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Case Study: Trading Skew With Ratio Spreads

What Happened: On June 23, 2021, shares of Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA) surged on news the company opened a Chinese-based solar-powered charging station with on-site power storage.

Prior to the development, the stock endured months of corrective activity during which negative narratives were out in full force. From calls against Tesla’s biggest bull – ARK Invest – to famed Michael Burry’s synthetic short position on the stock, it seemed as though the end was near.

However, as evidenced by Tesla’s June 23 breakout from consolidation and subsequent upside continuation in light of a 300,000 vehicle recall in China, it is obvious the fear was unwarranted.

Those who understand that markets are most influenced by credit and positioning knew this all along.

Taking a look at market liquidity metrics – such as those offered by services like HFT Alert – market participants had been aggressively accumulating shares of the company from its mid-May low.

Graphic 1: Buying accelerates (as evidenced by the purple line), in Tesla, after its mid-May bottom, via HFT Alert

Still, with skepticism out in full force, there was a heightened demand for protection, as evidenced by metrics like volatility skew, in options at and below the current stock price.

Skew: The difference in implied volatility (IV) – an estimate of potential price changes given the fear of movement – between option strikes that are close and far from the underlying stock price. 

To put it simply, the fear of corrective activity in Tesla fueled demand for protection via put option strikes farther below the stock. This, in turn, bid volatility in downside strikes, more than upside strikes. Because volatility is input in option pricing models, put options, further down the chain, were valued more relative to their call-side counterparts.

Graphic 2: June 23, 2021 screenshot implies increased demand for put options, further below (left of) the stock price, relative to calls (right) for the expiries traded. 
Graphic 3: Notice the increased volume and open interest in put option strike prices at and below $500. This dynamic results in skew, as observed in Graphic 2. 

Given this dynamic, the following sequence analysis unpacks how Physik Invest traded options tied to the carmaker leading up to, and through, the June 23, 2021 upside consolidation break.

Note: Click here to view all transactions. Adding, positions were structured in a way that would potentially net higher credits had the stock moved markedly lower or higher.

Sequence 1: After skew was observed, through 6/18/2021, the following positions were initiated against the $500 support level for a $1,011.00 credit.

  • June 11 Expiry 500P+1, 450P-2
  • June 25 Expiry 490P+9, 440P-18 
  • June 25 Expiry 550P+2, 500P-4
  • June 25 Expiry 300P+2

By 6/21/2021, all aforementioned positions were closed for a $271.00 debit, netting a $691.58 credit after commissions and fees.

Sequence 2: Through 6/29/2021, skew improved and the following positions were initiated for a $5,651.38 credit.

  • July 2 Expiry 500P+3, 450P-6 
  • July 2 Expiry 525P+7, 475P-14
  • July 2 Expiry 545P+1, 495P-2 
  • July 9 Expiry 850C+2, 900C-4 
  • July 9 Expiry 580P+11, 530P-22 
  • July 9 Expiry 350P+3 
  • July 16 Expiry 850C+4, 900C-8

Through 7/12/2021, the above structures were removed for a $90.00 debit, netting a $5,443.93 credit after commissions and fees.

Sequence 3: Through 7/6/2021, skew remained and the following positions were initiated for a $3,566.00 credit.

  • July 16 Expiry 575P+11, 525P-22
  • July 16 Expiry 600P+1, 550P-2
  • July 16 Expiry 350P+3 

Through 7/14/2021, the above structures were removed for a $473.00 debit, netting a $3,043.29 credit after commissions and fees.

Summary: In total, the sequence of trades net a $9,178.80 credit after commissions and fees. 

The above strategies were employed per Physik Invest’s core edge: the trade of ratioed, multi-leg strategies that combine short and long positions to reduce risk and increase returns. 

By leveraging the dynamics of time and volatility, through complex spreads, Physik Invest was paid to express a neutral stance on underlying Tesla stock with the potential to further capitalize on an expansion of range in either direction.

Disclaimer: There is a $0.77 discrepancy between the transaction sheet and the numbers provided in this case study. This is attributable to differences in rounding.

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Results

Case Study: Trading A Balance-Breakout Failure In The Nasdaq 100

What Happened: On April 29, 2021, market participants attempted to move the Nasdaq 100 stock index from balance, an area of recent price acceptance, above a developing ledge, or flattened area on the composite volume profile.

