Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor. When I describe my own trading activities, it is not intended as advice or solicitation of any kind.

04 October 2010

A Little Free Advertising

I think some background might be useful before I jump into trade journal activities.  Most of the trades I will describe on this blog are being done in Think or Swim's paperMoney platform.  A few might be done with real money, and I hope that someday the realMoney/paperMoney ratio will increase.  But I have no intention to specify which ones are real and which ones are fake: my actual personal trading activities in the real market risking real capital are not something I want to put on the internet.  Likewise I don't plan to be very specific about position sizes or prices except where they are necessary to understand what I'm doing.  There also won't be profit/loss numbers.

There are two big reasons for not being very specific about these things.  The primary one is privacy: if I talk about my trading sizes, profit/loss, or which trades are real or fake, I give away personal financial information.  Additionally, though, I don't want anyone mimicking my trades.  If I wanted to be an investment advisor I would go off and get certified, and make a lot of money doing that.  Trades described in this blog are intended to be general ideas open for discussion, and they are certainly not recommendations or advice.  See that little disclaimer right under the title bar?  Yeah.  So if you're looking for stock tips, picks, predictions, or strategies, move along now and don't come back.  If you want to read about my own personal thrills and spills in the marketplace and interact with me about what I learn along the way, welcome.

In any case, assume that all positions are held in my paperMoney account (not real money).

So here's a little commentary about this thing called paperMoney, of which I am a huge fan.  Think or Swim has an interactive trading front-end written in Java.  This is great for me because I made the Windows-to-Linux switch about 18 months ago and I get kind of pissed off when I have to run a VM just to run a piece of software.  ToS's front-end is fully featured, providing charts, stock screening, real-time news feeds, trading grids, account/position management information, etc.  You hook it up to your trading account at thinkorswim.com and you're good to go: any trade you do goes against your buying power in the account and shows up both on your statements and in the front-end.

When you first connect, you choose between realMoney and paperMoney.  I have personally never used ToS's front-end for real-money trading - only paperMoney.  But from what I understand, paperMoney is exactly the same software except for two very important features: 1) trades in paperMoney don't actually make or lose you real money; and 2) market prices seen in the front-end under paperMoney are 20 minutes behind.  I'm sure that ToS does this because of republishing and licensing agreements with the exchanges providing the market data in the first place.  Another minor difference is that you start with $100k in your paperMoney account - I have no idea what you do if you go broke and hopefully I won't find out - so there is no depositing to do.  And execution is occasionally a little strange: ToS fills your limit order based on mid-prices instead of actual price action.  This is the best of a bunch of compromise approaches, in my opinion.  But you do sometimes get kind of a weird fill.  On May 6 (Flash Crash day), I had some limit orders working to exit some positions at ridiculous prices just so that I wouldn't forget about them, and they got filled at even better prices than I had specified.  What should have had a max-$2000 profit based on the option strategy ended up netting me $25k.  If only it was real...

The front-end is really well-tailored to options trading, which is why I selected it in the first place.  One of the screens shows position valuation graphs that can be played around with to examine the effects of underlying changes, delta changes, time, vega, etc etc.  Simulated trades can also be applied to positions from there so that an informed decision can be made before submitting the order.  I spend a lot of time on that screen before making adjustments.

I'm not sure how protective TD Ameritrade (owners of Think or Swim) are about screenshots and whatnot, so I won't post any here.  But check out thinkorswim.com and read all about it, if you haven't ever looked at their platform.  I'm really impressed with the software for having most of what I want in it, and I'm also really impressed at their willingness to let me paper-trade indefinitely without ever depositing any money.  That sort of accommodation shows confidence that their software is so good that I will still want to use it when/if I transition to a real-money option trader.  And that, my friends, is rare.

I sold some December 2010 calls on GLD today, taking my initial investment off the table.  My remaining position is all profit.  I did this today because of the fantastic run-up GLD has had over the past two months; some consolidation is due, and maybe a correction, so it seems like a good idea to reduce my risk and lock in a floor on my return.  Another reason is that the trader that sits next to me at work (we'll call him NeighborTrader, or NT) reported this morning that when he loaded up yahoo.com he noticed that the phrase "gold prices" was at the top of the Trending Now list.  That's a sign of a short-term top if I ever heard one.  It's a good time to hold a call option on my call position.

When NT's Iowa-residing grandfather asks about investing in gold, I'll sell the rest.

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