October 16, 2019

Global Market Comments
October 16, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:


A Note on Assigned Options, or Options Called Away

With stock market volatility greatly elevated and trading volumes through the roof, there is a heightened probability that your short options position gets called away.

If it does there, is only one thing to do: fall down on your knees and thank your lucky stars. You have just made the maximum possible profit on your position.

Most of you have short options position, although you may not realize it. For when you buy an in-the-money call option spread, it contains two elements: a long call and a short call. The short call can get assigned or called away at any time.

You have to be careful here because the inexperienced can blow their newfound windfall if they take the wrong action, so here’s how to handle it.

The 5:30 AM phone call was as shrill as it was urgent.

A reader had employed one of my favorite strategies, buying the Microsoft (MSFT) November 2018 $90-$95 in-the-money vertical call spread at $4.50.

He had just received an email from his broker informing him that his short position in the (MSFT) November $95 calls was assigned and exercised against him.

He asked me what to do.

I said, “Nothing.”

For what the broker had in effect done is allow him to get out of his call spread position at the maximum profit point 20 days before the November 16 expiration date.

All he had to do was call his broker and instruct him to exercise his long position in his November $90 calls to close out his short position in the $95 calls.

Calls are a right to buy shares at a fixed price before a fixed date, and one option contract is exercisable into 100 shares.

In other words, he bought (MSFT) at $90 and sold it at $95, paid $4.50 cents for the right to do so, his profit is 50 cents, or ($0.50 X 100 shares X 22 contracts) = $1,100. Not bad for a nine-day limited risk play.

Sounds like a good trade to me.

Weird stuff like this happens in the run-up to options expirations.

A call owner may need to sell a long stock position right at the close and exercising his long November $95 calls is the only way to execute it.

Ordinary shares may not be available in the market, or maybe a limit order didn’t get done by the stock market close.

There are thousands of algorithms out there, which may arrive at some twisted logic that the puts need to be exercised.

Many require rebalancing of hedges at the close every day, which can be achieved through option exercises.

And yes, calls even get exercised by accident. There are still a few humans left in this market to blow it.

And here’s another possible outcome in this process.

Your broker will call you to notify you of an option called away, and then give you the wrong advice on what to do about it.

This generates tons of commissions for the broker, but is a terrible thing for the trader to do from a risk point of view, likely generating a loss by the time everything is closed and netted out.

Avarice could have been an explanation here, but I think stupidity, poor training, and low wages are much more likely.

Brokers have so many ways to steal money legally that they don’t need to resort to the illegal kind.

This exercise process is now fully automated at most brokers, but it never hurts to follow up with a phone call if you get an exercise notice. Mistakes do happen.

Some may also send you a link to a video of what to do about all this.

If any of you are the slightest bit worried or confused by all of this, come out of your position RIGHT NOW at a small profit! You should never be worried or confused about any position tying up YOUR money.

Professionals do these things all day long, and exercises become second nature, just another cost of doing business.

If you do this long enough, eventually you get hit. I bet you don’t.

October 1, 2019

Global Market Comments
October 1, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(GOOG), (FB), (AMZN), MSFT), (BABA), (BIDU),

The New AI Book That Investors are Scrambling For

A better headline for this piece would be “The Future of You,” as artificial intelligence is about to become so integral to your work, your investment portfolio, and even your very existence that you won’t be able to live without it quite literally.

Well, do I have some great news for you. A blockbuster book about the state of play on all things AI was released in September last year, and I managed to obtain and read a copy before it was released. The title is AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee.

The bottom line: The future is even more unbelievable than you remotely imagined. We are in the very early days of this giant megatrend, and the investment opportunities will be nothing less than spectacular.

And here is a barn burner. The price of AI is dropping fast as hundreds of thousands of new programmers pour into the field. Those $10 million signing bonuses are about to become a thing of the past.

Dr. Lee is certainly someone to take seriously. He obtained one of the first PhDs in AI from Carnegie Mellon University. He was the president of Google (GOOG) China and put in stints at Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL). Today, he is the CEO of Sinovation Ventures, the largest AI venture capital firm in China, and is a board director of Alibaba (BABA).