Further, participants failed to find acceptance beyond the balance area, given the Nasdaq 100’s move back into the prior range. As a result, odds favored (1) sideways or (2) lower trade, as low as the balance area low (BAL) near $13,700.00.

Adding, a weak reaction by heavily-weighted index constituents to blowout earnings, as well as poor structure left behind prior price discovery, among other factors, such as the will to raise the Capital Gains Tax, suggested an increased potential to trade below the $13,700.00 BAL, into prior poor structures, or low volume areas (LVNodes), that ought to offer little-to-no support.

In response, the following sequence analysis unpacks how Physik Invest traded options tied to both the cash-settled Nasdaq 100 (INDEX: NDX) and Nasdaq 100 (CME: /NQ) future, leading up to the May 12, 2021 swing low. 

Note: Click here to view all transactions.

Sequence 1: On April 29, 2021, Physik Invest applied the balance-break and gap scenarios, monitoring for acceptance (i.e., more than 1-hour of trade) outside the balance area. 

To preface, gaps ought to fill quickly. 

Should they not, that’s a signal of weakness; leaving value behind on a gap-fill or failing to fill a gap (i.e., remaining outside of the prior session’s range) is a go-with indicator. 

Auctioning and spending at least 1-hour of trade back in the prior range suggests a lack of conviction.

After a confirmed balance-breakout failure, Physik Invest bought the following structures for a $203.00 debit. At this point, if all legs were to remain out of the money (i.e., expire worthless) by May 21, 2021, the maximum loss would have been $203.00, approximately 1/5 of a standard risk unit, or the debit risked in a typical position.

  • 13500+1/13300-2/13100+1 NDX long put ratio spread
  • 14100+3/14110-6/14140+3 NDX short call ratio spread
  • 14400-1 /NQ short call

By 5/10/2021, the aforementioned position was closed for a $1,855.00 credit, an 813.80% return on the initial debit outlay.

The above put-side structure was initiated against the $13,300 high volume area, also a prior balance area boundary. The reason being, a structurally sound market will build on past areas of high volume. Should the market trend for long periods of time, it will lack sound structure (identified as a low volume area which denotes directional conviction and ought to offer support on any test). If participants were to auction and find acceptance into areas of prior low volume, then future discovery ought to be volatile and quick as participants look to areas of high volume for favorable entry or exit.

Summary: After a failed balance-breakout setup presented itself, Physik Invest financed long put-side structures targeting a test of $13,300, with short-call exposure, risking ⅕ of a standard risk unit in debit, over a timeframe of one month.

In total, the sequence of trades net a $1,621.71 profit after commissions and fees.

The above strategies were employed in accordance with Physik Invest’s core edge: the trade of ratioed, multi-leg strategies that combine short and long positions to reduce risk and increase returns.

Yes, in hindsight, one could have opted for static short exposure (e.g., selling stock to open a position). However, the risks tied to such strategies are immense in a regime characterized by increased volatility and uncertainty.

By leveraging the dynamics of time and volatility, through complex spreads, unwanted directional risks were reduced.

Reflection: Hindsight is 20/20.

Though the entry was perfectly timed, the exit was not; 1-day prior to expiry, the 13500/13300/13100 ratio spread – which was removed for a $21.11 credit – priced at nearly $90.00. 

The correct move would have been to initiate the position with up to four 13500/13300/13100 ratio spreads. Thereafter, as prices moved lower, the position would have been pared down enough to at least cover the cost of any remaining spreads.

Those remaining spreads would have been kept on as so-called “lottery tickets.”

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Results

Case Study: Trading Tesla’s S&P 500 Inclusion

What Happened: On November 17, 2020, shares of Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA) surged on news that S&P Dow Jones Indices would include the stock in the S&P 500, the most liquid index in the world.

Since markets are most influenced by credit and positioning, news of the inclusion was impactful. Funds tied to the S&P 500 would purchase Tesla shares from a dealer by the addition date. This means that dealers would look to purchase shares of the stock heading into the event, to later supply funds at the close of Friday, December 18, the last session before the inclusion.

In the simplest of terms, the event was a positive since it meant that (1) speculative derivatives activity and associated hedging, (2) short-term traders, as well as (3) dealers and index funds would now support the stock.

The following sequence analysis unpacks how Physik Invest traded equity and derivatives tied to the carmaker’s stock leading up to the December 21, 2020 index inclusion.

Note: Click here to view all transactions.

