Always have a plan

ITC, the stock that has the butt end of jokes for almost a year now. Since December 2020, except for one occasion, the stock has been in a tight range of 20 odd rupees. Traders long in this stock were at their wits ends since the stock wouldn’t even hit their stop losses for them exit from it justifiably. Traders like me who don’t mind dabbling in options, have made decent money out of this sideways movement from what we call straddles and strangles.

But these strategies are naked. They can produce unlimited loss if not monitored properly. For a stock that was stuck in a range, rangebound strategies made sense. But what if it had broken the range?

A common way to deal with runaway options premiums for option sellers is to make adjustments. There are videos on YT of traders using up to 50 options to manage one sold call that had gone in the money. As dumb as it sounds, deep pocketed among us can do if they fell compelled to do so.

But what if we aren’t one of those? Simply taking an SL and accepting a loss is one. What if the option went so far in the money that it no longer has a reasonable liquidity? Should you bite the bullet exit at any point? Or may be hope for the market to reverse? What if there is literally zero liquidity? Then can you borrow money to somehow physically settle the contract?

There are numerous things that can go wrong in a trade. Best be prepared…

What? F&O?

If you have ever joined a telegram group, chances are you have seen a message like this:

Both calls ended in loss that day. The messages with the fire emojis stopped the minute it went into loss.

Curious why they only selectively post their winning trades?

Stock market seems simple. You buy low and sell high. That is like saying batting in a world cup final easy, just hit the ball with the bat. Both statements oversimplify the complexities massively. If you are trading in cash delivery markets, 9 out of 10 times you will not need to know about technical complexities besides the T+2 settlement cycle and the new rule of margin requirement for selling your shares. If you are trading intraday you have to learn how leverage works, and what happens when your MTM loss at the end of the day is more than the money you had in your account in the morning.

But these are still trivially simple compared to what you need to know to tread into derivatives market of equity, currency and commodities (pun intended!). If you jump in directly, you will realize that you did not know what you did not know.

I thought I will give you a small checklist of things you will need to know by heart to be safe in the market.

  1. Expiry time – Know the expiry time and date for the contract you are trading. Equities expire on Thursdays at the end of the day. Currencies expire on Fridays at noon. Recheck the details yourselves. I may be wrong, or rules might have changed since publishing this article.
  2. Type of settlement – Nifty and Banknifty contracts are cash settled, meaning you receive the gains or pay the losses and the contract is considered settled. Stock futures and in the money stock options are physically settled. Meaning, depending upon the side of the contract you hold, you must either take delivery or give delivery equal to the number of lots you hold. An ITM Reliance contract would be settled with 505 shares of Reliance. That requires full value of contract i.e. 505 x CMP of Reliance and not just 2.5L margin that the broker takes.
  3. Margin Maintenance – Unlike cash trades where once you buy the shares and pay for them, you do not need to maintain any money in the account, derivatives need cash or margin. (Cash can be given as margin but margin cannot be paid as cash!). If you go long in a futures contract and market goes down a little, resulting in an MTM loss of 5000 Rs. Then you must pay 5000 Rs cash at the end of the day. If you are holding an option position however, just some margin will be blocked. So, you can get a margin call if you run out of cash to pay for the futures MTM settlement EOD even if you have plenty of non-cash margin left. Some brokers require additional margin two days prior to the expiry of physically settled contracts. If you are carrying the position throughout the month for about 1.5L margin, you will need about 3L margin to keep the position open on the last two days of expiry. Your trade could very well have ended in profit had you been able to keep it open till expiry. But if you get a margin call on Wednesday, you might be forced to close the position at a loss.
  4. Liquidity – F&O market is much more illiquid than stock. It might be quite easy for a seasoned trader to enter and exit from a 10,000-share position of GODREJCP. But it will be difficult for her to square off 10 call options at slightly OTM strike of the same stock since the liquidity is much less. So, your position might show 2000 rupees profit, but by the time you exit fully, you might have paid 400-500 rupees to slippages. That is 20-25% less than the profit you were expecting. This is especially true for multi leg option strategies.

