December 2020 Trading Review

The market had another strong month, though not quite as great as November. $SPY was up 3.3% in December, closing on New Year’s Eve at an all-time high. If I had told you there would be a worldwide pandemic and most of the world would shut its doors in 2020, I bet you wouldn’t have guessed the S8P 500 would be up more than 16% by the end of year? Crazy.

Since I’m just a few months into this blog, it doesn’t make sense to have a big yearly review of my performance in my accounts. I will review some changes I made this year, what I plan to do going forward, and some goals. But first, let’s wrap up December!

For the month of December, my total profits from options trading were $2,320.73, my best month yet and nearly 10% more than last month. That’s a total portfolio return of 2.1% and below the market’s 3.3% for the month. However, my total portfolio value across all accounts – which includes options trading profits, current stock & options positions, contributions & withdrawals for extra mortgage principal payments – was up 3.6%, just edging out the markets performance. The portfolios had net contributions of $246.30 for the month. I closed 69 options trades with a win rate of 97%*.

(* That win rate is a bit misleading because it doesn’t count positions that were assigned as losses. The only way I get a loss according to my tracking is if I close a position with a negative net credit. I took assignment on 5 trades. If those 5 are counted as losses, my win rate comes down to 90%.)

I continue to split my accounts between two strategies. One is to trade mostly credit spreads and naked puts in margin accounts and the other is to sell cash-secured puts & covered calls (i.e. “the wheel” strategy) in non-margin and IRA accounts. The goal for the margin accounts continues to be to 1) raise cash to increase trading capital and 2) run through my mortgage pay off strategy. The other accounts are reinvesting the profits into stock positions for future growth or passive income via dividend stocks.

Biggest Winner

My biggest win of the month, and ever by total profit, was a cash-secured put on $LOW. Lowe’s has shown to be very resilient during the COVID shutdowns thanks to many people taking up home improvement projects (myself included! In fact, I swiped my Lowe’s credit card countless times in 2020). There was a big pullback on November 9 and I decided to open the December 18 cash-secured put at the $150 strike for a credit of $3.75. At one point I was in the money, but held my ground and let it ride, knowing that if I was assigned I would be happy to own $LOW at $150. About a week before expiration the stock jumped back up and I took that as an opportunity to close the trade for a net credit of $340.68, a 2.3% return (25.1% annualized).

Biggest Loser

My biggest loss was on Chinese EV company $NIO. The loss was only $15, and looking at the chart below, would have been a winner if I had held until expiration. It was a Put credit spread for December 18 expiration at the $41/$40 strike. I opened the trade on December 9. The stock started moving against me, and rather than holding the line, I decided to roll out one week and down a bit. I also increased the width of the credit spread, allowing me to bring in some credit for this trade. I ended up with the December 24 expiration now at the $39/37.5. Once the stock began moving in my direction, I decided to let it go and pocket a $31 profit. So net was a positive $16. Not bad for my biggest loser!

My biggest paper loss by far was on $FCEL as I wrote about here: Picking Up Pennies In Front of a Steamroller: Covered Call on $FCEL. At expiration, I was “down” $680! Because this was a covered call, it is more of profits missed rather than an actual loss.

I had an actual paper loss due to an assignment on $PFE at expiration. I had a cash-secured put at the $41 strike. At expiration, $PFE was trading at $37.68, so the paper loss was $332 ($41-37.68). I did collect $102 in credit, so net is a loss of $230. Pfizer is obviously a very strong company and am not worried holding a long position. I will sell covered calls at above $41 and collect premiums until I get assigned. Currently I have the February 19 expiration $42 covered call for a net credit of $64. If I hold it until expiration, that is a 9.2% annualized return. In addition, Pfizer currently pays a dividend of ~4%, which I will collect until the shares are called away.

Looking forward to 2021

In my first few months of options trading I’ve had some really great success. While I’m not about to retire from my day job and go YOLO on selling options, I do see potential to make this sort of a side hustle. One thing I am realizing, and one of the things I am drawn to, is it is not at all a passive form of investing — at least not the way I’m doing it! I do, however, believe that passive index investing is a great strategy for building wealth and that is what my wife and I are doing in our 401k’s.

With that said, here are some of my investing related goals for 2021 (in no particular order):

