The indexes were positive on Wednesday but there was no excitement.

The Dow gained 42 points thanks to JNJ and MCD. The rest of the components were evently matched between advancers and decliners. The S&P squeezed out a 4-point gain but came to a dead stop on resistance at 2,550 for the 5th day. The Nasdaq managed to post a 16 point gain thanks to GOOGL, AMZN, AVGO and NVDA. Two-thirds of the big cap techs were positive and that imparted a little positive sentiment to the tech sector. The Russell 2000 lost a point, which is actually bullish because it did not lose more after the 162 point rebound from August.

The key points tonight is that the S&P, Nasdaq and Russell are all banging their heads against resistance and not making any progress. The S&P has stalled at 2,550 for the last five days. The index should be poised to breakout to a new high but everyone is waiting on the bank earnings on Thr/Fri. That will determine market direction ahead of the weekend.


The Nasdaq is doing the same thing at 6,600 where it has stalled for the last four days as the big cap tech stocks wandered around in a consolidation process. Half will be up one day and the other half up the next day. They are not moving as a group because there is a lot of indecision.


The Russell has the longest stalling pattern with the index fighting resistance at 1,515 for the last 7 days. Gien the 162 point rebound rally, we should be glad it is consolidating sideways rather than correcting a couple dozen points. However, without the Russell in rally mode the rest of the market is lethargic.


The Dow is the leader and moving ever closer to the 23,000 mark. The components have been almost evenly matched with roughly the same number of advancers and decliners but each day there are 2-3 stocks that have been providing lift. Today it was WMT and MCD.


Volatility is nonexistent. The VIX has traded under 10 for 57 days in 2017 a new 24-year closing low of 9.19 was set on Oct 5th. Volatility is what powers option premiums. There is no volatility.


I received an email from a long time subscriber last week. She was angry that there were only two official recommendations last week. She complained that a couple years ago Steven Gail always had a lot more recommendations. Unfortunately, the market a couple years ago was significantly different than the market we have today. The VIX averaged 15 in 2015 and 17.2 in 2014. Option premiums were larger under those conditions. The current market has the lowest S&P volatility since 1923. It is no wonder premiums are nonexistent.

Also, this is the earnings cycle. More than 85% of stocks report earnings between now and the November expiration. We cannot launch new positions 2-3 weeks ahead of earnings because premiums inflate into an earnings report rather than decay.

When I did my scans today, I came up with 178 stocks that had at least marginal premiums. Of those only 29 do not report earnings before expiration and I even allowed for stocks with earnings in expiration week.

I cannot control the dates in the earnings cycle. I cannot control the volatility. I cannot control the charts. If a company with decent premiums has a crummy chart, there is nothing I can do. If a company with a great chart has no premium, we cannot use it. I cannot create new option plays and make up premiums just because we want there to be plays.

The bottom line is that we want to have profitable plays. If those factors above do not come together in the right sequence on each individual stock, there is nothing we can do about it except wait for the next cycle. Once companies begin reporting earnings we will have a lot more candidates.

Unfortunately, there are only two potential recommendations for today as well.

I would direct you to the alternate plays graphic. Those are positions you could consider if you are looking for additional plays. That list is also skinny because of the conditions explained above.

Enter passively, exit aggressively!

Jim Brown

Send Jim an email



Current Portfolio


The fourth column in the portfolio graphic is the earnings date. We will always exit a position before that date unless specifically mentioned otherwise in the play description.

Lines in blue were previously closed.

Current positions

Covered Calls

Leftover Stock



Current Position Changes


PRTK - Paratek Pharma (Oct Covered Call Closed)

PRTK lost its forward momentum on Monday and rolled over to stop us out on Tuesday.

Closed PRTK shares, enrty $26.75, exit $23.55, -$3.20 loss.
Closed Oct $30 short call, entry $2.55, exit .25, +2.30 gain.
Net loss 90 cents.



