Friday, August 11, 2017

the emotions in my Janet relationship

Here's an even more rambling bit on short VIX/trading emotions, rather than strike prices/ % cash objective strategy-

One of my core beliefs on econ/finance is that it is ultimately in the field of psychology, whether it be mass psychology, Tversky/Kahneman individual bias/heuristics, but the point is that even though money has numbers in it, it isn't a pure math field.  It doesn't need to add up, just round up.

This brings us to the emotions of down days like yesterday, where even when we know that structurally vol will contract and politically no one is going into nuclear winter with each other, we cant help but tense up at the red numbers, I'll be the first to say that I'm not immune either.  (An aside- how are there emotions when 90% of the market is just computers trading with each other 1000 times a second?  Those computers are programmed by people, and the built in risk management of stops, targets,etc are the embedded emotions of the people behind the bots.)

I was walking after the close and even though I know it will all be fine and the bears will be back in denial soon enough, I felt this sting which heightened my Janet relationship.  This was like the solemn walk after having a pointless fight with your girlfriend (Janet) and you run over in your head everything that happened and you kind of know it will be OK, but maybe not?

Then you think back to all the past fights (May 18th I think was the last dip) and realize how far in the past they seems, so probably this too shall pass.  More than the fighting though, you realize that is what makes the Janet relationship dynamic, the down days are why we have risk premium and counterparties.  When we finally are back to normal (in the contango ETF sense/ who cares about SPY), you get that feeling wash over you of being welcomed home and you have built your bond with Janet just a little bit stronger.

On the quantitative side, I'm just mechanically rolling ITM spreads out a week or month depending on liquidity/credit, and adding on a little premium on new short SVXY put spreads to make up for some of the premium over time lost from the rolls, as well as short calls to neutralize some of the positions. Depending on how the VIX board looks next week I might go up to 45-50% buying power usage/allocation.  We just have to sit and bear the red numbers on the screen for a month even though everything is fine. This is like knowing Janet is a little angry but it is just time until she gives you that wry smile again.

How about you? Does anyone else feel closer to Janet after yesterday?    

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

the lance armstrong risk metaphor



Foreword- I know its been a few weeks than my last rambling but I don't want to churn out garbage just for the sake of writing, so yes I'm always torn with the frequency of this-


 The other day when I was adding on some more short VIX positions into an up move in S&Ps and spot VIX around 10, I was contemplating all the possible counterparties as the "long VIX" or at least "anti-short VIX" articles keep coming at full force.  This brings me to one of my core rantings on risk/reward on a life scale in the context of Bogleheads and the like.

Lets back up before specific short VIX or even option trades, and just think about the core vision of investing as an individual/retail investor-  we are trying to reach financial independence, to show them all that we were right and they were wrong, crush your enemies, hear the lamentations of their women, etc.  The conventional path to that is indexing all in S&Ps/bonds//international mix, dump the whole paycheck in, no dry powder, and wait 40 years; hoping to pick up the average 7% per year and survive inflation, etc.  This is the "lowest risk" strategy because you aren't even trying to  beat S&Ps, but there is a macro gamble here that the Bogleheads are going all in on and they don't even realize- what if those index returns aren't enough?  This lifetime of investing boils down to a single bet that that market return will be enough decades later, and there is no room to shift course (besides tweaking the stock/bonds % around).   This isn't even touching on the generational factors of no pensions, a gig economy, cost of living and more which make me think the next generation's 'retirement' will look much different.


This is where my Lance Armstrong metaphor comes in, or fill in any juiced up athlete of your choice.  (Preface here- I think Lance is a champion and by the end of this I hope you agree how small it is to change your view because of the steroids.  Literally nothing changed besides your perception from one day to the next.)

If you have a bike race, general race or anything with placements/qualifiers, lets say the top 3 spots go to the next heat or finals and the rest down to 10th place are out.  In that scenario what is the difference between 4th and 10th place?  Nothing noticeable.  To me those first 3 slots are financial independence- there is a hard number somewhere based on cost of living and other factors that equals financial independence or not and our only goal as retail investors is to hit that.

If the passive indexing approach ends up only making that 4th, 5th place, then how was it better than taking on the risk of having the chance at 1st place, and crashing and getting 10th?  Lets finally bring Lance into the mix, or any other juiced athlete-
The competition is juiced out of their minds, that is the playing field to get 1st.  The real competitors know that and aren't in the fantasy land that hard work is enough.  (Hard work is required but you also need to push every boundary AND get lucky just to get a shot, this goes for basically every field)
To oversimplify- if you have to juice to get 1st (the metaphor being that you take on high risk, or the risk of losing it all), then that is all that matters.  If you look at it like a computer that sees forking paths like calculating all the variations of a chess position, and only one of the paths leads to victory, then the risk doesn't matter because no other path reaches the destination anyway.

