Using Options To Go Long Berkshire Hathaway

In my last post, I mentioned that Berkshire Hathaway was undervalued and a good buy that the current price of $76 per B-share.

It turns out that it’s probably a better buy than anyone expected.

Buffett just announced that he’s spent $10.7 billion buying IBM stock, as well as a few billion dollars on CVS and VISA.

I currently own BRK-B, and I’d like to increase my exposure to it. But I’m strapped for cash.

So how do I make money from being LONG BRK when I’m short on cash?

Time to look at option strategies.

When most investors are bullish on a stock, they buy CALL options on it. They fork over some money (called a premium) and have an option to buy that stock at a specific price (called a strike price) at a future date. If the stock price exceeds your strike price, then you’ve made money.

One problem with this approach is that the recent volatility in the market has increased the premiums on options.

Another problem with this approach is that usually,  investors lose money on options. Most commonly, the options expire worthless because the stock price didn’t hit your strike price. And sometimes investors paid too much premium, so that despite exceeding the strike price, they still end up losing money overall.

Let’s look at an example.

Consider the BRK-B, Jan 2013 $75 CALL option. It’s currently selling for $10.50, which means on each contract (1 contract is 100 shares), you’d pay $1,050.

So, in January 2013, unless BRK-B is trading for more than $85.50, you’ve lost a thousand dollars!

A better way is to use PUT options.

When you buy a PUT option, you’re paying a premium and you have the right to sell a stock to someone at a specific price at a future date. You make money if the stock price declines below the strike price. You would enter this contract if you were bearish on the stock.

However, if you SELL a PUT option, you receive a premium. In return, you must buy the stock if it declines below a certain price. If the stock goes up in value, then you get to pocket the premium. So you would only enter this contract if you were bullish on the stock.

Being bullish on BRK-B, and short of cash, I’ve taken a short PUT position.

As I outlined in my previous post, I think BRK-B is worth $112 and has a floor below $72.

I sold the Jan 2013 $60 PUT for $4.50. This means I collected $450 per contract.

If BRK-B drops below $60 per share, I will be forced to buy the stock.

However, based on the premium I collected up front, my purchase price will be $55.50 or 50% of what I think is the intrinsic value.

Mostly likely, the option will expire worthless and I’ll get to keep the premium.

This also how you can turn around the high premiums to work in your favor.

If I didn’t already own BRK-B, I would go for a higher strike price. Most likely, I would sell the Jan 2013 $80 PUT for $11. This would allow me to collect $1,100 per contract.

Of course, the risk that I would be assigned the stock would also be much higher. But I would be comfortable owning this stock at an effective price of $69 per share ($80 strike price – $11 premium = $69).

Option trading is not without risk.

It’s easy to over-leverage and wipe out your portfolio. I use this strategy with great caution and with a lot of forethought.

You also need the highest level of option trading and a margin account in order to sell puts.

A trade like this one usually has a 20% margin requirement. Which means, I need at least $1,200 in margin. Based on that margin a $450 premium would represent a 37.5% gain in 14 months. Not too shabby.

If you’d like to learn more about option trading, I strongly recommend The Bible of Options Strategies: The Definitive Guide for Practical Trading Strategies. It’s a excellent primer on various option strategies.

Disclosure: If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m long BRK-B. Both the stock and by selling puts.

Taleb: Everyone Should Short US Treasuries

One of my favorite investors, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, founder of Empirica investment management funds and author of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, was recently quoted on Bloomberg advising every single human being to short the US Treasury bonds. While this news is about a week old, I thought I’d still comment on it given the fact that it’s a pretty strong statement and that I recently exited a similar paired-trade.

Taleb said investors should bet on a rise in long-term U.S. Treasury yields, which move inversely to prices, as long as Bernanke and White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers are in office, without being more specific. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted the credit crisis, also said at the conference that the U.S. dollar will weaken against Asian and “commodity” currencies such as the Brazilian real over the next two or three years.

