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.

02 August 2011

A Bunch of Trades

This morning, the SPY opened below its 200-day moving average after flirting with it on an intraday basis for the past three sessions.  This signalled "Exit" in the MACO component of CS|MACO, and so I closed the long SPY position at the open for a price of 127.80.  I changed the entry criteria a few months ago after doing some backtesting, and under the updated rules, CS|MACO would have bought SPY back in September 2010 for around 112.  Unfortunately, in real life I can't go back in time, so the SPY position only yielded about $1/share due to its much more recent entry.

The CiG trade has seen me in and out of S&P Futures several times this last month as the stock market went through its daily gyrations.  The trades have mostly been profitable, but it has been a challenge to risk-manage the positions when the stock market has opened up and closed lower, or vice-versa.  This debt deal nonsense going on, coupled with the worrisome economic numbers coming out lately, has the market on edge.  CiG is long S&P and underwater right now, and not far from its stop-loss on the current position.  As a counter-trend-fade trade, CiG is always destined to get hurt when the long term trend reverses instead of simply correcting.  Times like this one are built into the profit expectation, which makes them easier to take.  I am actually using a small number of SPY calls as a proxy for S&P Futures this time around, because CiG called for a long position on Friday amidst swirling rumors about debt ceiling activities over the weekend.  Since stop-loss orders don't work on Saturday, I felt something with a defined maximum loss was a good idea.  I spent the same in premium as I would have lost with a stopped-out position, which lets me keep the trade on no matter what the market action... in exchange for lower profits, if I ever see any.

Speaking of on-edge markets, I bought some deep out-of-the-money calls on GLD during the height (so far) of the debt ceiling circus.  My reasoning was that if the talks really broke down and no deal was formed, then the country's debt rating would be immediately downgraded, the stock market would crash, the economy would head straight into recession again, and the Fed would pledge QE3 to try to policy our way out of this gigantic mess we created for ourselves.  Panic + money printing = inflation expectations + falling dollar, and Gold would climb a wall of worry.  Having some leverage on the only thing likely to rally in that environment would help control the bleeding in my portfolio.  This was (almost) a Black Swan trade, and now that the clowns in Washington are getting back into their tiny car, I'm working to exit the position, starting with getting out of about 25% of the contracts at a 20% profit today. Considering what else would have happened if this position made a lot of money, I'm pretty glad it didn't come to pass.  But with lowered profit expectations, I still should be able to deleverage for a nice profit on the trade.

Despite my taking my finger off the big red button, I still don't have high hopes for the economy. I think the stock market is terribly overvalued (when don't I?), and we are so close to slipping into another deep and painful recession right now that I feel like I need to protect myself against a big market sell-off.  Back in May I bought some puts on SPY, and then took a lot of heat on them.  I was OK with this, as I was more interested in catching a big long-term sell-off throughout the summer than in a small short-term correction in the late spring.  We have now closed below the 2011 lows (125.28 on March 16), so the puts are starting to fulfill their roles as portfolio hedges.

In the midst of all the other excitement going on the last month or two, I sort of forgot about the Iron Condor.  Luckily for me, I placed some target-profit exiting orders before I forgot about the position.  While I ignored the trade the Russell oscillated up and down, taking out my exit orders and then returning to nearly unchanged before I went and looked at it today.  So I discovered a half-sized, well-centered, and very profitable Iron Condor position when I finally bothered to look at it.  Since it had already depreciated past my target for the trade and most of the way toward maximum return, I went ahead and closed it out the rest of the way, opening an Oct 860/870/690/680 IC while I was at it.  This "forget it and get lucky" approach is not a good one, but it happened to work this time.

One trade that didn't work out as I'd hoped was Office Max (OMX), which reported earnings this morning before the stock market open.  Historically, the stock has done very poorly on earnings announcements, and they were only expected to break even in the latest quarter.  Between that and the general skittishness in the market, I felt puts on Office Max were a low-risk play with a high probability of an overnight profit.  This is similar to how I like to play Research in Motion (RIMM) around earnings.  Office Max beat expectations with a 7c/share profit, however, and OMX quickly rallied 18% on the open.  I took the loss on the puts and moved on.

Quick Position Run-Down
  • I have a Wal-Mart bond as well as a couple of Illinois muni bonds to control my portfolio volatility.
  • I have a long position in a commodity ETF (DJP), which is primarily energy, metals, and agriculture - this is a "China needs stuff" long-term investment.
  • I still have a sizable position in GLD call options, as well as long-term holdings of GLD and GDX - to take advantage of this record-setting gold bull market and to partially protect against a market apocalypse.
  • I have an investment-grade corporate bond ETF (LQD), which is designed to capture the strength of companies relative to people, without being directly correlated to the stock market.
  • I have puts on SPY at both the 129 and 126 strike level; not a huge number, but enough to turn my trading screen green on ugly days like today.
  • I have recently started accumulating exposure to oil via USO.  I've been watching crude-oil futures every day at work for months, and I feel like buying USO on big crude dips is a good idea.  I bought my first batch when oil dropped below $95/barrel, and I'll buy some more during the next recession.  Maybe a lot more, since this is also a long-term "China needs stuff" investment.
  • I have puts on Xilinx (XLNX), and I'm working an order to close the position for a 125% profit.  This position has hung around longer than I would have liked, but it is finally starting to work itself out.  It started out as an earnings season pessimism trade and turned into a general bearish trending position.
  • I am long the Canadian Dollar ETF (FXC), which I bought at par.  This is another US Dollar hedge, and I don't have a specific plan for when to close this position.
  • I'm still long Microsoft (MSFT) from a long time ago.  I keep looking for opportunities to write covered calls or something against this position, but the collectable premium is so bad that I can't justify the risk of losing the stock at ex-div, even though the yield is only 2%.  I really need to unload the stock soon, though, as its membership in the DJIA guarantees a rough couple of years when the recession hits.  Mental note: get on this one.
  • I have a small position in inflation-protected treasury bonds (TIP), as another hedge against inflation getting away from Uncle Ben.
  • I also have a small position in Verizon (VZ).  I took half of it off a few months ago, and have been working a target exit ever since.  Meanwhile, the dividend yield on the stock is 5.5%, which is easy to procrastinate getting rid of.

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