There are many more factors you need to look out for while trading in F&O market, but hope this post gets you started on at least some of them…

Also read my article on starting to trade in FnO market: What is the ideal size?

Black Swan Events

two black ducks on grass lawn

This is the catch phrase every single news channel likes to throw around. It is an event that is beyond what is normally expected. The word ‘normally’ is a bit subjective. When you start trading, for the first few months upper or lower circuits would seem like abnormal events. Soon you would get used to extreme volatility where 8% up and 9% down happens one day after another. You will see a stock tanking 10% after a historically bumper result. And through all this if you manage to keep your account afloat, you will see the shortest bear market in the history lasting about a month from peak to trough.

But let us see some events that would have surely caught many ‘professional’ traders off guard too.

There is one event I would like to talk about. One where the value of crude oil contracts went negative.

No, it did not mean that you could go to petrol pump and get paid to fill the tank of your car. It was a time where world was locked down due to COVID-19. There was little demand for crude. People holding long futures of crude would have to take delivery of oil on expiry of their contract. It is worth mentioning here that crude contracts are physically settled in US unlike on MCX where they are cash settled. So long traders would have been stuck with barrels upon barrels of crude which had no demand in the market or any economically viable place to store. So, traders started selling the contracts. Selling did not stop. Eventually the ask side of the orders started working in negative. Traders were ready to pay money to close their long positions because taking a delivery would have meant an astronomical loss.

At least in the US the exchanges could process negative orders and the market kept running. In India last traded price of April month future contact was 965 rupees but the final settlement price was assigned as negative 2884 rupees.

A lot of traders and brokers have moved to various courts of appeal. Traders and brokers claim that MCX had no system to submit negative price in spreads and hence it cannot assign a negative price for settlement.

The cases are still in the court. The difference between LTP and settlement price was over 3500 Rs. Multiply that by 100 barrels per contract and a long trader could have potentially lost 3.5 lakhs per contract that day. That is more than the margin requirement for the same contract at that time.

Results from the court are still awaited. The traders who lost big that day might get some of their money back. But that will take time. And they would have lost precious opportunities that presented themselves from April till today.

Nobody, not even our exchanges had anticipated negative prices before this event. Since then the margin requirement on crude oil has increased a lot. Currently it is more than even the notional value of the contract.

Black swan events are unexpected. So naturally there are little safeguards in place against them. But there is always a way to prevent large losses. Here I mean losses large enough to mess with your psychology, make you lose confidence. It might reduce your capital so much that it is no longer viable for you to trade.

Remember, in trading, not losing money is more important than making a lot of money. It is prudent to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

What is risk management?

This is the first article of a 4-part series of articles on risk. I often hear people saying stock markets are risky. I am going to try and classify and quantify the risks that they perceive. Once they know what to and what not to be afraid of, may be the fear will subside a little.

We all have heard the following;

‘MutualFundsAreSubjectedToMarketRiskReadAllSchemeRelatedDocumentsCarefully’

Not just the adverts, but you all will have at least one each from the following categories in your friends and family:

The one who is terrified of the thought of stock market and actively advises everyone against it.

The one who has tried and burnt her hands in stock market.

The one who’s doing it for a long time but has neither made nor lost too much money.

The one who knows what she is doing and makes consistent money from the market.

The last one is very rare and usually flies under the radar. Except the one who has lost a lot of money, everyone else of the above have done a decent job of managing their risk. And yes, I am including the person who stays away from the market, since she has already made sure she never makes a loss in the market. (There are other ways she will lose her money but we will talk about it in subsequent articles).

If you look up the definition of risk management, you will find something along the lines of identifying and mitigating threats. That is a generic definition. Let us rephrase it to suit our profession. The overarching risk in securities market is losing money. And why do we lose money? Usually because our view of the market is wrong or the tool that we used to express our view of the market is wrong.

