Preface to The Volatility Edge in Options Trading
This book is written for experienced equity and index option traders who are interested in exploring new technical strategies and analytical techniques. Many fine texts have been written on the subject, each targeted at a different level of technical proficiency. They range from overviews of basic options positions to graduate-level reviews of option pricing theory. Some focus on a single strategy, and others are broad-based. Not surprisingly, many fall into the “get rich quick” category. Generally speaking, books that focus on trading are light on pricing theory, and books that thoroughly cover pricing theory usually are not intended as a trading guide.
This book is designed to bridge the gap by marrying pricing theory to the realities of the market. Our discussion will include many topics not covered elsewhere:
- Strategies for trading the monthly options expiration cycle
- The effects of earnings announcements on options volatility and pricing
- The complex relationship between market drawdowns, volatility, and disruptions to put-call parity
- Weekend/end-of-month effects on bid-ask spreads and volatility
A cornerstone of our discussion will be a new set of analytical tools designed to classify equities according to their historic price-change behavior. I have successfully used these tools to trade accounts as small as $80,000 and as large as $20M.
Ten years ago, having studied the markets for some time, I believed I could be a part-time investor with a full-time professional career. At the time I was a computer-industry executive—a director at IBM—with a large compensation package and a promising future. My goal was to develop a successful trading strategy that could be implemented as an income supplement. It was a naïve idea. Successful investing is a demanding pursuit. The work described in this book took more than ten years. It involved writing hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code, constructing numerous financial-history databases, creating new data visualization tools, and, most important, executing more than 3,000 trades. During that time I also read dozens of books and thousands of technical articles on economic theory, technical analysis, and derivatives trading. The most important result was not the trading system itself, but the revelation that nothing short of full-time effort could possibly succeed. The financial industry is populated with bright, hard-working, well-educated professionals who devote every waking hour to making money. Moreover, there is virtually no limit to the funds that can be made available to hire outstanding talent. An amateur investor should not expect to compete with these professionals in his or her spare time. The market is a zero-sum game—every dollar won must also be lost. Option trading represents the winner-take-all version of the game. Consistently making money requires focus and dedication. That said, experienced private investors often have a distinct advantage over large institutions in the equity options world. The advantage relates to scale. A private investor trading electronically can instantly open or close typical positions consisting of tens or even hundreds of option contracts. Conversely, institutions often manage very large positions worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Efficient execution becomes a barrier at this level. Furthermore, many equity option issues do not have enough open interest to support trades of this size. The result is that institutional traders tend to focus on index options—which are much more liquid—and some of the more heavily traded equity options. Large positions take time to negotiate and price. They have an element of permanence because they can’t be unwound with the press of a button. Liquidity and scaling are central to this work, and we will return to this discussion many times in the context of trading logistics.
Generally speaking, the work is not done—not even close. But I’ve come a long way. Today I can comfortably generate a return that would make any investment bank or hedge fund proud. Needless to say, I no longer work in the computer industry, and I have no interest in a salary. I’m free. My time belongs to me. I trade for a living.