Sequence 1: On news of the inclusion, market participants initiated shares of Tesla out of balance, beyond trend resistance. Thereafter, in accordance with a typical give and go scenario, the stock faded, filling 50% of the low-volume area left after the initial move higher, before aggressive buying resurfaced to continue the new trend.

Through November 19, the following positions were added for a $61.00 debit, in total. At this point if all legs were to remain out of the money (i.e., expire worthless) by November 20, the maximum loss would be $61.00, approximately 1/10 of a standard risk unit, or the capital risked in a typical position.

  • 500+1/530-2 call ratio spread
  • 490+2/505-3 call ratio spread
  • 525+1/550-2 call ratio spread
  • 510+1/525-2 call ratio spread
  • 445-1 put
  • 460-1 put

By November 20, all aforementioned positions were closed for an $827.00 credit, a 1,255.74% return on initial investment.

All the above call-side structures were initiated against the $500 high open interest strike. Reason being, option expiries mark an end to pinning (i.e, the theory that market makers and institutions short options move stocks to the point where the greatest dollar value of contracts will expire worthless) and the reduction dealer gamma exposure.

On November 20, nearly 40% of Tesla’s gamma was to roll off. 

Pictured: November options gamma by Spot Gamma
Pictured: Speculative call-side options activity after the index inclusion announcement 

Moreover, since derivatives exposure was rolled into farther dated expiries, the stock would now be supported by dealers buying to hedge their derivatives exposure and facilitate the index inclusion.

Noting, at a simplistic level, prices often encounter resistance at prior highs due to the supply of old business. These areas take time to resolve. Breaking and establishing value (i.e., trading more than 15-minutes above this level) portends continuation.

Sequence 2: On November 20, the following structures expiring on December 4 were initiated for a $644.00 credit.

  • 450-1 put
  • 520+1/550-1 call ratio spread
  • 570+1/600-2 call ratio spread
  • 490-1/475+1 put ratio spread

Through November 24, the above structures were removed for a $876.00 credit.

Sequence 3: On November 24, the cost basis from November 19 ($61.00 debit) was reduced via an intraday long stock delta hedge that bought 10 shares at an average of $539.50.

The initial cost basis, after this particular trade, was brought down to a $0.20 debit.

Sequence 4: On November 25 the following positions were opened and closed the same day for a $179.30 credit.

  • Bought stock at $550.14 average
  • 480+1/500-2 call ratio spread

Sequence 5: On November 27, the following positions were initiated and closed by December 3 for a $117.10 debit.

  • Bought stock at $595.55 average
  • 475+1/437.5-2 put ratio spread

Sequence 6: On December 1 through December 3, the following positions were initiated, and then exited from by December 7 for a $1.77 debit.

  • Bought stock at $589.20 average
  • Bought stock at $563.77 average
  • 740+1/780C-2 call ratio spread

Sequence 7: Through December 17, the following positions were initiated and closed for a total $452.30 credit.

  • 720+1/820-2 call ratio spread
  • 740+1/830-2 call ratio spread
  • Bought stock at $632.17 average
  • 720+1/820-2 call ratio spread
  • Bought stock at $606.88 average
  • 800+1/860-2 call ratio spread
  • 500+1/480-2 put ratio spread

Sequence 8: From December 17 through December 23 the following positions were entered and exited from for a $322.00 credit.

  • 500+2/450-4 put ratio spread
  • 800+2/850-4 call ratio spread
  • 670+1/685-2 call ratio spread

Summary: In total, the above sequence of trades net a $3,098.29 credit after commissions and fees.

The strategies employed were in accordance with Physik Invest’s methodology: the trade of ratioed, multi-leg strategies that combine short and long positions to reduce risk and increase returns. 

Yes, in hindsight, one could have opted for something as simple as risk-reversals (e.g., buying calls and selling puts). However, the risks tied to such strategies are immense. By leveraging the dynamics of time and volatility, through complex spreads, risk was reduced.

Note: There were many times, during these sequences, that positions were structured in a way that would net no loss had the security moved sideways or lower into expiry.

Adding, per Fibonacci principles, one core aspect of Physik Invest’s market structure analysis, an upside target of $675.10 was established early on in the process. Tesla spent the majority of its December 18 session at this level.

Disclaimer: There is a $0.11 discrepancy between the transaction sheet and numbers provided in this case study. This is attributable to differences in rounding.