New Recommendations


AAP - Advance Auto Parts (Nov Call Spread)

AAP ran off a cliff on October 4th and fell from $99 to $89 over the following week. Raymond James downgraded it from strong buy to market perform or the equivalent of a hold. The analyst said there were execution risks in the firm's current restructuring plan and they could lose market share if it was not done perfectly.

Earnings Nov 14th, before expiration.

Sell short Nov $100 call, currently $1.10, initial stop loss $95.25.
Buy long Nov $110 call, currently .35, no stop loss.
Net credit .75.



RH - RH Inc (Nov Short Put)

RH broke through resistance on Wednesday to close right at a new high. There is strong support at $70.

We already have a short Nov $65 put on RH that we entered last week. There is no reason not to double up since RH is one of the few companies that have any premium on their puts this week. If you did not take the recommendation last week, now you have another chance.

Earnings Nov 30th.

Sell short Nov $65 put, currently $1.45, stop loss $71.50.



New Covered Call Recommendations


No New Covered Calls


Other Potential Plays (Spreads, Covered Calls, Naked Puts)


These are not official plays but a good place to start if you are looking for something else to trade.

November expiration is the 17th.



Existing Positions (Alpha by Symbol)

THESE ARE NOT CURRENT RECOMMENDATIONS. These are prior recommendations that are still active in the portfolio. Do NOT act on the plays described in this section. This is the archive of prior recommendations in the current portfolio.



AAOI - Applied Optoelectronics (Oct Put Spread)

AAOI took a fall in early August and shares have been slowly declining until they found support at $56 about a week ago. There has been a slight uptick and Wednesday saw a 3% gain on no news. The premiums $10 OTM are good and with support at $56, I am willing to try a put spread.

Earnings Nov 3rd.

Sell short Oct $50 put, currently $2.55, stop loss $55.50.
Buy long Oct $40 put, currently $1.00, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.55.


ACOR - Acordia Therapeutics

Acordia has a nice steady chart with solid support at $23. Shares have started to tick higher over the last couple days and closed at a four week high on Wednesday.

Earnings Oct 26th.

Buy-write Oct $24 call, currently $23.90-$1.10, stop loss $22.25
Gain if called $1.20.


ADBE - Adobe Systems (Nov Short Put)

Adobe was crushed after earnings for only reporting revenue guidance that was up 25% but in line with analyst estimates. Shares were knocked from $157 to $144 and they are rebounding.

Earnings Dec 19th.

Sell short Nov $135 put, currently $1.06, stop loss $143.65.


BA - Boeing (Oct Call Spread)

Boeing surged on earnings but stalled at $240 for the last six weeks. They are finally starting to give back some of their gains after the UTX/COL acquisition announcement. If they break below $232 it could be a sharp drop.

Earnings Oct 26th.

Sell short Oct $245 call, currently $2.30, initial stop loss $242.00.
Buy long Oct $255 call, currently .75, no stop loss.

Net credit $1.55.

Update 9/13/17: Boeing announced midday Wednesday they were going to increase production on the 787 Dreamliner from 12 to 14 planes a month or an additional 24 planes a year starting in 2019 due to rising order volumes. At a curent cost of $306 million each, that is an additional $7.3 billion in revenue each year. Boeing has already produced 489 of the planes and has an order backlog of 721 planes ($220 billion). Shares exploded higher and stopped us out at $242.

I am not closing the long call just in case the stock price continues to rise. If shares roll over, we can sell another call.

Closed Oct $245 short call, entry $2.40, exit $4.00, -1.60 loss.
Retain Oct $255 long call, entry .65, currently $1.19. No stop loss.

Update 10/4/17: We were stopped out of the short side on the Boeing call spread on Sept 13th. Boeing continued to rise and our long call rose in value. The dip at the open on the 28th stopped us out of the long call for a nice gain.

Closed Oct $255 long call, entry .65, exit $3.75, +$3.10 gain.
Previously closed Oct $245 short call, entry $2.40, exit $4.00, -1.60 loss.
Net gain $1.50.


