OAP 054: Can Using Portfolio Margin Enhance Your Returns?

If you’re an experienced options trader, then today’s show is for you because this week we’ll be talking about portfolio margin and how it could help enhance your returns. Yes, portfolio margin isn’t for everyone (you’ve got to have at least $125k in equity to qualify and three years of experience trading options), but the ability to upgrade your margin account to this portfolio risk model is incredibly powerful.

With portfolio margin, your broker is assessing each new option trade risk on the overall portfolio impact vs. an individual basis that happens in traditional margin accounts. They are asking the question, “How much risk does this new trade add to the overall portfolio?” More often than not, it means less margin required for new trades when you’ve already got offsetting positions.

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So, how does portfolio margin help? Well, when you have to put up less cash in margin to hold a position that takes in the same premium, it means you can generate a higher return and free up additional capital for more positions. Still, this fairy tale could also be a curse in disguise if you don’t manage your account properly.

In today’s show, you’ll discover how brokers “stress-test” positions based on percentage moves in the underlying stock or ETF, how they think about concentration risk, and how margin “kick-backs” could increase exposure even when you exit trades. Don’t have $125k in equity and think you're going to skip this show? Better thing twice because the tips and advice in this show will put you light years ahead of everyone else as you account balance grows.

Key Points from Today's Show:

  • Today's episode is geared towards investors or traders with typically a little more money than average in your account — $125,000 or more in equity, in one account at least 3 years of experience.
  • The basics of portfolio margin is the idea that a broker is going to look at your account on a total portfolio risk basis when you add new trades, versus on an individual risk basis.
  • As a general rule, when you use a portfolio margin account, you are typically going to see half of your margin being used when you trade stock, compared to a traditional margin account. This gives you more buying power to leverage more on stocks.
  • When it comes to options, most brokers stress test the option position against theoretical scenarios to assess how much money the position loses at different intervals or stress tests.
  • For the stress tests, they will assume the stock goes up 15% and down 15% in price. For less volatile ETFs they will account for the lower volatility by doing a scenario stress test of up 10% or down 12%.
  • If you are using portfolio margin, err on the side of caution and use the lower end of the spectrum with regard to allocation — 1% per trade.
  • Portfolio margin is not a one-size-fits-all. As soon as you get into the trade, your margin is not fixed at that level — it is only the initial margin that the broker requires based on your entire portfolio.
  • Position concentration can increase your margin required. It is an exponential curve, as far as margin required, as you continue to increase the concentration in your account.

Portfolio Margin Examples:

  • You've got two trades; you've got a long position in gold and a short position in silver. That kind of pairs trade should have a net neutral effect in your portfolio, because gold and silver are going to generally trade in the same direction.
  • So if you were to trade gold long and silver short, then your portfolio should have a net zero, or delta-neutral impact, which is how they look at it with portfolio margin.
  • When trading in a traditional marginal account, they will look at each of those trades independently, not together, which will require you to keep a lot more margin for those two trades, even though they have less overall portfolio risk.

Portfolio Margin

  • Say Amazon is trading for $740. If you do a short strangle on Amazon, 15-Delta on either end, the regular margin that would be required for this position in a regular account is $11,967.
  • Now if you were trading in a portfolio margin account, because they will stress test Amazon against the 15% up or down move and how much money you could lose at that level, portfolio margin in this case, would only require you to hold $2,785.
  • Even with risk defined trades like iron condors, and credit spreads, and butterflies, your margin requirement is going to be less. Because again, they realize that sometimes the impact of a big move up or down is not going to be as great as a traditional margin account would require.

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Free Options Trading Courses:

