Lock in now or stay variable

Mortgage rates in Canada are at historical lows, ranging from just over 2% for a variable closed 3 year rate to nearly 5.5% for a fixed closed 5 year rate (with 25 year amortization). It really pays to shop around as there is a wide variation between lenders and between terms.

Sometimes the cheapest rate is not always the best mortgage. You need to read the fine print and learn about the various options that are available to you. Can you double up your payments? Can you make a one-time large payment? What happens if you miss a payment? These are important questions as the answers can save you literally thousands of dollars over time.

How mortgage rates are determined

In Canada the mortgage rate that you are offered by your bank, credit union or other lender is determined by the Bank of Canada’s overnight lending rate. This is the rate at which banks will lend other banks money. From this rate your bank will determine what their Prime Rate will be. This Prime Rate is the overnight rate plus a certain percentage for profit. This Prime Rate is used to determine the variable rate mortgages that the lender will offer to retail clients (you and me).

Depending upon your credit history and the terms of your mortgage (number of years, variable or fixed rates, amount of loan, etc) your mortgage rate will be the Prime Rate plus or minus a percentage. This percentage is the lender’s profit margin and the amount required to take on the risk of you not paying the loan back.

Fixed mortgage rates are based more on the bond market. As such fixed mortgage rates rely on supply and demand issues in the market. In times of economic trouble most investors flee the stock market and look for the safety of government backed bonds. This lowers the yield that new issues of bonds pay (since more people want them they will still sell even with lower interest rates). When bond yields are low then mortgage rates head lower – minus the mark-up that your lender retains. The opposite is true as well. When the prevailing sentiment in the market is bullish (positive) then bond yields have to rise to attract investors (versus the stock market). When bond yields rise so to do mortgage rates.

The future

While no one can tell you with certainty where interest rates are headed it must be pointed out that the overnight rate is at one of the lowest points in Canadian history. The stock market has had a huge bull run since the financial crisis (which Canada weathered better than most nations). This would lead one to believe that mortgage rates are on the rise. To a certain extent Canada takes its cue from its largest trading partner to the South of us, and they are expected to keep rates low due to the housing crisis in the USA.

You would be wise to talk to your mortgage professional and get their take on where interest rates are headed. By switching from a very cheap variable rate to a slightly more expensive locked in rate you may in the long run make a huge savings as rates rise. Alternatively if you feel that rates will remain low for the rest of the year, you can hold off locking in until the fall. Whatever you decide be sure to read the fine print because the best mortgage is not just about the cheapest rate

Today we are going to look at several charts that are displaying the same pattern. Namely the “1st Thrust Down” pattern. This is a change in trend pattern (from Bull to Bear). There has been several of these patterns spotted recently and this is an indication of what the market as a whole might have in store for the near future. Lord knows the market can’t always go straight up.

Take a look at this first chart (courtesy of All About Trends, and used with permission) of Rovi Corp towards the end of Feb 2011. The notes on the chart are pretty self explanatory – but notice also the RSI during the ‘snap back rally’ doesn’t really climb. This was another signal that perhaps the bounce off the 50 day MA was not going to be sustained.

Now take a look at this second chart of Allegiant Travel Co. from the same time period. Once again during the snap back rally the RSI never breached 70 and was once again another signal of a change in trend from up to down.

Here is the third chart showing a ’1st Thrust Down’ pattern. This is Silicon Laboratories on Feb 23rd.

Lastly here is a look at VMWare from March 2nd. Notice the now familiar first thrust down, snap back rally (but fails to go to a new high and RSI hovers in the middle) then bombs away. When the stock breaks the snap back rally trend channel that is your sell signal (or you can buy puts for those who like to play options).

This chart also shows where the bomb dropped so to speak. Notice that the bounce occurred in the neighbourhood of the 200 day MA, and signals that it might now (or soon anyways) be a good time to go long. Naturally you will want confirmation from the S&P500 charts and Dow charts so that all are moving in the same direction, before making your purchase.