If you take on this view of looking at all the possible paths then all the other areas of finance start to make more sense- why do these hedge funds get so risky and blow up? Well if they don't outperform the market then they lose their clients anyway, so there is no real choice there besides leverage and taking a shot at beating the market.  This partially points to how the boom and bust cycle is inevitable and cooked into human nature- some people will always realize the necessity of risk, and some percentage of that group will end up winners (90% will blow up) and then they characterize the rest of their era and inspire the next generation.    

Again, this doesn't mean your retirement strategy should be all in on OTM calls, but it means realizing the structure of risk/reward in the context of indexing.  Even more simply I'm just hating on Bogleheads. 

Some discussion for the pre-rebuttals:

But retirement/wealth isn't binary, there is an almost infinite amount of account balances you can have so how is the metaphorical 4th place just as bad as 10th?

I agree you can adjust your retirement cost of living, etc, but to me the traditional financial independence vision is 100% passive income to work at a certain cost of living, so whether you just need a super small part time job vs work at Walmart forever to fill the gap, neither of those are independence.  Its like a movie ticket costing $10, I agree that $9>$1, but neither will cut it.

But steroids are illegal!

Not all risk is doing something currently illegal, this racing metaphor filled with finish lines and endurance and turtles and hares is just too perfect for investing.  Lance could be doing something else like overtraining with some heart defect, the point is that he is adding calculated risk that could blow him up, but it is necessary for the chance at 1st.  Also in the specific sports/steroid example, how many reversions have there been in all industries at a practice that flip flopped in legality, that is just the whims of regulators and idiots at the time, that won't stop champions.

I'm sure indexing will be enough, look at the compounding numbers!

I mostly agree with you, but you are leaving yourself completely dead if you are wrong.  I think that is an even bigger and undefined risk than naked options or whatever alternate investment road you take.  If you do still stick with indexing, you have to reconcile the macro bet you are taking that all the past numbers and factors for indexing going into a new economy will be ok.



Well ok, that's enough yelling for now-  once more into the breach!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Short VIX ramblings on free will, freedom, the cave, and a little more Crypto


So I was catching up on some Boethius the other day, the whole reconciling divine omniscience and free will which is pure stupidity, but it spurred me to resume rambling on the nature of freedom and how that goes into our short VIX pocket-

I would argue on a more macro level that more freedom equals more volatility.  This is before even getting into S&P options/ black scholes and actual VIX, but the human concept of volatility- wider standard deviations for actual events, higher chances for corner case probabilities.  Lets look at an even simpler example- Checkers vs Chess:

On turn one you have 7 possible Checkers moves, whereas Chess has 20, and grows exponentially to 400 possibilities on White's 2nd turn, including the possibility of a turn 2 win.  To me that is real world volatility- more options, more chance for advantage and loss.

Lets mosey back to finance and markets, where macro freedom trends can now inform our market view. 

Do you see the total space of finance/economics to be growing freer or more constrained?  

I think this is a legitimate two sided discussion with arguments for each side, and that is why we have counterparties.  The ultimate point, however, is that if you think the universe that is finance and markets is on the trajectory of constraint, then that would lend to short volatility as fewer options and less freedom would lead to less total market action and movement which should be visible in the options prices and thus the VIX.  Furthermore, actual implementations such as market breakers, capital controls, etc all put us ever so slightly on that constraining trajectory. 

One important bulletpoint to insert at this point is the argument that if we go the China route of full capital control and the market fully collapses leading to higher volatility.  I agree that we would have higher volatility, but if it is high enough that the USD collapses, then no other boring S&P investments matter anyways!

I'm bringing some of this up due to the recent action in cryptocurrency and the ICO explosion with potential SEC oversight/regulation.  Going back to my 1st article on Bitcoin, asking the Bitcoin original purist/ libertarians if Bitcoin even can do what it sets out to (anonymous/decentralization), I again bring up the shadow of government on the areas where the blockchain code ends and enforcement begins- at the exchanges, ICO companies, and services.  You may disagree but I think the last few months of action show that the original vision of crypto has been lost, and the bulk of the silicon valley new investors don't remotely care about the anonymity and decentralization, instead caring about and even using words like "governance."  That right there should be the glaring warning light and death blow if you didn't see it before.