  • Options Basics [20 Videos]Whether you're a completely new trader or an experienced trader, you'll still need to master the basics. The goal of this section is to help lay the groundwork for your education with some simple, yet important lessons surrounding options.
  • Finding & Placing Trades [26 Videos]Successful options trading is 100% dependent on your ability to find and enter trades that give you an "edge" in the market. This module helps teach you how to scan properly for and select the best strategies to execute smarter option trades each day.
  • Pricing & Volatility [12 Videos]This module includes lessons on mastering implied volatility and premium pricing for specific strategies. We'll also look at IV relativeness and percentiles which help you determine the best strategy to use for each and every possible market setup.
  • Neutral Options Strategies [7 Videos]The beauty of options is that you can trade the market within a neutral range either up or down. You'll learn to love sideways and range bound markets because of the opportunity to build non-directional strategies that profit if the stock goes up, down or nowhere at all.
  • Bullish Options Strategies [12 Videos]Naturally everyone wants to make money when the market is heading higher. In this module, we'll show you how to create specific strategies that profit from up trending markets including low IV strategies like calendars, diagonals, covered calls and direction debit spreads.
  • Options Expiration & Assignment [11 Videos]Our goal is to make sure you understand the logistics of how each process works and the parties involved. If you don’t feel confident in the expiration processes or have questions that you just can't seem to get answered, then this section will help you.
  • Portfolio Management [16 Videos]When I say "portfolio management" some people automatically assume you need a Masters from MIT to understand the concept and strategies - that is NOT the case. And in this module, you'll see why managing your risk trading options is actually quite simple.
  • Trade Adjustments/Hedges [15 Videos]: In this popular module, we'll give you concrete examples of how you can hedge different options strategies to both reduce potential losses and give yourself an opportunity to profit if things turn around. Plus, we'll help you create an alert system to save time and make it more automatic.
  • Professional Trading [14 Videos]Honestly, this module isn't just for professional traders; it's for anyone who wants to have eventually options replace some (or all) of their monthly income. Because the reality is that mindset is everything if you truly want to earn a living trading options.

PDF Guides & Checklists:

  • The Ultimate Options Strategy Guide [90 Pages]: Our most popular PDF workbook with detailed options strategy pages categorized by market direction. Read the whole guide in less than 15 mins and have it forever to reference.
  • Earnings Trading Guide [33 Pages]: The ultimate guide to earnings trades including the top things to look for when playing these one-day volatility events, expected move calculations, best strategies to use, adjustments, etc.
  • Implied Volatility (IV) Percentile Rank [3 Pages]A cool, simple visual tool to help you understand how we should be trading based on the current IV rank of any particular stock and the best strategies for each blocked section of IV.
  • Guide to Trade Size & Allocation [8 Pages]Helping you figure out exactly how to calculate new position size as well as how much you should be allocating to your each position based on your overall portfolio balance.
  • When to Exit/Manage Trades [7 Pages]Broken down by option strategy we'll give you concrete guidelines on the best exit points and prices for each trade type to maximize your win rate and profits long-term.
  • 7-Step Trade Entry Checklist [10 Pages]Our top 7 things you should be double-checking before you enter your next trading. This quick checklist will help keep you out of harms way by making sure you make smarter entries.

Real-Money, LIVE Trading:

  • IWM Iron Butterfly (Closing Trade): Exiting this IWM iron butterfly options trade gave us a $1,100+ profit after pinning the stock price one day before expiration at the peak of our spread.
  • CMG Iron Condor (Opening Trade): I just recorded my live trading platform (and real money account) as I walked through the process of entering a new iron condor trade in CMG stock. Inside you'll see me analyze, price and fill the trade in real-time.
  • APC Strangle (Closing Trade): Took about $150 out of this small APC strangle trade even after the stock moved completely against our short call strikes this month. But as always, implied volatility always trumps direction and because IV went down, the value of this spread dropped more-so than the impact of the directional move higher.
  • IYR Call Credit Spread (Adjusting Trade): This adjustment is good for 2 reasons. First, it reduces the overall risk in the trade if IYR continues to move higher. Second, it still leaves room for the stock to fall back down into our new profit window.
  • XHB Straddle (Closing Trade): We were able to bank a $120 profit early in the March expiration cycle for our XHB straddle with the stock trading right in the middle of our expected range.
  • AAPL Call Calendar (Opening Trade): Look behind the scenes as I use our new watchlist software to filter quickly and find this AAPL call calendar spread trade during overall low implied volatility in the market.
  • COF Strangle (Adjusting Trade): Here I recorded my live trading screen (and real money account) showing you the entire thought process we used to make an adjustment to my current short strangle in COF to reduce risk.
  • GDX Strangle (Opening Trade): With gold's high IV we are getting into a new strangle with a 70% chance of success and a decent credit for selling option premium.
  • IBB Iron Condor (Closing Trade): Today we're exiting an iron condor we traded in IBB for a $142 profit. Inside you'll see me analyze the exit price and fill the trade in real-time.

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About The Author

Kirk Du Plessis

Kirk founded Option Alpha in early 2007 and currently serves as the Head Trader. In 2018, Option Alpha hit the Inc. 500 list at #215 as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US. Formerly an Investment Banker in the Mergers and Acquisitions Group for Deutsche Bank in New York and REIT Analyst for BB&T Capital Markets in Washington D.C., he's a Full-time Options Trader and Real Estate Investor. He's been interviewed on dozens of investing websites/podcasts and he's been seen in Barron’s Magazine, SmartMoney, and various other financial publications. Kirk currently lives in Pennsylvania (USA) with his beautiful wife and three children.