The Fed and U.S. agencies have lent, spent or guaranteed $9.66 trillion to lift the economy from the worst recession since the Great Depression, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bernanke, who in December 2008 slashed the central bank’s target rate for overnight loans between banks to virtually zero, flooded the economy with more than $1 trillion in the largest monetary expansion in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama has increased the U.S. marketable debt to a record $7.27 trillion as he tries to sustain the recovery from last year’s recession. The Obama administration projects the U.S. budget deficit will rise to a record $1.6 trillion in the 2011 fiscal year.

“The problem we have in the United States, the level of debt is still very high and being converted to government debt”, Taleb said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We are worse-off today than we were last year. In the United States and in Europe, you have fewer people employed and a larger amount of debt”.

Moody’s Investors Service Inc. said on Feb. 2 that the U.S. government’s Aaa bond rating will come under pressure in the future unless additional measures are taken to reduce budget deficits projected for the next decade.”.

Do I believe him? Absolutely. So why did I exit my highly profitable trade? Several reasons. During times of global economic uncertainity, there has always been a flight to quality. We saw this during the financial meltdown in 2008, where US Treasury prices soared and yields tanked. Right now, there is uncertainity in Europe regarding the debt of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain. People are worried this might have lasting consequences on the Euro as a viable currency. These fears are probably overblown, but until everything settles down and we have more clarity, there will be a flight to quality, which means that people will sell the Euro and flock to US Treasuries.

At least thats my hypothesis and I sold all my positions (except Berkshire Hathaway), shorted the Euro and also the S&P500. The one thing I didn’t do is go long the US Treasuries, since inherently I feel Nassim Nicolas Taleb is correct. At some point, I’ll most likely re-enter my short US Treasury trade, but in the meanwhile I happy to see how the European Union handles the issues of excessive debt.

Goodbye TDAmeritrade, Hello Izone!

I just closed down my account with TDAmeritrade. I transferred everything to

Funnily enough, Izone is owned by TDAmeritrade and offers EVERYTHING that my regular TDAmeritrade account offered. Infact, the user-interface is identical. Its so identical, that the new username and password I created at even works at!!!!

 So whats the difference? All the commissions are half-priced as compared to TDA.

But whats the catch? There’s no phone support and you need to have a couple of years online trading experience in order to open an account. Actually, I’m not sure about the ‘no phone support’ policy – I suspect that if you call up the customer support number for TDA and give them your izone username, it just might work. In any case, I usually asked my questions via email at TDA, so there’s no difference for me. And izone also has a live ‘customer support chat’ feature during normal business hours which has less wait time than the phone lines.

 I did an internal transfer since my old account was at TDA. It took place at 11:45 pm so my regular trading wasn’t affected at all! Now thats some decent service!

Let me know if you want to open an account and I’ll send you a referral email. I think we both get 10 free trades.

How Traders Make 28% Returns In A Day

Friday’s stock market had a distinct sense of deja vu about it. Even though it was down overal, I was reminded of the crazy dotcom days in late 1999 when any tech stock could rally 25-50% in a single day!

One of my friend’s subscribes to a stock newsletter. Periodically he gets an email alert informing him when a stock is about to make a significant jump. He often sends them to me and I usually look at them and then ignore them. Yesterday he sent me an email about a China Clean Energy Inc (CCGY.OB).

By the time I got the email, it had already jumped 30% that day, but I really liked the chart. It had retreated about 15% from the highs of the day and looked like it was ready to make a move back up to the $2 range.

This is what the chart that I follow looks like.

The image is bit hard to understand since they’re aren’t any notations on it. The first chart is the intra-day stock price of CCGY.OB for September 28th 2007 using Candlesticks. It also has the bollinger bands and exponential moving average lines.

The 2nd chart with red and blue vertical lines denotes the volumne. The 3rd chart is the Relative Strength Index (or RSI) with oversold and overbought indicators.

The 4th chart is the Moving Average Convergence/Divergence indicator orMACD.

The last chart is the Slow Stochastic.

From these charts I felt that there was sufficient momentum in the stock to carry it higher, despite it having already jumped 30%. I was able to buy in at $1.73 around 12 pm EST (which was 9 am for me) and sure enough it continued higher throughout the day.

It closed the day at the highest price of $2.23, for a stunning 28.9% one day gain! Although the stock was up ~60% for the entire day, I was very happy with my 28%. Made me feel like I was reliving the good old dotcom (or dotbomb) days.