HD - Home Depot (Oct Put Spread)

Home Depot spiked on the hurricane news but faded after Irma passed. With Maria crushing Puerto Rico and the potential for Jose and Maria to hook up on the East Coast, there could be plenty of damage left to repair in the months ahead. Home Depot is poised to see up to $1 billion in additional sales from the hurricanes.

Earnings Nov 14th.

Sell short Nov $150 put, currently $1.57, stop loss $155.50.
Buy long Nov $140 put, currently $.50, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.07.


KITE - Kite Pharma (Oct Put Spread)

Kite closed at a new high on Friday and has a very strong chart. The put spread Iam recommending is $20 OTM. If the current rally continues even a few more days we should be comfortably safe for weeks to come.

Earnings Nov 7th.

Sell short Oct $110 put, currently $2.85, stop loss $119.35
Buy long Oct $100 put, currently $1.30, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.55.

Update 9/6/27: We closed the short side at the open last Thursday after Kite was bought by Gilead Sciences.

Closed Oct $110 short put, entry $2.90, exit .10, +$2.80 gain.
Retain Oct $100 long put, entry $1.40, currently zero, will expire worthless.


NFLX - Netflix (8/3 Oct Short Put)

Netflix is currently fading from the $25 post earnings spike and is currently at $166. The recommend put is $130 and $36 OTM today. There is strong support at $158, $146 and $140.

Earnings Oct 17th. (3 days before expiration)

Sell short Oct $130 put, currently $1.09, stop loss $139.

Update 9/27: I recommended we close the Oct $130 short put at the open last Thursday.

Closed Oct $130 short put, entry $1.09, exit .13, +.96 gain.


NFLX - Netflix (8/30 Oct Short Put)

We already have a short put position on Netflix but today's $6 spike knocked us out of the spread position with a gain. I am adding a new spread position to take advantage of the rebound.

Earnings Oct 17th.

Sell short Oct $155 put, currently $2.93, stop loss $163.85.
Buy long Oct $140 Put, currently $1.11, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.82.

Update 9/27: We were also stopped on the Oct $140 short put spread.

Closed Oct $155 short put, entry $2.82, exit $1.22, +1.60 gain.
Retain Oct $140 long put, entry $1.04, currently .16.


NFLX - Netflix (9/13 Oct Short Put)

Netflix shares have gone vertical since they found support at $165. Multiple upgrades plus the T-Mobile promotion offering a Netflix account with every phone purchase and activation. The put I am recommending is $20 OTM and we should be able to stop out before any real danger appears.

Earnings Oct 17th, 3 days before expiration but we will exit early.

Sell short Oct $165 put, currently $2.65, stop loss $172.50.

Update 9/27: The big cap tech stocks crashed on Monday with Netflix falling nearly $10. We were stopped on the Oct $165 short put.

Closed Oct $165 short put, entry $2.64, exit $3.05, -.41 loss.


NKTR - Nektar Therapeutics (Nov Covered Call)

Nektar closed at a new high after they announced they were presenting seven abstracts at the November 10-12th Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer 32nd Annual Meeting. When abstracts are accepted for presentation, they usually have some new information that is relative for a new drug and the cancer field. Shares should continue higher.

Earnings are Nov 8th so we need to exit this position before expiration.

Buy-write Nov $25 call, currently $24.91-$1.90, stop loss $22.50.


NTNX - Nutanix (Oct Covered Call)

Nutanix spiked on earnings at the open on Friday then saw some post earnings selling. The rebound was bought aggressively and shares closed at a 6-week high on Wednesday.

Earnings Nov 30th.

Buy-write Oct $22.50 call, currently $22.48-$1.50, stop loss $19.85.
Gain if called $1.52.

Update 10/4/17: Nutanix fell $2 late last week to stop us out of the covered call for a minor gain.

