It’s that time of year. The Christkindlmarket is open on the Daley Plaza, there’s ice skating in Millennium Park, and we’re preparing ourselves for the savoring smells and tastes of Thanksgiving dinner, where no platter of food is more important than that of the turkey. The relative that might disagree is your vegetarian cousin (Tofu turkey for you), and the guy who makes the ultimate sacrifice in the name of giving thanks…. the turkey.
Don’t feel too sorry for the turkey though… it had a great life, and died at the peak of its existence (being fed everyday), but the only issue is it had no idea, the “turkey surprise,” was coming. If fact, there’s a lovely chart of the turkey life, courtesy of Nassim Taleb’s wonderful book The Black Swan. Taleb’s depicts “the good life” of a turkey, including round the clock care, all the food it can muster, developing a life of self-satisfaction, just so us humans can prepare the unfortunate creature for the not so pleasant surprise ending.
Now we’re not trying to lend advice on your eating habits, but can’t help but use this example in the investment realm. While it seems impossible to imagine this chart could be a stock market index tomorrow, next week, or next month – this chart is to remind those caught in stock market dream that anything could happen, at any moment, without notice; especially those selling volatility for a living.
Which brings us back to Mr. Turkey. The turkey sees 1000 days of small gains followed by one day of large losses, and we can’t help but think of that as a lot like the performance profile of option sellers. The reason is option sellers are technically short volatility programs which on the whole make a living by risking a large amount to make a small amount. There’s an old saying about option sellers ‘picking up pennies in front of a freight train’. They can get away with this (in theory), because they have a large winning percentage where the large losses are very rare.
But no matter the math and no matter how good your option selling manager is, or has been to date, there is no denying that they have a greater than zero chance of a large negative surprise akin to the turkey’s 1001st day at some point in the future. Indeed, just this year (last month to be exact), a spike in volatility in October sent some option sellers to the dinner table, as they didn’t see the turkey’s day of demise coming.
Now, professional option selling managers design their programs not to lose everything on a single day like the turkey; but they are betting against the occurrence of such a day, being set up to realize frequent but small gains in exchange for the risk of infrequent but very large losses (making them perhaps a distant cousin to the turkey).
In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the Attain team!