Here’s a much better daily chart.

Very rarely do I buy stocks based on tips and without looking at any underlying fundamentals. Usually, the newsletters that I subscribe to, will recommend a stock based on good, solid fundamentals and I will use the charts to determine the market sentiment for that stock and a good entry point. Recently, Freight Car America (RAIL) was recommended, but the chart looked terrible and I didn’t buy it. Sure enough it dropped from it’s recommended price of $48 and is now trading at $38. Here what the chart looks like. I’ll wait until the technicals improve before I jump in on that one.

Sometimes this strategy will backfire because some breaking news will come out that will send the stock shooting the opposite direction than expected, but it doesn’t happen often enough. And unexpected news can make value investors look like fools too!

Most traders use some form of technical analysis. Many investors believe that technical analysis is rubbish and doesn’t work, but they probably feel that way because they don’t understand it. Its basically a representation of the current market sentiment based on price and volume action.

Most traders use some from of it and it can get fairly complex. Studies have shown that currency traders use it a lot (or atleast the successful ones!). I’ve attended several currency traders meetup sessions and they all use some sort of technical analysis to trade in and out of their positions. That and proper money management is the key to succesful trading.

I strongly recommend at least learning the basics and deciding for yourself whether to use it or not. Getting Started In Technical Analysis is a really good book that’s fairly easy to read.

If you’re interested in learning about trading, I strongly, strongly recommend Trading for a Living: Psychology, Trading Tactics, Money Management. By far one of the best introductory books on the subjects. You’ll get more out of it than a $5,000 seminar!

If you like to day (or swing) trade, you’ll also enjoy An American Hedge Fund: How I Made $2 Million as a Stock Operator & Created a Hedge Fund. A fascinating story about Timothy Sykes, a college student who made a million dollars day trading and started his own hedge fund.

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Closing Out JRCC

In an earlier post on investing on news, I had sold puts on JRCC.

Well JRCC was up sharply in the past few trading sessions. I closed out my position by buying back my naked puts and netted a 38% profit (sold the puts for 1.95 and bought them back for 1.20).

There’s a chance the stock might go higher. But, I bought puts because it was a speculative trade and the idea was to make a quick (or somewhat short-term) buck. It went up, I made money so its time to get out.

Thats the good thing about options. They prevent you from getting married to your positions. That can be a dangerous thing if the market turns against you (speaking of which, I’m really glad I closed out my Countrywide puts after they started going against me. When I closed my puts, the stock was at $37 – now its almost $42).

Now if I could only figure out a way to make 38% returns EVERY 2 weeks!!!!!

Profiting From Investment News

I read an email today that mentioned China (who is already the planet’s largest coal consumer) claims it will need an extra 80 million tons by next January. India is also estimated to need an extra 120 million tons, and most other Asian countries are expected to increase demand by 7%.

According to Kevin Kerr, “Coal prices are going much higher than I thought. Keep an eye on those diesel prices too, they are already creeping up. These two markets are going to surge this summer, absolutely.”

Since I like to take advantage of investment opportunities whenever I come across them, I placed an order to sell PUT option contracts on James River Coal Company (JRCC). Its essentially a long position on the companies stock, which has nicely trended up 50% in the past several months.

If the order is executed tomorrow (the order was placed after hours) I get a net credit of $195/contract. By september, if the stock trades above $8.05, I’ll have made a profit. My maximum profit is $195/contract and it occurs at stock prices over $10.00. If the stock drops below $8.05 I will either have to buy it or sell my option before expiration date at a loss. But I’m bullish on the stock so the loss would be smaller than actually buying the stock outright.

If the stock stays at the same $9.50 price, I’ll still make $145/contract at expiry. Both my upside and my downside are limited, but I think there’s a great chance I’ll make more money selling the puts with a lower risk than by buying the stock outright. Plus for each contract instead of putting up nearly $1000, I’m collecting $195 instead. It does use up my margin limits, but it does mean I don’t need to pay interest on the amount, since I’m not borrowing any money.