AI is nothing more than deep learning, or super pattern recognition. Dr. Lee dates the onset of artificial intelligence to 1952 when an IBM mainframe computer learned to play checkers and beat human opponents. By 1955, it learned to develop strategies on its own.

Dr. Lee sees the AI field ultimately divided into two spheres of dominance, the U.S. and China. No one else is devoting a fraction of the resources needed to become a serious player. The good news is that Russia and Iran are nowhere in the game.

While the U.S. dominates in the original theory and algorithms that founded AI, China is about to take the lead in applications. It can do this because it has access to mountains of data that dwarf those available in America. China processes three times more mobile phones, five times more Internet customers, 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is the currency, this is huge.

The wake-up call for China in applications took place two years ago when U.S. and Korean AI programs beat grandmasters in the traditional Chinese game of Go. Long a goal of AI programmers, this great leap forward took place 20 years earlier than had been anticipated. This created an AI stampede in the Middle Kingdom that led to the current bubble.

The result has been applications that are still in the realm of science fiction in the U.S. The Chinese equivalent of eBay (EBAY), Taobao, doesn’t charge fees because its customer base is so big it can remain profitable on ad revenues only. Want to be more beautiful in your selfies sent to friends? A Chinese app will do that for you, Beauty Plus.

The Chinese equivalent of Yelp, Dianping, has 600,000 deliverymen on mopeds. The number of takeout meals is so vast that it has been able to drop delivery costs from $6 a meal to 60 cents. As a result, traditional restaurants are dying out in China.

Teachers in Chinese schools no longer take attendance. Students are checked off when they enter the classroom by facial recognition software. And heaven help you if you jaywalk in a Chinese city. Similar software will automatically issue you a citation with a fine and send it to your home.

Credit card fraud is actually on the decline in China as dubious transactions are blocked by facial matching software. The bank simply calls you, asks you to look into your phone, takes your picture, and then matches it with the image they have on file.

Dr. Lee sees AI unfolding in four waves, and there are currently companies operating in every one of these (see graph below):

1) Internet AI

The creation of black boxes and specialized algorithms that opened the door to monetizing code. This was the path for today’s giants that dominate online commerce, Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), (JD), and Facebook (FB). Alibaba (BABA), Baidu (BIDU), and Tencent followed.

2) Business AI

Think big data. This is the era we just entered where massive data from online customers, financial transactions, and healthcare led to the writing of new algorithms that maximize profitability. Suddenly, companies can turn magic knobs to achieve desired goals, such as stepping up penetration or monetization.

3) Perception AI

Using trillions of sensors worldwide, analog data on any movement, facial expression, sound, and image are converted into digital data and then mined for conclusions by more advanced algorithms. Cameras are suddenly everywhere. Amazon’s Alexa is the first step in this process, where your conversations are recorded and then mined for keywords about your every want and desire.

Think of autonomous fast food where you walk in your local joint and it immediately recognizes you, offers you your preferred dishes, and then auto bills your online account for your purchase. Amazon has already done this with a Whole Foods store in Seattle.

4) Autonomous AI

Think every kind of motion. AI will get applied to autonomous driving, local shuttles, factory forklifts, assembly lines, and inspections of every kind. Again, data and processing demand take an enormous leap upward. Tesla (TSLA), Waymo (GOOG), and Uber are already very active in this field.

The book focuses a lot on the future of work. Dr. Lee creates a four-part scatter chart predicting the viability of several types of skills based on optimization, compassion, creativity, and strategy (see below).

If you are a truck driver, in customer support, or a dishwasher, or engage in any other repetitive and redundant profession, your outlook is grim. If you can supplement AI, such as a CEO, economist, or marketing head, you’ll do fine. People who can do what AI can’t, such as teachers and artists, will prosper.

The Investment Angle

There have been only two ways to invest in AI until now. You can buy shares in any of the seven giants above whose shares have already risen for 100- or 1,000-fold.

You can invest in the nets and bolts parts providers, such as NVIDIA (NVDA), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Micron Technology (MU), and Lam Research (LRCX), which provide the basic building blocks for the Internet infrastructure.