Ok ok this is about the actual VIX though-  
The point of the crypo contraction and oversight is that we got a glimpse of what expanding economic/financial freedom would look like, and that door got slammed in our face, almost from within the crypto community before government has truly stepped in.  Kudos to Janet and the rest of SPECTRE as they realized they would only need to take action if it didn't implode internally first.
A blockchain can definitely exist, but there will be no real disruptive freedom attached to it, and thus it will just be less efficient than a central database.  More importantly, the ideological crushing of this outlet to more freedom and options will in a small way contain some price action in actual markets (either to the upside with AMD, NVDA cards now that mining payout will theoretically go lower, or to the downside in that a possible disruptive technology was neutered and markets will chop along as usual.)

Crypto is just one example here, who knows what will come next but the point is the systems are already in place (central banks, US military) that can crush innovation if it truly has the potential for disrupting the financial status quo (if those new industries don't implode internally first)

I've been going in circles just muttering but the real takeaway here is my last point "if they don't implode internally first" and to me that is an issue of human nature.  For a technology or idea to be freeing, it has to let go some amount of security- and on a human nature level I think this is something that will almost never happen, and why Janet et al. can just sit on their hands and wait for these things to blow up. 

People don't really want freedom.  The original idea of an anonymous/decentralized crypto meant real freedom for the few believers, but as it reaches larger adoption, people will give up every drop of freedom the second something goes wrong.  "The exchange took my money, ETH dropped by 50%, my transaction isn't going through, call the SEC!"  This goes way past crypto into every other area where government regulation just multiplies like slime in a little petri dish- net neutrality, driverless cars, recreational drones.

If you agree that it is in human nature to cooperate, and ultimately give up freedom for security, then it follows there will be that slight amount of fewer options, which ultimately bleed into financial markets and prices, and ultimately the VIX.

Just a reminder- YES there still will be corrections and crashes. I am talking about a long term trajectory and core position which will ride out the storm of volatility.  Prices will always go up and down, but if there is even one less far corner option, then that price movement is that 1 cent less exaggerated.

Yes- this is all dark, we are somewhat going back into Plato's cave year by year while we swipe on instagram on our iphone 10's all day.  As investors, the least we can do is factor in these macro issues into our core position and make a few bucks as we are on the way to our North Korea work camp gulag tombs singing And the land of the freeeeee



Monday, July 3, 2017

Praying for Janet!

Queen Janet is down today! But just like Conan she will return!

"Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen was treated at King Edward VII hospital in London over the weekend for a urinary tract infection. She was admitted Friday and released Monday. She is returning to Washington, D.C., and expects to resume her schedule as planned this week.
Chair Yellen was in London for an event Tuesday, June 27, at the British Academy and stayed in London for a brief vacation with her family."

All the markets, they cannot sever us.  If I were fully leveraged and you still printing for life, I'd come back...
...back from the pit of hell to print at your side!




Friday, June 30, 2017

Check back on the river- Another Poker metaphor

Controlled down days like yesterday which trigger all the "is this over" articles are the high point of my week or month-
While my daily P/L is down and the screen is angry and red at me, this is setting up a scenario where performance increases.
One of the trials and tribulations of rolling a constant core position (short VIX or otherwise) is the sorrow of closing at a profit means the new open position will be a worse entry, where if you roll early in a down move, you are locking in a scratch or smaller profit in order to enter at at better pot odds.  There is no core position situation where you have a great close and reopen in the same product.
(This should all be obvious but it's important to psychologically drop that bad entry/exit mindset and just think about the mechanics of the core position)

Anyway that's all a little background flavor but now that the waters are smoothing back out, I wanted to scribble down a poker metaphor that I wax poetic on and is pretty applicable to picking your risk-

If you've ever been check raised on the river in a big hand one of your gut reactions is to throw up because you have brought this upon yourself- you could always have checked back and potentially won, or just lost a smaller hand.
 (I could spend all day posting Tony G videos but lets continue-) 

 Obviously these players have a huge hand history with each other and have a higher % of trapping and 'tricky' plays but in terms of a simple hand analysis, When you have Kings against two check calls on this board which has potential trips and flush, what hand is check calling you three streets that you beat? I would rather lock in a smaller win then add unnecessary risk on that river.

So what is the option metaphor?

To me this is like covered call/ Poor man covered call (diagonal) strike selection.  While we have been in a permanent bull market and backtested 30 delta covered calls are the best performers, I don't want a strategy based on that, and I'd rather set myself up with the best breakevens if things go wrong.
This is why I like ATM covered calls, (the 1st OTM strike).  If that is breached, I've locked in the call premium and the trade is a winner. I don't need more juice in those winning situations, I'd rather model an annual return on getting 2% or so monthly (or leveraged up with diagonals).  You are setting yourself up for more scenarios, and you are making your returns more consistent to model, being mostly premium/theta based than delta/direction based.

