Note : The position discussed in the post was closed sometime back and I do not currently hold any open positions discussed in the post

I have a confession to make – I have moved to the dark side, figuratively speaking J. I have rarely written about options and derivatives. There is a simple reason behind it. I do not have as much experience in these type of instruments.

I have been reading on these instruments for some time now and have been dabbling in them a bit for some time now. My foray into derivatives has been mainly for hedging. I still firmly believe that trying to time the market is a waste of time (atleast for me). However that does not mean that I would not like to act when I feel the market may be overvalued.

There is a difference between the two points – time v/s price based action. Let me explain – lets assume that I hold a stock, which i assume is worth 100 and is currently selling for 60. Lets also assume that everyone thinks that the market is overvalued as a whole. If I believe in timing the market, I may decide to sell the stock assuming that market is likely to correct and so will the stock. When that happens, I may buy back the stock at a lower price.

If one approaches this from a price based view point and is agnostic about the market (it may or may not drop), then one may decide to do nothing as the stock is still undervalued. If the market drops, the stock has only become cheaper and one can choose to buy more. If however the market rises, and so does the stock, then well we have a nice profit on our stock.

The benefit of the above approach is one can focus on a single variable – discount of current price from the fair value of the stock and not worry about the market level, sentiment and other such factors. Ofcourse, if you think you can predict the market levels in the short term, then dancing in and out of stocks can be profitable. I however avoid these gymnastics and keep my life simple.

So how does a derivative – a put or a call option fit into the above approach ?

There are certain points of time when one can objectively look at the market valuation and conclude that the market looks fairly overvalued. One can look at the past history of the market and arrive at a reasonable conclusion that if the PE of the market is above 25, then the forward returns are likely to be low. One could look at the data and just ignore it or alternatively try to profit from it.

During the last 1-2 month, after the market hit 16000 and higher levels, I felt that the market was getting over priced. The number of attractive opportunities were reducing and the forward returns were likely to be low. At the same time, even if the market is overvalued, it does not mean that it will drop in the next 1-2 months.

At this point of time, I decided to hedge my portfolio with the use of a put option. Let me detail my thought process and strategy behind it

Buying insurance
In buying a put, I was looking at buying insurance for my portfolio. The objective of insurance is to protect your asset at the minimum cost and not necessarily profit from it. A put option is the right, but not the obligation to sell. So if I buy a put on a stock selling at 100 with a strike price of 80, I have to pay a premium for the option. The value of the option increases as the stock price drops below the current price. If the stock drops below 80 , I am fully hedged against any further drop in the price of the stock

The price of a put option depends on 5 factors – strike price, duration, current price, interest rate and implied volatily. I cannot go into option pricing in detail here, but in simple terms – lower the strike price (below the current price), lower is the price of the put (other factors being constant)

With the above point in mind, I had make a decision based on the following factors

  • Strike price of the index put
  • Duration of the put

The Strategy
At the time of the analysis, the index was in the range of 5051-5100 and I decided to pick a strike price of 4500. The maximum duration of the put which I could pick at that time was the December contracts. The reason for picking 4500 as the strike price was due to the fact the probability of the market dropping 15% or more looked low and at the same time a higher strike price required a much higher premium.

An additional factor in buying puts was the low implied volatility (read here for more details on implied volatility). As a result, the options seemed underpriced (I have bring a value angle into it 🙂 ).

I ended up buying the December contract for 100 with a strike price of 4500.

The result
After buying the options, the market continued to rise for some time. Options are brutal instruments, also called as wasting assets. Options lose value with time (called as theta or decay). In addition, if the price move in the opposite, then loss is almost exponential.

The above situation changed in the subsequent few days and with a 10%+ drop in the market, the options were almost in the money and had more than doubled in price. The end result is that they had achieved the objective of hedging my portfolio during the market drop.

Am I happy with success of my options strategy ? that would mean that I would be happy on making money on my fire insurance if my house burns down. I look at options merely to hedge my portfolio against short term drops. The cost of this insurance is high (almost 10-12% per annum of principal value) and hence it would be silly to buy puts every time one felt that the market is a bit overvalued.

I would personally buy options under two scenarios
–        The market appears considerably overvalued and options are underpriced due to low volatility
–        I wish to hedge a specific stock position which I plan to sell in the next few months.

I am looking at other strategies such as covered calls, collars, butterflies, rabbits (ok I made that up) and will post if I attempt these stunts in the future and survive 🙂

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