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Have you heard about “Seasonal Spreads?”
Seasonal Spreads are a great way to trade, because ….
- You can trade seasonal spreads on a small account,
- You need only a few minutes per week,
- You can trade them in addition to your current strategies.
Does Seasonality Really Exist?
You bet it does!
As an example, right now it’s the end of May. Next week is Memorial Day, which is the “official” kick-off of BBQ season.
And what’s America’s favorite grill item? – Hot dogs and sausage!
Also, in just a few weeks summer break starts. During summer, vacationing families prefer the convenience of processed meats. Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches are extremely popular during summer months, and in general you’ll find that consumers prefer lighter meats over heavier red meat during the heat of the summer. So there’s a high demand for pork during the months of June, July and August.
On the other hand, corn being harvested in October/November means cheap feed during these months. Farmers take advantage of the lower priced feed to fatten up their livestock, which in turn leads to a peak in slaughter sometime in December. After slaughter, supply tends to decline into May-July before slowly rising only by sometime in August.
Therefore almost every year, prices of Lean Hogs are rising in May and early June.
Another example is gasoline. Have you ever noticed that gas prices seem to rise during the summer months, when you’re planning your vacation?
No surprise here either: Gasoline consumption is highest during the vacation and driving season. Its traditional opening is Memorial Day weekend (last Monday in May), the ending is Labor Day (first Monday in September), and the peak month is August.
Each and every year, the industry switches over from maximizing production of heating oil to that of gasoline at the end of winter. As both weather and driving conditions improve, daily consumption rises. But as it does, the industry must also be accumulating inventories in preparation for summer. This combination of rising consumption and inventory accumulation accelerates demand, typically driving prices up.
What about the financial markets?
Have you ever heard of the saying “Sell in May and Go Away?”
Take a look at this chart, courtesy of Bloomberg:
As you can see, the monthly return of the S&P 500 underperforms from June through September.
How To Take Advantage Of Seasonality?
Well, you could simply trade the outright commodity. Using the examples above, you could simply sell “Lean Hogs” or “Buy Gasoline” futures.
But when trading commodities, there’s always the risk of limit moves against you. And what if seasonality is “out of whack” this year and the prices of Gasoline futures falls instead of rising?
When trading outright futures, you could lose your shirt.
The answer? “Seasonal spreads.”
Advantages Of Seasonal Spreads
As you know, futures contracts have a defined shelf life. They expire as options do. Therefore you can trade futures contracts in different expiration months.
Using the example above, you can trade lean hog futures contracts expiring in June, July, August, October, December, etc.
When trading seasonal spreads, you simultaneously buy futures contracts that expire one month, and sell futures contracts that expire in a different month, thus creating a “calendar spread” or a true hedge.
So the question is: Which expiration month should you BUY and which one should you SELL?
When trading futures, the month that’s closest to expiration (a.k.a. “front month”) typically shows larger price fluctuations than the month that expire later in the year (a.k.a. “back month”).
If you are bullish a commodity, you would buy the front month and sell the back month.
Using the example above, you would BUY June Lean Hogs and SELL August Lean Hogs, since you are bullish on Lean Hogs.
One big advantage of trading commodities as seasonal spreads is that you are reducing your risk.
If the prices of Lean Hogs rise as expected, the prices of June Lean Hogs (front month) will rise faster than the prices of August Lean Hogs (back month).
If the prices of Lean Hogs do not rise as expected, and just remain sideways, then nothing will happen to your position. You might make some money, or lose a little bit.
However, if the prices of Lean Hogs decrease, then you would lose money on your long June position, but you are protected, since you make money on your short August position.
So what are the advantages of seasonal spreads?
- Reduced Risk
As outlined above, you are reducing your risk since you’re establishing a true hedge.
- Lower Margin Requirements
The exchanges recognize that there’s a reduced risk when you’re hedged, and they reward you with smaller margin requirements. You often pay only a few hundred dollars per contract when you’re trading seasonal spreads.
- Minimum Time Commitment
You don’t have to babysit your spreads throughout the day, since you’re hedged. You simply wait for the signal on the daily chart to enter your spread, and then you wait until either your profit target or your stop loss is hit. Seasonality typically lasts for a few weeks, therefore seasonal spreads are perfect if you only have a few minutes every week. That’s all you need to identify opportunities and enter and exit the spread.
- High Winning Percentage
As I explained in the beginning of this blog post, seasonality exists. And although there might be a few years when external events influence prices more than the usual seasonality, most often seasonal spreads work at least 13 out of 15 years. That’s a 86% winning percentage!
Summary Of Seasonal Spreads
Whether you are new to trading or have been trading for a while, you should definitely consider trading seasonal spreads, especially when you have a small account or limited time throughout the day to watch the markets.
I hope that this brief introduction peaked your interest.
It’s free for Rockwell Trading Club Members, and if you are not a club member yet, then THIS course should be reason enough for you to join!
Let me know if you have any questions!