Investing for rookies

Nov 24, 2010

What is investing? Wikipedia defines investment as the following: “Investment is putting money into something with the hope of profit. More specifically, investment is the commitment of money or capital to the purchase of financial instruments or other assets so as to gain profitable returns in the form of interest, income (dividends), or appreciation of the value of the instrument”.

So what does that mean? We all know what money is, it’s the stuff we carry around in our wallets (hopefully), so what are financial instruments? Specifically they are:

• Stocks,
• Bonds,
• Treasury Bills,
• Mutual Funds,
• Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)
• Options and other derivatives,
• Property, or
• Currency.

Investing therefore, means that you spend your money and in return you receive one or more of the above financial instruments. ‘Profitable returns’ refers to:

Interest – this is what a company will pay you for the privilege of using your money. Think of a savings account at a bank. You give the bank your money and they use it to lend to other people and businesses. The bank pays you a small amount of interest for the use of your money.
Income (dividends) – this is a form of profit sharing. When a company makes a profit, they pass some of those profits back to the owners of the company (some they keep to reinvest in the company to help it grow or survive during down times). As a stockholder you are an owner of the business and entitled to a share of the profits that are distributed.
Appreciation of the instrument – this refers to the increasing value of whatever it is that you bought. For example, if you bought your home for $100,000 ten years ago and today you could sell it for $150,000 you would say that your real estate (real property) had appreciated by 50% or $50,000 in this example.

This all sounds good, but there is more to consider before you plunk down your money and expect to earn a luxury vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Your education is just beginning and the fun is about to start.

You need to understand what your financial goals are and what your position is on risk management. Your goals may include:

• The need to draw an income from your investments,
• Saving for a vacation or major purchase, or
• Planning for your retirement.

Whatever the case, you need to find out, because the answer will determine how you invest.

Many people believe that the more risk you take with your investments, the more reward you receive. This is true to a certain extent. It is also true that the more risk you take, the more likely you are to lose your entire investment. What we are talking about is called risk management and it is very important to understand. Every person is different when it comes to risk. In general the older you are, the closer to retirement you are, the less risky you want to be with your investments. This is because the older you are, the less time you have to recover from a big loss.

For one to succeed in the stock market on their own, they need to commit to learning and commit to having fun. Yes fun. Investing on your own can be very liberating and very rewarding, but if done in ignorance it can be very dangerous as well. Beginners should scan the business section of the local newspaper and look for names of companies that they recognize. Read those articles and get a feel for what is happening with those companies and how they work. Even Warren Buffet, the greatest investor of all time, doesn’t invest in companies that he doesn’t understand.

Basic Charting

Nov 3, 2010

Using stock charts can provide a wealth of information about how a company is trading. Charts can provide hints of a coming rally or just the opposite is about to ensue. Combined with other buy and sell signals stock charting is a very useful tool.

Charting works because on a large scale human nature is predictable. Not individually of course, but when you are talking about large numbers of people – like everyone who is trading stocks. It is because people follow predictable trading patterns that there are certain chart patterns that can be worth a gold mine. (see my previous post)

These areas of a chart that coax people’s behaviour into buying or selling are often called lines of support and resistance. Don’t be fooled by the name however; they are zones, not hard and true lines. These zones are flexible. In fact, if you see a breach of short term support during an intraday move, you could be getting a signal of strong buyer support.

Winthrop Realty Trust, Inc

Take a look at the above chart of Winthrop Realty Trust, Inc. There are two patterns here to note.

First, look at the blue support line. Throughout most of October the price of FUR dropped below this line, but only intraday. Every time it dropped below the line there was strong buying that pushed it back before the end of the day’s trading. This is a terrific signal that buyers were willing to add to their positions during intraday weakness. Investors were unwilling to sell shares during these weak points. Another key point to note is that volume was strong when it finally did break out.