Of course you manage the risk here by not betting the farm. If the stock moves against me and my option moves against me 50% (ie, I’m down $100/contract) I’ll close out my position. Since this total draw-down is only 0.33% of my portforlio, it doesn’t give me ulcers. And while the total profit is only 0.66% of my total portfolio and isn’t exactly an earth-shattering return, its a 2-1 risk-reward scenario that I’m comfortable with.

If the stock goes BK overnight and I lose the max $805 per contract, it still only 2.66% of my portfolio, which is a bearable loss. Remember, risk management will determine whether you succeed or fail in the long term.

Gartman’s Rules of Trading

Every year Dennis Gartman publishes his “Rules of Trading.” Here they are.


1. Never, Ever, Ever, Under Any Circumstance, Add to a Losing Position… not ever, not never! Adding to losing positions is trading’s carcinogen; it is trading’s driving while intoxicated. It will lead to ruin. Count on it!

2. Trade Like a Wizened Mercenary Soldier: We must fight on the winning side, not on the side we may believe to be correct economically.

3. Mental Capital Trumps Real Capital: Capital comes in two types, mental and real, and the former is far more valuable than the latter. Holding losing positions costs measurable real capital, but it costs immeasurable mental capital.

4. This Is Not a Business of Buying Low and Selling High; it is, however, a business of buying high and selling higher. Strength tends to beget strength, and weakness, weakness.

5. In Bull Markets One Can Only Be Long or Neutral, and in bear markets, one can only be short or neutral. This may seem self-evident; few understand it however, and fewer still embrace it.

6. “Markets Can Remain Illogical Far Longer Than You or I Can Remain Solvent.” These are Keynes’ words, and illogic does often reign, despite what the academics would have us believe.

7. Buy Markets That Show the Greatest Strength; Sell Markets That Show the Greatest Weakness: Metaphorically, when bearish we need to throw rocks into the wettest paper sacks, for they break most easily. When bullish we need to sail the strongest winds, for they carry the farthest.

8. Think Like a Fundamentalist; Trade Like a Simple Technician: The fundamentals may drive a market and we need to understand them, but if the chart is not bullish, why be bullish? Be bullish when the technicals and fundamentals, as you understand them, run in tandem.

9. Trading Runs in Cycles, Some Good, Most Bad: Trade large and aggressively when trading well; trade small and ever smaller when trading poorly. In “good times,” even errors turn to profits; in “bad times,” the most well-researched trade will go awry. This is the nature of trading; accept it and move on.

10. Keep Your Technical Systems Simple: Complicated systems breed confusion; simplicity breeds elegance. The great traders we’ve known have the simplest methods of trading. There is a correlation here!

11. In Trading/Investing, An Understanding of Mass Psychology Is Often More Important Than an Understanding of Economics: Simply put, “When they are cryin’, you should be buyin’! And when they are yellin’, you should be sellin’!”

12. Bear Market Corrections Are More Violent and Far Swifter Than Bull Market Corrections: Why they are is still a mystery to us, but they are; we accept it as fact and we move on.

13. There Is Never Just One Cockroach: The lesson of bad news on most stocks is that more shall follow… usually hard upon and always with detrimental effect upon price, until such time as panic prevails and the weakest hands finally exit their positions.

14. Be Patient with Winning Trades; Be Enormously Impatient with Losing Trades: The older we get, the more small losses we take each year… and our profits grow accordingly.

15. Do More of That Which Is Working and Less of That Which Is Not: This works in life as well as trading. Do the things that have been proven of merit. Add to winning trades; cut back or eliminate losing ones. If there is a “secret” to trading (and of life), this is it.

16. All Rules Are Meant To Be Broken…. but only very, very infrequently. Genius comes in knowing how truly infrequently one can do so and still prosper.

Bank of America Announces Free Online Trading

According to

“Bank of America Corp., seeking to attract new clients, offered free online stock trades to customers with accounts of at least $25,000, sending shares of discount brokers lower.

The second-largest U.S. bank said customers in New York, Boston and other cities in the northeast U.S. will get 30 free trades a month so long as they maintain the minimum balance in any combination of accounts. Such trades usually cost $5 to $10, meaning customers may save as much as $3,600 a year. Bank of America said the program, which is effective immediately, will be extended nationwide over the next few months.”