The nearest OTM strike is like checking back on the river in a big pot.  Like Tony G, if you have Kings you are already ahead of all the bluff hands and a tiny amount of weaker hands that couldn't call.  As Tony, you can just check back and win a smaller pot to fight the next day.  In the disaster scenario when Patrick is trapping with a full house, you aren't helping yourself at all to the downside, and as a trader , that is where I want and need the help!

A little Friday musing for you..

Monday, June 19, 2017

More reconciling with buy and hold

(I'll open with a Janet in case anyone is here for that)


Another weekend Mosque killing, another gap up- Looking good for the Boglehead crowd-

Here is a fundamental question I have for the buy and hold believers:

...First some rambling though, this is based on comparing buy and hold stock (SPY for example) vs selling puts, strangles or buying covered calls, depending on your risk tolerance. (I'm scared to death of upside risk)
Selling puts or strangles is optimized for the underlying trading within the expected range, which is already something Bogleheads seem to expect, "average" market returns, compounded with dividends (to compare to covered calls), etc.
I'll break this down into the 3 cases of down, flat and up markets-

  • In a down market, selling puts (or strangles), or buying covered calls give you a better downside breakeven than stock, whereas buy and hold stock is just max delta on the entire downmove.
  • In a flat market, the short options clearly outperform the non moving underlying and crush dividends.
  • Finally, in an up market the buy and hold stock has the chance to outperform (with unlimited upside :) ), yet it still needs a greater than "expected" move (1 st. dev.) to beat short options (depending on strikes)
Given all this, the buy and hold stock strategy is truly only aiming for greater than expected upside moves,
So why not just buy OTM calls? 

Maybe literally 0 buy and hold Bogleheads care, but I haven't seen this addressed by anyone so it makes me feel like I'm in my corner with my crazy pills.  
Yes I know this is simplified but between OTM calls, deep ITM LEAPS or anywhere in between, you are taking the same position with better leverage.

Just a Monday musing, please forward to a Boglehead so we can check reality!



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Musings for Short VIX haters

 Here's a little Janet for FOMC day-
Now back to musing and ranting...

Even with two brief days of action, the last month has been a fairly quiet grind after the 17th.  About the only thing to do is leg into more short VIX and read the various articles maligning it.

If you have any long VIX or at least anti-short VIX friends, maybe you can forward this to get their input or to reconcile their ideas-

1. As I see it, short VIX is long equities, long AMERICA.  
ie. VIX is uncorrelated with SPY ~80% of the time.  To all the articles against 'vol tourists' as well as big funds and the feedback loop of short VIX, they fail to note (or really contemplate) the structural interaction with S&P options, thus S&Ps.  If you think short VIX is going to blow up (VIX will spike), then you are just writing an article that equities will correct!  On some level this is the standard financial news level of garbage writing two articles per day instead of one, getting the 'short VIX risk' article as a freebie on top of the 'markets are at a top' article.

2. Given that, yes we know equities will correct and VIX will spike!  Short VIX doesn't mean being all in on short at the money VIX calls, it is a macro outlook/ core position that can be reflected in many kinds of trades with different risk parameters.  Given the option pricing most of these trades are just leveraged equivalents of long equities, with a directional decay component that S&Ps can't replicate.
Boglehead indexing investors don't buy all in out of the money SPY calls, and short VIX traders don't use all their capital on the absolute max risk trades.  Is this complicated to CNBC idiots?

3. Back to my first point of long AMERICA, short fear- these anti-short VIX people should have simultaneous articles against their fundamentals guru Warren Buffett, who spells out the long equities position of betting on American ingenuity, yada yada.  I'm not as big on Warren but most of these idiots are, and his 'bet on America' ideology equals short VIX!  Furthermore you have to be betting against America (not just in the S&P corporation sense)- we have 300bil/ month from central banks pumping into our markets, we can create any money we want, and have a bigger military than the planet if anyone has issues with that structure.. hello?!?

4. One last point- one of the 1st things I internalized early in my financial journey was from Tastytrade- In a liquid two sided market, if you think something is stupid, take the other side! I'm waiting for these anti-short VIX idiots to post a long VIX trade.  I know this is mostly yelling at the wind as .001% of finance writers have any stake in the game (and they note that as an admirable trait) but its just some ammo in the back of my head.  If you think short VIX is so catastrophic, then where is your huge long VIX trade that you are losing on daily?

Somewhere between musing and ranting, oh well.  I'll go back to waiting for some VIX spike to pile more into.