade if you want to, not because you have to.

Halifax Houses Market Data

We have in the last 4 years been involved in buying Nova Scotia real estate and we’ve had to analyse the market to look for criteria we wanted. However we found the real estate broker websites in the Nova Scotia area generally did not good market overviews like absorption weeks and overall property inventory numbers.Therefore we felt we need to write our own Halifax Houses Market Data tool to quickly visualise and compare market trends.

The previous Real Estate Market Data Visualisation Tool was written about 3 years ago for locating individual properties for potential purchases. Now that we have some properties, the new Halifax Houses Market Data tool was developed in 2019. This new tool is for reviewing general trends and market analysis, so we can monitor the existing property investments.

So how do you use Halifax Houses Market Data tool ?

The tool instructions are relatively straightforward:

Halifax Houses Market Data tool - Halifax Nova Scotia - Instructions - 20191010

1. Select vertical axis with one of the many market data variables available.
2. Optionally select the horizontal axis with a market data variables, but for most cases it is simply better to maintain “Statistics Date” settings to get a time based chart. If you want to do scatter plot to see data correlations between two variables, then it can be useful to select something other than “Statistics Date” for the horizontal axis. However generally maintaining “Statistics Date” is better to keep a time series.
3. Move mouse over chart data points – left hand side is 2011 and right hand side is now. A tooltip popup will give you the “Statistics Date” for that data point. The vertical axis gives the value ranges for the selected market data variable and the actual value is given below in the market data pane (beneath the select boxes). The chart always plots the selected vertical market data variable against the selected horizontal market data variable.
4. View the market data pane to see all variables for that date. The market data view changes dynamically as mouse moves over different chart data points. Each data point on the chart represent a date has all the market data variables that appear in the market data pane. The two selected axis variables are highlighted on the market data, so it can be easily seen what is selected when moving the mouse over the chart data points.
5. Repeat from point 1 for different market data variables.

The tool can be quickly used to identify long term yearly trends in the market, hopefully to predict best times to buy and estimate future market direction.

Low absorption rate

Absorption rate is the amount of time it would take for all open listings to be purchased (assuming no further listing were added). The absorption rate calculation here is defined as the total number of available homes divided the average number of sales per week. The absorption rate is a number of weeks, specifically the number of weeks it would take for all current housing inventory to be exhausted.

This screenshot shows how the market absorption rate (in weeks) typically moves in a predictable seasonal range with lows in the summer (less houses available) and highs in the winter (more houses available).

Halifax Houses Market Data tool - Halifax Nova Scotia - Absorption Rate Weeks - 20191010

From 2012 to approximately end of 2016 absorption rate went with seasonal moves, from average lows of about 40 weeks, to winter highs of on average about 60 weeks. This pattern repeated each winter from 2012 to 2016, even though there were some 2014 data points with some very significant highs around 100 weeks. Some of the 2014 data points maybe “bad” data points, but the take away is that there was a huge amount of unsold inventory on the market at the time.

However at the end of 2016 absorption rate started a downward trend that is still continuing. The absorption rate has declined with usual seasonal patterns, but importantly seems to be trending lower every year. This would indicate that market conditions are a lot tighter now, with a houses being purchased quicker so that it reduces available market inventory. A faster absorption rate often reduces the amount of quality houses for a buyer, simply because the demand picks off the better priced deals first. From a final high of 65 weeks at the end of 2016 the absorption rate has declined to a low of 17 weeks in Oct 2019. To put this another way – Halifax housing inventory would be exhausted 3 times as quickly in 2019 compared to only 3 years ago. This implies a significant move from a buyers market to a sellers market.

Active Listing for Single Family

Halifax houses market data has been separated into a single family category (removing condos and vacant land) because that is our target property for rentals. This can include multi family up to four units. This deliberately excludes condos, because on average the monthly charges on condos make then inefficient rentals.

The screenshot below shows the number of active listings for single family homes from 2011 to now.

Halifax Houses Market Data tool - Halifax Nova Scotia - Listing Active Total Singlefamily - 20191010

The number of active listing for single family homes has peaked from a high of approx 4,000 in mid 2015 to a low of approx 1,500 in Oct 2019. This would indicate that market conditions are a lot tighter now, with a reduced amount of single family houses to choose from. Similar to absorption rate, this implies a sellers market in Oct 2019.

Data Integrity

Most variables are available from approximately July 2011 to present dates. Some data points for some variables are missing from 2011 to approximately 2013, so there maybe incomplete data points with blank chart data points during those time ranges. Occasionally data points are obvious outliers that can be ignored if they appear way below or above the usual chart curve. The aim of the tool is to look for trends, not get the data absolutely perfect.

Emerging Markets Iron Condor

This is another bread and butter trade with an emerging markets iron condor, going out a bit further in time to October with 78 days to expiration (DTE). Emerging Markets ETF EEM has sold off rapidly due to market tariff and rate cut talk this week, which has provided inflated volatiliy. This is a limited risk range bound trade for EEM with the expectation that the market maintains its position over the next two months and that volatility contracts.

Trade entry Emerging Markets Iron Condor

Here is the trade entry for EEM iron condor:

Contracts  Expiry Date  Strike   Price   Amount   Trade
-------------------------------------------------------------
+5         Oct 18 2019  45.00  C $0.05   $ 52.69  Buy to Open
-5         Oct 18 2019  42.00  C $0.74  -$372.25  Sell to Open
-5         Oct 18 2019  38.50  P $0.76  -$317.20  Sell to Open
+5         Oct 18 2019  35.50  P $0.35   $122.79  Buy to Open
-------------------------------------------------------------
Total    	                        -$513.97 (credit)

On trade entry on 2nd August there were 78 Days to expiration DTE through to option expiration on 18th Oct. According to the 30 day rule this means that can consider exiting the trade on or after 2nd Sept. On 2nd Sept this would still leave approximately 48 calendar DTE, so there is plenty of time to adjust or exit. The following table sounds the future trade lifecycle dates when trade exit or trade adjustments could be optionally applied:

Trade Lifecycle for EEM Iron Condor

Trade DateTrade Lifecycle (Optional)Days to Expiration
(DTE)
2nd August 2019Trade Entry - enter Iron Condor according to original trade above78
2nd September 2019(Trade Exit) - optional earliest possible date for a full trade exit according to 30 day rule.48 to 1
13th September 2019(Trade Adjustment) - latest possible date to do a trade adjustment using the same Oct options (trade adjustments must be at least 30 DTE)78 to 30
18th October 2019Trade Exit - latest possible date to exit original Iron Condor with any optional trade adjustments that were added.1
Note: Trade Lifecycle actions that are optional are in brackets like this (Trade Adjustment) or (Trade Exit).

The option deltas sold on each side are approximately 35% on the call and 25% on the put, so there is approximately a 70% chance that the call will be touched, and a 50% chance that the put will be touched anytime between now and Oct expiration. Therefore it is likely that the short options at $42 and $38.5 will be tested at some point on this trade, but it can be held due to the limited risk. The breakeven points of $43 and $37.5 are at the high and low ends respectively of the trading range price action for the last year, so we can be reasonably confident that at some point in the next couple of months EEM could return to the the middle of this range – even if there is likely to be some short term volatility, possibly with the short options being touched.

Trade Summary

The aim will be to close the trade for a $100 to $250 profit after 30 calendar days have elapsed, but this could require being patient and waiting for volatility to come in a bit and the trade to move back into the middle of the range around the $40 mark.