You can have 7 views for the market:

  1. Up
  2. Down
  3. Sideways
  4. Up or sideways
  5. Down or sideways
  6. Up or down.
  7. Arbitrage – This is not a feasible stance for most retail investors so we will ignore that.

For example, if your view is that the market might stay sideways, but market makes a directional move beyond your expected range you will lose. Your risk management principles will dictate how much you lose when your trade goes wrong.

I would like to give an example of picking the wrong tool for your directional view as well. Let us say your view was that Reliance will move up in the next 30 days. Instead of buying shares you thought you’ll receive higher ROI if you take a position using options. You buy an OTM call. For half the month Reliance doesn’t move up very much. Due to theta decay, your option loses premium and the stop loss on the option’s premium is hit. You exit the position and a couple of days later Reliance Starts an explosive rally on the back of some good news. You could have held on to the position if you had made a spread with options or simply taken a cash position.

We will talk about many factors that are often overlooked while taking a position in the next article.

What is the ideal size?

person in black pants holding yellow ruler

Apparently professional traders are often asked about the minimum account size one must have to trade in futures. There’s a long answer and a short answer for this. You can find the short answer on twitter somewhere so I will walk you through the long one.

Lets say there are 10 stocks you trade very regularly. You have also done backtesting of your strategy to figure out the idea stop loss that is required.

StockLot SizeCMPStop Loss (%)Stop Loss (Rs)Stop Loss/lot
RELIANCE5051945358.3529,500
HDFC30021953.576.82523,000
HDFCBANK550140045630,800
TCS300270025416,200
INFY60011002.527.516,500
ONGC770080.5021.6112,400
ITC320019447.7624,832
HINDUNILIVR3002125242.512,750
BANKNIFTY252915051457.536,438
NIFTY75128352.5320.87524,066
I have rounded off some numbers for ease of calculations. Lot sizes change over time, so double check the sizes you use from NSE website before calculation.

Stock, Lot size ,and Current Market Price (CMP) are the data columns. Stop loss percentage comes from your backtesting. Then per share loss is simply multiplication of CMP and Stop Loss (%). For example, for RELIANCE, 1945*0.03 = 58.35/- rs per share. Since one lot of RELIANCE is made up of 505 shares. You will lose 505*58.35 = 29,500/- rs per lot.

So let’s look at the maximum loss by amount in the last column of the table. Thanks about 36,500 rs for Banknifty. We will use this for our risk calculations.

Now comes the next question. How much money as a percentage of your capital can you risk per trade? If your answer is 1%, then 35,000 should correspond to 1% of your capital. That comes to 36,50,000 or 36.5 Lakhs.

Let me illustrate why the textbook answer of “About 15-20L is enough to trade in futures” is harmful for your trading journey. Let us say you jump in with 15L to trade in futures. If you are still willing to risk only 1% per trade, you can only take a loss of up to 15,000/-. So if you spotted a trade in Banknifty, you would be forced to either take the trade with half of your normal stop loss or break your rules and take more risk per trade than you have initially decided. If you keep half of the normal stop loss, the accuracy may reduce. If you take more risk per trade then your account can drawdown more than you had anticipated.

In my personal opinion one should only use futures when one wants to take a short position in a scrip. If you want to go long, you can simply buy the stock. You get the freedom of position sizing. You can add more if you want, you can book your partial profits at first target, you get benefits of corporate actions while you are holding the stock, etc.

I know that indices, currencies and commodities are only traded in futures. But the same risk management principles apply there as well.

Take the same approach we Indians take while packing food for the trip. We usually pack enough for us, our co passengers, the conductor, the driver, the cute dog we see at the rest stop and some more for the return journey. Have enough margin in your account before getting into futures so that even if your every single trade goes wrong in the first month, you can still trade once the calendar turns.

Happy trading…