Fortunately for our paid subscribers, the Mad Hedge Trade Alert Service caught all of these very early.

What’s missing is the “in-between companies,” which are out of your reach because they are locked up in university labs or venture capital funds. Many of these never see the light of day as public companies because they get taken over by the tech giants above. It’s effectively a closed club that won’t let outsiders in. It’s a dilemma that vexes any serious technology investor.

When quantum computing arrives in a decade, you can take all the functionality above and multiply it by a trillion-fold, while costs drop a similar amount. That’s when things really get interesting. But then, I’ve seen trillion-fold increases in technology before.

I hope I live to see another.





Personally, I Prefer the Original

September 23, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 23, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(MSFT), ($INDU), (SPY), (TLT), (GM)

The Market Outlook for the Week Ahead, or Gridlocked

Market’s are gridlocked.

Traders don’t want to chase the market at an all-time high on top of a 2,000-point rally. They don’t want to sell short either since a Tweet could come out at any time triggering a squeeze.

Will the trade war continue for another week or a year?

On top of all that, we have a president who attempts to manipulate the market more than any in history.

And here is the problem. While the major indexes remain dead unchanged over the past 18 months, earnings have been falling. That has made them more expensive than at any time over the past several years.

And this is in the face of an onslaught of negative economic data that continues to deteriorate by the day, all caused by the trade war.

So, as a result, there is nothing to do here. The market is too high to buy and too low to sell. Clients call me with trade ideas, and I tell them they are reaching. There is nothing worse than reaching for the marginal trade when there is really nothing to do.

At least I’ll have something to do in the coming week. I’ll be launching the Mad Hedge Biotech and Health Care Letter, the newest addition to our family of research services. In addition to technology, I expect Biotech and Health Care to be one of the top-performing sectors in the coming decade.

I have taken out a full-time researcher in the field who has been grinding out reports for me since January 1. The invitation to the webinar should reach you in a few days where I will explain why keeping up with this sector is so important.

There is no law that says you have to have a trade on every day of the year. Cash is beautiful. Better than that, cash has option value. It’s worth a fortune to have dry powder when markets meltdown or melt-up. You get to catch other investors’ trades when they are puking. That is the best time ever to make money.

When my four technology positions expired at their maximum profit point on Friday, I celebrated. I went down to a bankruptcy sale for an antique store in Berkeley and bought a vintage Champaign magnum bottle for $10.

The week was kicked off by mass drone strikes that took out Saudi oil production, axing 6 million barrels a day off the global market. Half of that will be back in a day. Oil prices spike $10, the largest one-day move in history. This is clearly the end result of the US unilaterally pulling out of the US Iran Nuclear Agreement and the economic sanctions that followed, thus inviting retaliation.

General Motors (GM) workers struck, with 48,000 hourly workers hitting the picket lines. The last strike in 1998, also at a market top, lasted for 54 days. Could be this the long-awaited inflationary run-up in wages? Expect many more strikes to come.

China’s economy slowed, with Industrial output up 4.4%, the slowest since 2002. Trade war impacts will keep hitting the economy for months to come. The bad news? Business is not responding to recent stimulus and, with 70% of the country’s oil originating in Saudi Arabia, they now have a bigger headache.

Recreational Vehicle sales are falling off a cliff, down 22% YOY, as consumer cut back discretionary spending. It’s another reliable pre-recession indicator.

Recession fears are the highest in a decade, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch fund manager survey. Some 38% of managers are making the bear call versus 34% in August. Only 7% of managers expect value to outperform growth over the next 12 months.

Some 53% of CFOs think we’ll be in a recession in a year, and 67% by end 2020. These are the highest pessimism numbers in a decade. Germany already in recession is the largest concern, followed by a slowing China. It’s all linked. We are all one global economy, like it or not.

Philly Fed plunged, from 16.8 to 12.0, indicating fading business confidence. The trade war universally gets the blame. Notice how nervous everyone is getting.

Apple got tagged with a $14 billion fine in another “not invented here” penalty issued by the Irish government. It’s another attack on American big tech. Apple says they followed Irish tax law to the letter.