Closed NTNX shares, entry $22.19, exit $21.85, -.34 loss.
Closed Oct $22.50 short call, entry $1.81, exit .72, +1.09 gain.
Net gain 77 cents.


NVDA - Nvidia (Oct Call Spread)

Nvidia's chart is showing a wide rounding top formation with solid resistance at $170. I do not think the stock is done going higher but I do believe it is going to rest over the next six weeks of normal market weakness. The $170 resistance gives us a good threshold to set our stop loss.

Earnings Nov 9th.

Sell short Oct $185 call, currently $2.80, stop loss $175.25.
Buy long Oct $195 call, currently $1.49, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.31.

Update 9/6/17: We closed the short call at the open last Thursday. Retain the long call just in case Nvidia explodes higher.

Closed Oct $185 short call, entry $2.98, exit $2.15, +.83 gain.
Retain Oct $195 long call, entry $1.67, currently .80.

Update 9/13/17: We had already closed the short side in order to capture gains when Nvidia was moving higher. We put a stop loss of $163.25 on the long call in order to preserve some premium if Nvidia rolled over. That happened on Friday and we were stopped out. Of course Nvidia rebounded again almost immediately.

Closed Oct $195 long call, entry $1.67, exit .59, -1.08 loss.
Previously closed: Oct $185 short call, entry $2.98, exit $2.15, +.83 gain.
Net loss 25 cents.


NVDA - Nvidia (8/24 Oct Short Put)

Nvidia shares continue to rebound even in the face of a weak market. Their multiple new offerings with speeds 10-12 times faster than their best offerings currently, suggests they are going to continue to dominate the sector.

Earnings Nov 7th.

Sell short Oct $140 put, currently $1.67, stop loss $152.65.

Update 9/27: I recommended we close the short $140 put at the open on Thursday.

Closed Oct $140 short put, entry $1.52, exit .18, +$1.34 gain.


NVDA - Nvidia (9/20 Oct Short Put)

Nvidia spiked to $185 after an analyst raised his price target to $250. Shares are holding at that level and are likely to fade slightly before moving higher. The odds of them returning to $155 are nearly zero.

Earnings Nov 9th.

Sell short Nov $155 put, currently $2.23, stop loss $166.
Buy long Nov $140 put, currently $.92, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.31.


NVDA - Nvidia (Nov Put Spread)

I hate to keep going back to Nvidia and Netflix but they always have the best available premiums and I am confident their trends will remain positive long-term.

Earnings Nov 9th.

Sell short Nov $150 put, currently $2.72, stop loss $165.85
Buy long Nov $135 put, currently $1.04, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.68.


PRTK - Paratek Pharmaceuticals

Paratek soared on Aug 23rd when news leaked out the company was considering a sale. They have several great drugs in the pipeline and apparently several other companies have approached them about an acquisition. There is no guarantee and should they announce there is no sale imminent the gains could evaporate just as quickly. They are in a good position for a sale and already have a marketing partnership with Allergan.

As in trader, you have to weigh the potential $5.30 in gains against a potential drop back to $20.

Earnings Nov 3rd.

Buy write Oct $30 call, currently $26.55-$1.85, stop loss $23.65.
Gain if called $5.30.


RH - RH Inc (Nov Short Put)

RH reported earnings of 65 cents that beat estimates of 47 cents. Shares spiked from $50 to $70 and shorts were squeezed until they popped. After 3 weeks of trading sideways and consolidating those gains, the stock has begun to move higher over the last three days.

Earnings Nov 30th.

Sell short Nov $65 put, currently $2.20, stop loss $68.85.


SHOP - Shopify (Oct Put Spread)

We already have one position on SHOP but the stock broke out to a new high on Wednesday and appears headed even higher. This put spread has a good premium spread with a low cost long put. I could not pass it up.

Earnings Oct 31st.

Sell short Oct $95 put, currently $2.05, stop loss $100.85.
Buy long Oct $80 put, currently .50, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.55.