Secondly, we have a rising wedge pattern. This is very bullish and indicates that a strong rally may soon occur. Again look at the blue support line. Investors were buying the price dips and over time were not willing to let the price fall as far as the day before. The red resistance line indicates that there was reluctance on the part of buyers to pay higher prices. Again for most of October the maximum price investors were willing to pay was around $13. Eventually these two lines meet and the enthusiasm of buyers usually overpowers the reluctance of resistance.

It is a good idea to wait for the market to close before pulling the trigger on your trade. Volume is used to confirm a move in one direction or another. If you had been scared off by the intraday moves below the blue support line you would have missed a lovely break out above the red resistance line.

I seem to be a little early when I’m trying to call a market top. Like 2 weeks early, and during those 2 weeks my positions are underwater. And I get nervous. Then the market reverses and I’m back in the black. This happened all summer long. I’m kicking myself to hold off making trades since I’m always a little early.

Back in April of this year (2010) the S&P 500 had made a huge run off the February lows, but by the middle of that month I had figured that that was enough and I started buying puts. (Recall that if you buy puts you are hoping for stock prices to fall so that your puts will profit). What happened? Well the S&P 500 kept rising and my puts kept falling in price.

Finally the first week in May occurred and prices crashed in a hurry and I made some very nice profits. But they could have been so very much better.

Again in June I was sure the market was going to drop once again. Once again I started buying puts and once again the market kept rising. Finally, the end of June came along and ravaged stock prices even worse than in May. I realized some profits, but once again it could have been so much better.

Additionally, several of my puts expired in June and the move didn’t occur until after options expiration day. My puts were worthless, even though I had been correct on the direction of the move (in stock price). How frustrating – I was right but I still lost money. This is why most people are scared of options.

What about right now (middle of September 2010)? I feel very certain that we are due for a pull back. Many of the leading stocks are over extended. Most are at or above the top line in the Bollinger Bands. All are way over their 50 day moving averages and hitting resistance levels. October is coming and that has been traditionally a bad month for stock prices.

I started buying puts late last week – and once again the market keeps rising. I had a few September puts that will expire nearly worthless tomorrow, but most of my puts come due in October.

The smart thing to do is to establish small short positions and slowly leg into new positions. This lowers your per unit cost (if you are buying puts and the market still rises) and allows you to fill out your position. As this market extends even further the technical indicators are screaming for a reversal. When it comes it will be swift and steep.

A swift downside move is coming. If you’re chasing stocks higher you’re likely to regret it in the days ahead.

Be careful. Plan your trade and trade your plan

Hedging with options

Jun 17, 2010

According to Investorwords.com the definition of a hedge is “An investment made in order to reduce the risk of adverse price movements in a security, by taking an offsetting position in a related security, such as an option or a short sale”.

In plain English this means that if you have a position that you fear will move against you, you should employ a hedging strategy so that when it does move against you, you will not suffer a loss. In fact, a perfect hedge is one where you completely eliminate all risk, and also all chance of profit.

If you hold a long position in security A you are hoping that the value of A increases. However, you are afraid that A might fall in price thereby exposing you to a loss. To prevent this possibility you should take a long position in the opposite of A (let’s call it security Z).

Ideally A and Z are perfectly correlated so that a one point move in A corresponds to an opposing one point move in Z.

For example, suppose you have an investment in FXE which matches the performance of the Euro versus the US dollar. Every time the Euro moves up against the US$ FXE gains a point. To hedge against this position would be to take a half position in EUO which seeks to exceed the inverse of the Euro by 200% versus the US$. When the Euro falls by a half point, EUO gains by a point – theoretically at least. (There are some slight differences due to these funds having to pay their expenses and due to the fact that they attempt to match the daily performance and may be off by a fraction here or there, but these differences can add up over a long period of time).

