Traders Ask: Is it better to buy options for swing trading profits, or sell options for time decay?

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Trader Sam asks:

Dear Sir:

Allow me to ask a question about options, as I am a new trader:

I have heard that delta neutral strategies are the best approach to trading options but I have less than $6,000. in my trading account and my broker’s margin requirements make it impossible for me to trade iron condors, butterflies  and other income strategies. So I feel that my only alternative is to buy options utilizing my directional opinion on a stock for a 3-5 day  swing trade. Am I correct?

Sam,  thanks for reaching out to us with your question. It’s  a very good one.

First of all there is no “best” way to trade options. Each method has its positive and negative implications.   One of the secrets  to options trading is to find the options strategy that best fits the situation and then use that strategy with skill. This comes from experience and a lot of hard work.

Second, I think that you CAN trade delta neutral  strategies with between $5,000-$6,000 in your trading account. In fact, I would not recommend your trading any more than that in your first year of trading delta neutral strategies, as they are full of nuances that you can learn only through experience. At SMB,  our trainees normally start with a $5,000. trading account in which they trade, monthly, four or five separate income strategies including in most cases iron condors and butterflies.

How do we do this? It’s not that complicated.  First of all, calendar spreads and butterfly spreads do not eat up very much capital compared to iron condors and other “strangle” types of trades such as double diagonals. Our trainees normally set aside between $500 or $1,000 for these types of trades.  So there is no reason you can’t get practice trading either of those strategies immediately. As for iron condors and double diagonals, they certainly are more capital intensive, but that problem can be resolved by selecting a lower cost vehicle to trade.

For example, I just modeled a five-point  strike-separation, 3-lot,  SPY iron condor that you could theoretically trade in connection with  this coming October expiration for $1,050 of margin vs. the equivalent trade in the $SPX index (a 3-lot, 50 point strike separation iron condor) for  more than $10,000 in margin.  Admittedly, the ratio of commissions to potential profit in the SPY condor  is higher, but using the SPY to practice   trading  iron condors on the $SPX ultimately, when you are ready to trade a  larger account,  is an excellent idea.

All of this is not to say that you can’t successfully  buy calls and puts outright depending upon your directional opinion of a particular stock, ETF or index.  However when you  do so, time (and volatility) are your enemy whereas with delta neutral strategies, in which the trader is normally net short options,  time is always your friend.  As time passes,  the  price hurdle for you to make a profit on a long call or put gets higher. If volatility drops,  matters  gets worse.  Having said that, properly traded long calls and puts can provide spectacular gains, but equally spectacular losses.   Most people who dabble in longs options struggle and ultimately give up.  Delta neutral options trading, on the other hand, teaches you how to  get the time decay built into options to work  for you, not against you, month in and month out, without the necessity of a directional opinion.

If I were you, I’d learn more about delta neutral strategies and continue your learning curve with those trades by using lower priced vehicles.

Thanks for reaching out to us and best of luck in your options trading!

Seth Freudberg

Director, SMB Options Training Program

The SMB Options Training Program is a program designed for novice and intermediate level options traders who are seeking an intensive training process to learn how to trade options spreads for monthly income. For more information on this program contact Seth Freudberg: [email protected].

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