Update 9/27: We were stopped on the short side of the put spread when the big cap tech stocks crashed on Monday.

Closed Oct $95 short put, entry $2.05, exit .55, +$1.50 gain.
Retain Oct $80 long put, entry .50, currently .10.


SLCA - U.S. Silica Holdings (May Covered Call)

SLCA has found a bottom along with oil prices. Now that refineries are restarting and producing summer fuel blends, oil inventories will decline and prices should rise. This will continue to lift the energy sector. SLCA produces sand for fracking oil wells. Sand prices have doubled over the last 12 months and are expected to go up another 25% by fall. Some analysts are predicting a sand shortage late this year and early 2018. That will lift prices even higher.

Earnings May 24th.

SLCA has solid support at $43 when oil was crashing throughout March. If we are not called we will sell a new call.

Buy write SLCA May $50 call, currently $47.84-$2.25, no stop loss.
Net gain if called $4.41.

Update 4/17/17: SLCA shares imploded over the last week along with the price of oil. On Wednesday alone, crude prices fell -$1.83 to knock -$2.34 off the price of SLCA. I am not the least bit worried about SLCA long term. Sand prices have doubled over the last six months and they could double again over the next year. The decline in SLCA shares was directly related to the fall in oil prices and that trend is about over. Refiners are back at work and crude inventories are going to start declining rapidly as they gear up for summer blend fuels. I would not have any problem selling a call or put at this level at this point on the calendar.

We do not have a stop loss on the SLCA covered call because of the calendar bias for oil prices to rise starting in late April through July.

No change in the position.

Update 5/3/17: Covered Call Update: Silica shares have collapsed. The stock has declined $11 in the last two weeks despite strong earnings and stronger guidance. Making the situation worse was a big earnings miss by Emerge Energy Services (EMES) reporting a loss of 38 cents compared to estimates for 34 cents. EMES misses estimates 58% of the time so a miss is not uncommon. However, it does impact the other two stocks in the sector, SLCA and HCLP. Emerge said total sand volumes rose 185% to 1,251,000 tons. We know from other reports that sand prices have doubled over the last six months and are expected to double again over the next six months.

Also, Dan Loeb's hedge fund Third Point is shorting the frac sand distributors. Third Point said there could be a shift from northern white sand to abundant in-basin brown sand. They warned there were new sand reserves being developed and there were significant reserves on the sidelines that had been deactivated during the slump. SLCA debunked all those excuses in their earnings report. They said frac sand revenue rose 161% YoY and 41% from Q4.

Comments from the conference call: Our comments last quarter and other industry capacity expansion announcements have created questions for some investors over the potential future supply and demand balance of sand proppants and the implications for pricing and other industry dynamics. Let me take a few minutes this morning to share some thoughts on how we see this unfolding and why we believe that the sand proppant market fundamentals should say strong for the foreseeable future.

We believe our industry will remain tight in the near future due to 3 main factors: First, our industry must add capacity to meet customers' needs. Our internal estimates and current sell side reports estimate industry sand proppant demand to be about 75 million tons here in 2017, growing to over 100 million tons in 2018, with some estimates as high as 147 million tons.

Our industry will be short capacity and we cannot let sand become the bottleneck for the completions industry. Second, oil sand is not fungible within that 100-million-plus tons of projected 2018 demand. Unlike many industrial products, there is a lot of friction in the sand market for a variety of reasons, including logistics, quality differences and mesh sizes. Therefore, we're on average to see 20% to 25% more total supply than demand before our markets come into balance. So for example, if 2018 demand is 110 million tons, that implies that supply and demand balance around 135 million tons of effective capacity. Today, even after estimated reactivations of idle capacity, our industry will only have approximately 90 million tons of effective capacity, thus leaving a 45-million-ton shortfall versus projected 2018 needs. And third, even all the likely capacity additions that are being talked about are not enough. We think there could be an additional 10 million to 15 million tons of brownfield capacity added in the next 12 to 18 months, including our own expansions and perhaps as much as 20 million to 25 million tons of greenfield capacity being added locally in the Permian. All of which will be needed, if current demand estimates prove accurate. Even if our estimated 35 million tons of potential brownfield and greenfield additions come online, the market will still be short.

