Options Trading: Profit and Probability, Part 2

Posted On December 15, 2017 11:25 am

Winning Percentage in Options Trading

In the first part of this series, we discussed how returns need to calculate returns on a risk adjusted basis in both percentage and dollar terms. This is applies to within the context of each position but the overall portfolio. Now, let’s take a look at how setting up the proper risk/reward profile for each individual position will boost overall profitability in your options trading.

A big secret that many rich traders know, but that new traders do not is that the winning percentage for even the best traders is only about 50%-60%. Having big winning trades and small losing trades is their edge.

Big losses will kill your account quickly and small wins will do little to pay for those losses. Our trades have to be asymmetric, where our downside is carefully planned and managed, but our upside is open ended. This is a crucial element for options trading success, and has to be understood and planned for.  Consider the following sets of risk/rewards with win rates.

With a 1:1 risk/reward ratio and 50% win rate, a trader breaks even.

With a 2:1 risk/reward ratio and about a 35% win rate, a trader breaks even.

With a 3:1 risk/reward ratio and about a 25% win rate, a trader breaks even.

The risk/reward ratio is used by more experienced traders to compare the expected profits of a trade to the amount of money risked to capture profit. This ratio is calculated mathematically, by dividing the amount of profit the trader expects to have made when the position is closed (the reward) by the amount the trader could lose if price moves in the unprofitable direction and the trader is stopped out for a loss.

 Related: The Number One Mistake Retirees Make

Don’t Play the Lottery

One of the biggest mistakes novice option traders is buying way out-of-the-money calls. These options, with their typically low dollar cost, seemingly set up a great risk/reward profile. You can only lose what you pay for the option, and profits are theoretically limitless.

I refer to these as lottery tickets, because you are much more likely to rip them with a 100% loss than you are to hit the jackpot.  And remember these options come with an expiration date, meaning you not only need an outsized price move, but it has to occur within the right time frame.

In addition to these OTM options having a low probability of success, they also may not be as cheap as they seem. In options trading, it’s not just the dollar amount that determines whether it relatively cheap or expensive, it is the implied volatility. Often the implied volatility on these OTM is very high, causing inflated premiums. This is especially true ahead of pending news such as earnings or takeover chatter, when the lottery aspect of these come fully into play.

Three Step Approach

In setting up a trade, I take three basic steps.

First, use the chart to find an attractive entry level and define your trade parameters. This means buying near support and selling at resistance levels. This not only provides an attractive initial price, but helps you set a realistic price or profit target. It also limits risk; if support is broken, the position gets closed for a small loss. Ideally, the price target should be at least twice the price magnitude as the stop loss level.

Second, choose a strategy that will deliver at least a 2:1 risk/reward if the price target is achieved. If the target is small and the stop is tight, one can simply buy an at-the-money call. If the parameters are wider, than using a spread might make more sense.

Last, allow sufficient time for your thesis to play out. If this is a turnaround story, you’ll want options that have an expiration that is at least 8-12 months away. If you’re just looking for a quick technical bounce or an earnings announcement using shorter term options, anywhere from two weeks to three months, will provide better returns.

The bottom line: managing risk is more important than trying to always be right.

 Related: Learn How This Poker Lesson Can Help Your Trades

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About author

Steve Smith

Steve Smith have been involved in all facets of the investment industry in a variety of roles ranging from speculator, educator, manager and advisor. This has taken him from the trading floors of Chicago to hedge funds on Wall Street to the world online. From 1987 to 1996, he served as a market maker at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE) and Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). From 1997 to 2007, he was a Senior Columnist and Managing Editor for TheStreet.com, handling their Option Alert and Short Report newsletters. The Option Alert was awarded the MIN “best business newsletter” in 2006. From 2009 to 2013, Smith was a Senior Columnist and Managing Editor for Minyanville’s OptionSmith newsletter, as well as a Risk Manager Consultant for New Vernon Capital LLC. Smith acted as an advisor to build models and option strategies to reduce portfolio exposure and enhance returns for the four main funds. Since 2015, he has worked for Adam Mesh Trading Group. There, he has managed Options360 and Earning 360, been co-leader of Option Academy, and contributed to The Option Specialist website.

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