Another possible way to hedge against a position in FXE is to buy a Leap put contract(s) so that when the Euro falls and FXE losses a point or two (or more) your put leap option will offset your loss. This is called a hedge and eliminates your risk. Keep in mind that you are not trying to profit on this trade; you are trying to get rid of risk.

Why would you do this? One possible example is perhaps you get paid in Euros but live in North America. In this scenario your purchasing power (your salary) would decrease every time the Euro drops in value (versus the US$).

Let’s suppose that you get paid $50,000 US per year in Euros. Today that would mean 40,600 Euros. (currency converter)

What happens if the Euro drops to parity with the US$? You would lose nearly 20% of your salary, not good. The thing to do therefore is to purchase a long term put contract on the FXE such that if the Euro falls to parity with the US$ your put contract will increase in value to $10,000.

When you buy in the money options contracts you can participate in a nearly dollar for dollar move in the underlying security. What this means is that the options contract will move in sync with the underlying security if the contract is deep in-the-money and also if there is plenty of time on your side.

Going back to our example: If you purchase 3 January 2012 put contracts with a strike price of 130 this will cost you approximately $14 or ($14 *100 shares per contract * 3 contracts) $4200. FXE currently trades around 122. If FXE were to move to 100 in the next 12 months you would have lost nearly $10,000 in purchasing power from your salary (remember the FXE reflects the value of the Euro, if it drops the Euro has also dropped).

Now let’s look at the value of your put contracts. With FXE at 100 your put contracts should sell for approximately $34 or ($34 * 100 shares per contract * 3 contracts) $10,200 which would offset your loss of purchasing power and be a nearly perfect hedge.

Your risk in this scenario would be if the Euro climbed versus the US$ and the value of your put contracts would fall. However your purchasing power would also have risen and therefore offset the loss in the investment.

My wife currently gets paid in GB Pounds and you can be rest assured that I will be running the numbers on the FXB (which is similar to FXE except in Pounds instead of Euros). Good luck and remember plan your trade and trade your plan.

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Income from options 2

Jun 11, 2010

There is another way you can earn income from the use of options. Earlier we talked about employing a covered call strategy to supplement your dividend income. You can earn money from selling a call, but you can also earn money from selling a put.

Recall that when you buy a put option you are making a contract to sell 100 shares at the strike price on or before a specific date in the future. Now consider the other side of this transaction.

Put-Selling: When you sell a put option you are agreeing to buy 100 shares at the strike price on or before a specific date in the future. Please keep in mind that you would only ever enter into this contract if you actually want the underlying shares. Don’t speculate or you may end up with something you do not want.

Ideally, the contract strike price is below the current price of the underlying shares. You are therefore agreeing to buy 100 shares of a company that you want at a price that you think is fair (or even below market value). You earn a premium for making this agreement.

The purchaser believes that the share price will fall even further and hopes to limit his or her loss. As the seller you believe that the drop in price is only temporary and that buying the company at this new lower price is a bargain.

However, it is entirely possible that the share price will not fall below the strike price before the expiration date, and you will never be ‘put’ the shares (forced to buy). In that case you will have earned a premium and never had to buy anything at all.

For example, Apple stock (aapl) currently trades for approximately $248 per share. You like Apple and think they are a strong company, but not at the current price. However, at $220/share Apple looks very attractive. You could sell the July $220 put for $3.60. Keep in mind that each contract controls 100 shares. Therefore, you would earn $360 from selling the put contract. And, if the price of Apple shares fell below $220 before the 3rd Friday in July (the expiration date) you would have to buy 100 Apple shares at $220 each.

If Apple never falls below $220 then you do not have to buy the shares, but you still get to keep the premium – in this case $360, which is a good thing. If Apple falls below $220 a share you get to buy them at a price that you thought was a bargain. This is also a good thing. Your only risk in this scenario is that Apple shares fall far below $216.40. Were that to occur you would be in a loss position, but you would own the shares and be able to take advantage of any later upswing in the stock.

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