  • Contribute $6,000 to my ROTH IRA. I opened my ROTH towards the end of 2020. With $12,000 in the account I should have some good options for… options trading.
  • $10,000 in non-W2 income. This includes profits from options trading, dividends, interest, etc. only in my taxable accounts. This is pretty aggressive, and definitely a stretch goal. Last month was my best month of option trading profits yet at $620 for the month in those accounts. I will need to average $833 per month.
  • Build $100/month in passive income, primarily from dividends. Again, this is in my taxable accounts. The goal isn’t to have $1,200 in dividend income for the year as I think that is too aggressive for me at this point, but to be averaging $100/month as I go into 2022 (or $300/quarter since most stocks pay out quarterly). I haven’t added up all the numbers, but I was probably around $60/month in 2020. I might start including dividend income in my monthly updates.
  • Increase our 401k contributions. We certainly won’t be in a position to max out both of our 401k’s this year, but I’d like to get there over the next few years.
  • Increase net worth by 30%. This one is also a bit of a stretch goal. As we become more invested each year, net worth increases will become more subject to market conditions and less due to our savings. We benefited from being able to put more into the market in March and April of last year, and it’s unlikely we will have another opportunity like that. But who knows! We ended 2020 up 32%.
  • Reduce mortgage length by 1 month. As a part of my mortgage pay off strategy, I’m hoping to be able to pay enough towards the principal to reduce the length of my loan by one month. As of this month, I need to put another $643 towards principal to accomplish this. At my current rate of monthly progress, that would take less than 6 months to achieve. However, I’m not putting quite as much directly towards the mortgage as I did the first two months. In the long run it will “pay off”, but may make this goal more difficult to achieve in 2020.

Onward to 2021!

Using Options to Pay Off My Mortgage Early: Month 3

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR! This is not a yearly recap post and since I just started this blog a couple months ago, I’m not sure I will be making one. I will likely have a forward looking 2021 post though. Now, onto the post…

After two months of this experiment, I had put a total of $187 towards my mortgage principal from options trading profits which will equal $288 of interest saved over the course of my 30-year 3.125% loan. In addition, my options trading account principal of $3,200 (which was/is funded from savings from refinancing) was up to $3,240.86. A great start and already ahead of my initial goal by 2.6%.

I have continued to outperform in December, my third month, with $170 in options trading profits which is a 5.1% return on capital! In addition, my principal has grown to $3,498.35, 6% more than the $3,300 added to the account thus far. Remember, that 6% is after deducting taxes and withdrawals from the account to make the extra mortgage principal payments.

This month I have made a dramatic tweak to how I am divvying up my options trading profits towards my extra mortgage principal payments. More on that after I review this month’s positions and trades.

My positions & trades

$AAL, 100 shares at $13.98 average ($1,398 total principal). Principal is currently up 15.4% ($215.08), however I currently have a $15.50 covered call position expiring on January 29, limiting my capital gains to $152 total. I closed two positions for the month and for a profit of $74. I collected a net credit of $12 after rolling up from a $15 strike position to the current $15.50 position.

Going forward I will most likely continue to sell the $15.50 strike even if it stays in the money. I should be able to collect a large credit at least one more time. I will consider moving up to the $16 strike if I can still collect a decent credit. My main objective here with this account is to generate income, with a secondary goal of capital preservation and tertiary is capital growth, however I don’t want to leave easy money on the table in the name of current income. Like so many things in life, it is a balance.

$FCEL, no open positions. This month I finally had my shares of FuelCell Energy called away. In the end, I made about 30% in profits from that position. BUT I missed out on a $1,000 profit! This was a classic case of picking up pennies in front of a steamroller. In my defense, the pennies were very shiny and no one could have seen that steamroller coming!

I only closed that final $2.50 covered call for a $10 profit. On to the next one!

$M, no open stock position. Last month I had my Macy’s position called away at $6.50. I had just about given up on the stock when I saw an easy trade by selling a $9 Put for January 15 for a credit of $15. This trade is a 1.7% return (26% annualized), so it meets my 1% goal.

If the stock drops suddenly to below $9 and I am assigned, I expect the premiums to go up and good potential for selling covered calls.

$GPRO, no open stock position. Similar to Macy’s, Go Pro was a stock that was called away from me in November. I decided to sell some puts this month, and that worked out well for me. I closed three positions for $34 profit. My highest strike price on those positions was $7.50, so that $34 was made using $750 as collateral, which is a 4.5% return.

I currently have a put credit spread at the $8/$7 strikes that I collected a credit of $27. In the past couple months I have had a lot more success with simply selling naked positions (cash-secured puts or covered calls, technically) than with credit spreads. However, more recently I’ve found some decent success with credit spreads as long as I’m willing to roll it out when I’m challenged. Contrary to a lot of advice, I am generally able to do this while collecting a credit if I widen the spread. So if I start with a $1 spread, I roll it out and down (for a Put) or up (for a Call). I’m therefore increasing my potential loss, which is why it generally isn’t advised, but it’s working for me right now so I’m going to go with it.

$APHA, no open stock position. I continued selling cash-secured puts on Aphria this month for some decent profits. I’ve thus far avoided getting assigned the stock. I closed three positions for a total profit of $33. Similar to the $GPRO puts, those $33 were earned with a maximum collateral used of $700, so a 4.7% return.

I currently have a $6.50 cash-secured put for January 15 open that I am watching closely. I collected a net credit of $18 after rolling down and out from December 31 $7 strike. That’s looking like a pretty smart move since it closed at $6.92 on New Year’s Eve and I would have been assigned. I may look to roll down and out to the $6 strike if I am able to for at least a 1% credit (i.e. $6).

$MRO, no open position. I had one trade on Marathon Oil Corporation this month, a credit spread from $5.50 to $4.50, with a profit of $9.