Full transcript HERE

I cannot fix the current covered call. I am recommending we close it but call premiums are depressed and I am not going to recommend selling a new $40 call today because that would lock in our loss on the first rebound. We need to wait for the rebound to inflate premiums then sell a new call in the $45 range.

We cannot buy a put to protect against further declines. The put premiums are too expensive. You could close the position, take the loss now and then buy back in when the stock rebounds.

Close May $50 short call, entry $2.40, currently .04, +$2.36 gain.
Retain SLCA shares.

Update 9/13/17: Fortunately, oil prices and energy equities have begun to rise again. SLCA has rebounded $5 over the last two weeks and should continue to rise long term as long as oil prices remain firm in the $50 range. Oil closed at $49.23 today. Saudi Arabia is further reducing exports in an attempt to shore up prices. U.S. producers are reducing rig counts and the IEA increased demand estimates today. Everything is moving in our direction but it may take a long time to get back to where we started.


WDC - Western Digital (Oct Put Spread)

WDC is finally on track to acquire a stake in the portion of the SanDisk/Toshiba memory business it does not own. Toshiba has agreed to negotiate with WDC in an effort to speed up the transaction as opposed to fighting with them over other bidders. It appears WDC has won the battle but the fight it not yet over. Shares are rising in anticipation of a deal.

Earnings Oct 26th.

Sell short Oct $77.50 put, currently $1.36, stop loss $81.35.
Buy long Oct $67.50 put, currently .35, no stop loss.
Net credit $1.00.

Update 9/13/17: Western got some bad news on Friday that Toshiba was probably going with another bidder on the chip sale. Shares plunged late Friday afternoon to stop us out on the short side.

Closed Oct $77.50 short put, entry $1.33, exit .93, +.40 gain.
Retain Oct $67.50 long put, entry .33, currently .19. No stop loss.


X - US Steel (Oct Covered Call)

US Steel has been in a prolonged uptrend since May as the global economy appears to be accelerating. Resistance is $35.

Earnings Oct 24th.
Buy-write Oct $28 call, currently $27.51-$1.44, stop loss $25.50.
Gain if called $1.93.

Update 9/20/17: US Steel was in a positive trend until last week. Shares rolled over to stop us out of the CC position at $25.50.

Closed X shares, entry $27.70, exit $25.50, -2.20 loss.
Closed Oct $28 short call, entry $1.59, exit .50, +1.09 gain.
Net loss 1.11.


Margin Requirements:

There are several different formulas for determining margin requirements for naked put writing. These are normally broker specific and some can require larger margin requirements than others.

Here is the most common margin calculation for naked puts.

100% of the option premium + ((20% of the Underlying Market Value) - (OTM Value))

For simplicity of calculation simply use 20% of the underlying stock price and you will always be safe. ($25 stock * 20% = $5 margin)


Prices Quoted in Newsletter

At Option Investor we have a long-standing policy prohibiting the editors and staff from actually trading the individual recommendations in order to conform to SEC rules concerning trades.

The prices quoted in the newsletter are the end of day prices in most cases.

When discussing fills or stops the prices quoted are the bid/ask at the time the entry trigger or exit stop is hit. This is NOT a price that someone on staff actually got using a live order.

For entry/exit points at the market open the prices quoted will be the opening print. The majority of the time the readers are able to get a better fill than the opening print because of market maker bias at the open.

For trades with an opening qualification the prices quoted will be the bid/ask at the time the qualification was met.

All of these rules normally produce worse prices than an active trader would normally get. Because they are standardized there may be some cases where a price quoted was better than an actual fill. If you received a price that was dramatically different than what was quoted please let us know.