The Fed cut a quarter but talks down future rate hikes. Buy the rumor, sell the news. Probably no rate cut for October, so December is the next time we get a swing at the piñata. This will have zero effect on the economy, but further punishes savers.

Microsoft (MSFT) announced a $40 billion share buyback and raises its dividend by 11%. It’s a huge positive for the company and the market in general. I’ll try to buy the Thursday opening if it doesn’t open up at a stupid price. Buy Seattle real estate….and more Microsoft. Bill Gates’ creation has bought back 25% of its shares over the past decade.

The Mad Hedge Trader Alert Service still doing well in this indecisive market. My Global Trading Dispatch reached a new all-time high of 336.07% and my year-to-date ground up to +35.83%. My ten-year average annualized profit bobbed up to +34.57%. 

I took profits in my long bond position (TLT) earlier in the week, capturing a four-point rally there. I am left with my short position in oil (US), which needs a $9 a barrel move against it to lose money. That should be fine as long as there is not another attack on the Saudi oil fields.

It is interesting to note that this ramped up the implied volatilities on oil options going into the Friday close over fears of just such an event. We will get all that back at the Monday morning opening….as long as the weekend proves peaceful.

On Monday, September 23 at 8:30 AM, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index for August is out.

On Tuesday, September 24 at 9:00 AM, the S&P Case-Shiller National Home Price Index is updated, for July.

On Wednesday, September 25, at 8:30 AM, we learn August New Home Sales.

On Thursday, September 26 at 8:30 AM, the Weekly Jobless Claims are printed. We also obtain the final read for Q2 GDP.

On Friday, September 27 at 8:30 AM, the August Durable Goods is printed. The Baker Hughes Rig Count is released at 2:00 PM.

As for me, I’ll be doing a ten-mile backpack through Point Reyes National Seashore with a 60-pound pack and feasting on freeze-dried food in front of a campfire. Got to remain bootcamp-ready. You never know when Uncle Sam is going to come calling again.

Good luck and good trading.

John Thomas
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader









September 20, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 20, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(TLT), (FDX), (FB), (HYG), (JNK), (EEM), (BABA), (JD), (TBT), (FXE), (UUP), (AMZN), (FB), (DIS), (MSFT), (USO), (INDU),

September 18 Biweekly Strategy Webinar Q&A

Below please find subscribers’ Q&A for the Mad Hedge Fund Trader September 18 Global Strategy Webinar broadcast from Silicon Valley, CA with my guest and co-host Bill Davis of the Mad Day Trader. Keep those questions coming!

Q: What would happen to the United States Treasury Bond Fund (TLT) if the Fed does not lower rates?

A: My bet is that it would immediately have a selloff—probably several points—but after that, recession worries will take bond prices up again and yields down. I don’t think we have seen the final lows in interest rates by a long shot. That’s why I bought the (TLT) last week.

Q: Is it good to buy FedEx (FDX) considering the 13% fall today?

A: I use the 3-day rule on these situations. That’s how long it takes for the dust to settle from an earnings shock like this and find the real price. The problem with FedEx is that it’s a great early recession predictor. When the number of delivered packages decreases, it’s always an indicator that the economy as a whole is slowing down, which we know has been happening. It’s one of the most cyclical stocks out there, therefore one of the most dangerous. I wouldn’t bother with FedEx right now. Go take a long nap instead.

Q: Would you be a buyer of Facebook (FB) here, given they seem to have weathered all the recent attacks from Washington?

A: Not here in particular, but I would buy it 20% down when it gets to the bottom edge of its upward channel—it still looks like it’s going crazy. They’re literally renting or buying buildings to hire an additional 50,000 people in San Francisco anticipating huge growth of their business, so that’s a better indicator of the future of Facebook than anything.

Q: Will junk bonds be more in demand now that rates are cratering?

A: Junk bonds (HYG), (JNK) are driven more by the stock market than the bond market, as you can see in the huge rally we just had. Junk bonds are great because their default ratios are usually far below that which the interest rate implies, but you really have to trade them like stocks. Think of them as preferred stocks with really high dividends. When the stock market tops, so will junk bonds. Remember in 2008, junk yields got all the way up to 15% compared to today’s 5.6%.

