International stocks are significantly correlated. Stocks around the globe tend to go up and down together or at the same time. If U.S. stocks are rising then international stocks tend to follow, but they may not run at the same pace.
Quite often emerging economies run ahead of U.S. stocks. Let’s take a look at why options may be a great way to leverage growth opportunities and diversify into fast-growing emerging economies.
Amongst emerging market funds, those concentrating on the “BRIC” economies are the most popular. BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Sometimes an emerging market fund may also supplement BRIC investments with stocks from places like Turkey, Mexico and South Africa as well.
Just as we might expect small-cap stocks to outperform large-cap stocks in a bull market, the growth potential is higher in emerging markets than within larger more established economies like the United States, UK or Western Europe.
The other side to this equation is that greater risks always accompany greater profit opportunities. For example, during the 60% crash in U.S. stock indexes during 2007-2009 Chinese stock ETFs were down 73%. However, keep in mind that during the rally of March-July 2009, U.S. stocks are up 42% while Chinese stock ETFs were up 80%.
The potential upside is what attracts investors to international stocks like this, and long-term options known as Long-Term Equity Anticipation Securities, or LEAPS, may be one way to avoid the value trap when prices decline suddenly.
A value trap is what happens to traders when share prices are dropping quickly and they are faced with the dilemma of holding the shares and hoping prices come back or selling the shares and recognizing the loss. (Learn more about how to avoid value traps with LEAPS.)
The value trap is powerful because often traders don’t know what their maximum loss could be. If an ETF costs $100 per share then they could theoretically lose a maximum of $100 if prices collapse. Alternatively, an option buyer knows that the maximum loss in a trade is the premium paid for the option. In absolute dollar terms this is usually much smaller than a stock purchase.
Long-term investors will often utilize LEAPS calls for this kind of play. If the market rises they will make a higher percentage profit than an investor holding the stock and they have a lower maximum loss in dollar terms to the downside. This combination of benefits can be a nice fit for traders evaluating a volatile position like emerging market stocks.
Imagine that you are evaluating a long position on the iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index (FXI), which is an exchange-traded fund that invests in Chinese stocks. The shares are available for $41.16 and you believe the stock will rise another $20 over the next year and a half.
You could buy the stock or potentially invest in a LEAPS call for the same reason. If you select the LEAPS option, the money strike is $40, and a call that expires in 18 months costs $8.20 per share, or $820 per contract.
Potential Outcome #1: Stock rises $20 to $61.16 in 18 months.
- LEAPS call is worth $21.16 per share for a 158% gain
- Stock is worth $61.16 for a 50% gain
Potential Outcome #2: Stock falls to $20 in 18 months.
- LEAPS call is worth nothing for a max loss of $8.20
- Stock is worth $20 for a loss of $21.16
The example above is biased because if the stock remains flat the stock buyer will outperform the options trader who may still lose their entire investment if the market stays below $40. However, an investor may consider historical volatility as an indication that this outcome is unlikely.
Like all investing decisions, ultimately it comes down to the investor’s ability to forecast market direction. An option’s investment may be a great alternative for volatile stocks and a long-term options contract is a great way to make sure there is plenty of time for an ETF like this to move.
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