$MAC, no open stock position. I have an open credit spread on The Macerich Company (a REIT) from $9 to $7.50. I collected a credit of $13.

Extra Mortgage Principal Paid

As I said earlier in the post, I’ve changed how much of my profits I am putting straight into my mortgage principal. Perhaps this deserves its own lengthy post, but essentially I am wrestling with the opportunity cost of locking those profits up into the equity in my home. Now don’t read this as my giving up three months in.

As I listen to more finance podcasts and Youtube videos, I often hear about the velocity of money. When money is moving, it has velocity. Option trading is great because you are constantly moving money from one opportunity to the next. The money has velocity. When a dollar goes into my mortgage principal, it comes to a screeching 3.125%-halt. Remember my goal, which I am currently outperforming considerably, is 1% a month or 12% a year! Wouldn’t it be great if I could keep the velocity going before slowing it way down with my mortgage?

Of course it would be. However, the only reason anyone ever put extra principal into a mortgage was for that guaranteed rate of return. It’s essentially risk free! Compare that to a 0.4% APY “high yield” savings account and that 3.125% rate now looks pretty good! Based on my performance in the past three months, I should sell options with every dollar I have since my returns are so great, right?! Well, no. I’m not so naive to think that this will continue on forever without any losses.

All this to say that I will continue to remove my profits from my mortgage payoff trading account. I will continue to set aside the correct amount for taxes. Assuming I am left with more than my 1% goal for the month, I will take that 1% and put it towards my principal. The remaining balance is where I plan to… diversify.

Preferred Stock

I’m not going to take the time to explain the nuances of preferred stock here (Investopedia definition). It is often referred to as a hybrid of stocks and bonds. Anyway, I have been reading a book called Preferred Stock Investing and I believe there are some great opportunities for some fairly high yields. This month I actually bought two preferred stocks with dividends that yield an average of about 8%. I plan to take those dividends and put that money into the mortgage principal. Instead of taking my super high return from options trading and slowing it down immediately into my mortgage, these dollars will keep speed for a while longer.

While I expect (hope) to outperform even these high yields of 8% with my options trading, these income source has the benefit of being nearly completely passive. Options trading is one of the most active forms of trading, I am learning. Diversifying profits away from the options trading and into more passive income streams will help keep everything more sustainable as the account size grows.

Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure

Honestly, not really sure where to start with this. Think leverage. Think risk parity. That’s Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure. The strategy, specifically, is 55% in a 3X leveraged S&P 500 ETF $UPRO and 45% in a 3X leveraged long term bond ETF $TMF. Rebalance as required. There’s a great write up of the strategy here (it initially started from an epic thread on the “Bogleheads” forum).

After setting aside my portion straight towards the mortgage and purchasing any preferred stocks for the month, I will split my profits 55/45% into the Hedgefundie strategy. For now, my plan is to let this pile grow until I reach enough to reduce my mortgage term by one month. As of now, I need $643. This allows me to benefit from the great growth potential of leveraged ETFs while minimizing the risk since I won’t be letting it grow indefinitely.

So how did I slice this complicated pie this month?

After taxes ($53 into ULP), the $170 profits was $117 net. Instead of putting that $117 total into the mortgage as I would have in the previous two months, I put just $33, which is ~1% of my account’s starting principal of $3,240.86 for December. I bought two preferred stocks ($NRZ.A for $23.22 and $PMT.B for $24.75) for $48.15. Finally, I invested $36 into the Hedgefundie strategy, as $20 in $UPRO and $16 in $TMF.

With a combined $220 put towards my mortgage principal in three months, I will save $338 in interest over the life of the loan. In addition, my preferred stocks are now worth $49.55, a 4.2% return, and will yield ~8% going forward ($3.88 in dividends annually). Finally, the Hedgefundie’s Excellent Adventure is also up 4.2% to $37.53.

Benchmark Comparisons

In my introduction post I identified three different benchmarks I will be comparing my performance to. Benchmark #1 is putting all of my savings from my refinance, plus a 1 month skipped mortgage payment, into a savings account. When I wrote that post I was actually getting 0.6% APY, but it has reduced to 0.4%. Benchmark #2 is putting all of those savings straight into extra monthly payments to the mortgage principal. Finally, Benchmark #3 is simply buying $SPY.

I continued to make gains across all three benchmarks this month. When considering the value of my principal in my trading account + the monthly contribution of $64.21 and interest into my savings + the difference between the original loan and what is actually remaining this month, my total value is at $3,799 after the month of December, a 13.2% improvement over November. That beats Benchmark #1 (all savings) of $3,332 by 14.0%, Benchmark #2 (extra mortgage payments only) of $3,344 by 13.6% and Benchmark #3 ($SPY) of $3,561 by 6.7%. Below is a chart of my progress so far.

Thanks again for following along. Looking forward to more progress in 2021!

Disclaimer: I am long $AAL, $UPRO and $TMF. I am not a financial advisor. This is not investment advice. Please do your own research before investing in anything discussed herein. This post contains affiliate links.