Q: What will happen to emerging markets (EEM) as rates lower?

A: If lower interest rates bring a weaker US dollar, that would be very positive for emerging markets over the long term and they would be a great buy. However, emerging markets will take the hardest hit if we actually do go into a recession. So, I would pass for now.

Q: What are your thoughts on Alibaba (BABA) and (JD)?

A: They are great for the long term. However, expect a lot of volatility in the short term. As long as the trade war is going on, these are going to be hard to trade until we get a settlement. (JD) is already up 50% this year but is still down 40% from pre trade war levels. These things will all be up 20-30% when that happens. If you can take the heat until then, they would probably be okay for a long-term portfolio globally diversified.

Q: What do you have to say about the ProShares Ultra Short 20+ Year Treasury ETF (TBT)—the short bond ETF?

A: If you have a position, I’d be selling now. We just had a massive 20%, 4-point rally from $22 to $27 and now would be a good time to take a profit, or at least get out closer to your cost. The zero interest rates story is not over yet.

Q: Would you short the US dollar?

A: I would most likely short it against the euro (FXE), which now has a massive economic stimulus and quantitative easing program coming into play which should be positive for it and negative for the US dollar (UUP). That’s most likely why the euro has stabilized over the last couple of weeks. That said, the dollar has been unexpected high all year despite falling interest rates so I have been avoiding the entire foreign exchange space. I try to stay away from things I don’t understand.

Q: If all our big tech September vertical bull call spreads are in the money, what should we do?

A: You do nothing. They all expire at the Friday close in two trading days. Your broker should automatically use your long call position to cover your short call position and credit your account with the total profit on the following Monday, as well as release the margin for holding that position. After that, we’ll probably wait for another good entry point on all the same names, (AMZN), (FB), (DIS), (MSFT).

Q: If the US fires a cruise missile at Iran, how would the market react?

A: It would selloff pretty big—markets hate wars. And the US wouldn’t send one missile at Iran; it would be more like 100, probably aimed at what little nuclear facilities they have. I doubt that is going to happen. The world has figured out that Trump is a wimp. He talks big but there is never any action or follow through. Inviting the Taliban to Camp David while they were still blowing up our people? Really?

Q: Will the housing market turn on the turbochargers after this dip in rates?

A: It wouldn’t turn on the turbochargers, but it might stabilize the market because money is available now at unprecedentedly low interest rates. However, we still have the loss of the SALT deductions—the state and local taxes and real estate taxes that came in with the Trump tax bill. Since then, real estate has been either unchanged or has fallen on both the East and West coast where the highest priced houses are. It’s the most expensive houses that take the loss of the SALT deduction the hardest. Don’t expect any movement in these markets until the SALT deduction comes back, probably in 16 months.

Q: What catalyst do you think would cause a 10% correction in the next 2-3 months?

A: Trump basically saying “screw you” to the Chinese—a tweet saying he’s going to bring another round of tariff increases. That’s worth a minimum of 2,000 points in the Dow Average (INDU), or about 7% percent. Either that or no move in Fed interest rates—that would also create a big selloff. My guess is that and adverse development in the trade war will be what does it. That’s why my positions are so small now.

Q: We have a big short position in the United States Oil Fund (USO) now. Are you going to run this into expiration until October $18?

A: Even though oil has already collapsed by 10% since we put this position on last Friday, premiums in oil options are still close to record levels. So, it pays us to hang on for the time decay. The world is still massively oversupplied in oil and the Saudis were able to bring half of the lost production back on in a day. Oil will keep falling unless there is another attack and it is unlikely we will see one again on this scale. And, we only have 20 more days to go to capture the full 14.8% profit.

Good luck and good trading.
John Thomas
CEO & Publisher
Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader





You Can’t Do Enough Research

September 18, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 18, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(AMZN), (DIS), (FB), (MSFT), (VIX),


September 12, 2019

Global Market Comments
September 12, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(FB), (AAPL), (AMZN), (GOOG), (SPOT), (IBM), (MSFT)