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Debit Spreads

All About Debit Spreads - Definition, An Example, and How to Use

A debit spread comes about when you purchase one option and simultaneously sell an option (for the same underlying security, of course), and you have to shell out some cash to buy the spread.  When you buy a debit spread, except in unusual circumstances (see below), you only have to come up with the difference between what the option cost that you bought and what you received from selling the other option to someone else.

Debit spreads are purchased to reduce risk.  The other side of the coin is that the maximum gain is limited.  For example, you might buy a one-month call option at the 70 strike for XYZ stock selling at $70 and pay $3.00.  If you just bought the option, your cost would be $300 plus commissions, and that is the maximum you could lose.  If the stock goes up to $80, you could sell the option for $10.00 and make a whopping gain of $700.  However, it doesn't happen that way very often. Stocks usually don't shoot up by $10 in a single month.

Another choice would be to buy a debit spread, sharing both the risk and potential reward with someone else.  You could probably sell a one-month 75 call on the above stock for $1.50.  If you did that, you would collect $150 from someone else and cut your total risk in half. (Your debit spread in this case would be called a vertical spread.)  If the stock goes up to $75 in one month (a much more likely event that having it go up to $80), you would make a gain of $350 less commissions on an investment of $150.  At a $75 ending price, the person who bought the 75 call would lose his entire investment while you made over 200% on yours.

If the stock did manage to go up to $80, your debit spread would still earn you $350, but that is the maximum you could ever gain.  Meanwhile, at $80, the person who bought the 75 call would also make $350 on his investment.  In the real world, however, your chances of a maximum gain are many times greater than the person who did not buy a debit spread, but only bought a call option instead (and paying the same amount, $150, for his investment as you did for your debit (vertical) spread).

Debit spreads do not have to be only vertical spreads.  A calendar spread, also called a time spread or a horizontal spread, is also a debit spread.  Diagonal spreads can also be debit spreads.  For example, you could buy a call option with many months of remaining life and sell a higher-strike call with only a single month of remaining life.  That would be a debit (diagonal) spread.  As with most debit spreads, you would only have to come up with the difference between what you paid for the long option and what you received by selling the short option.

There are certain spreads where you have to come up with more cash than the debit spread cost.  For example, if you bought a diagonal call spread, buying a 70 strike call with 6 months of remaining life and selling a 65 call with only a single month of remaining life, you might be able to buy the spread at a debit.  However, theoretically, you could lose $500 on the spread (if the stock shot higher, above $70, and never returned. 

The broker would charge you a $500 maintenance requirement on this spread even though it is highly unlikely that you would ever lose that much.  At the end of the first month when the 65 strike call expired, you would have to buy it back for its intrinsic value.  Of course, it is unlikely that you would lose much if the stock did shoot up above $70.  When you bought back the expiring 65 call, your 70 call with several months of remaining life could probably be sold for a greater amount than it cost you to buy back the 65 call.

In my discussion of spreads, I am assuming that you will never allow an in-the-money call or put to be exercised (i.e., either buying someone's stock at the call price or forcing someone to buy shares of your stock at the put price).  The great majority of the time, option traders choose to close out in-the-money options at or near expiration rather than buying or selling shares of stock.  Shares of stock are for stock investors.  Option investors are different - they prefer to tie up less money (while also trying to make a much higher return on investment than owning stock).  Owning stock usually involves waiting patiently for years for it to go up.  Option traders are not so patient.  They like to see action today and tomorrow, not a decade from now.

For a good explanation of debit spreads in action, get a free report entitled "How to Make 70% a Year With Calendar Spreads" when you sign up for our free newsletter.

Terry's Tips Stock Options Trading Blog

August 14, 2017

Cognex (CGNX) Is Set to Make New Records

This week we are featuring a company that was recently added to the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List. The stock has displayed strong upwards momentum and we look to place spreads that take advantage of this underlying strength.


Cognex (CGNX) Is Set to Make New Records

Cognex reported earnings at the start of the month which led to a rally above a significant technical hurdle. Cowen has since raised price targets to $135 and Zack's equity research has written a compelling article outlining why they expect further upside in addition to rating the stock as a Strong Buy.

CGNX rallied to a record high after earnings, taking out a notable barrier from a horizontal level at $96.06 as well as the psychological $100.00 price point. The horizontal level had previously held the stock lower on several attempts since early June.

August 8, 2017

Global Payments (GPN) Poised to Break $100 Mark

This week we are discussing a new addition to the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List. We use this list in one of our portfolios to identify stocks that have displayed strong upward momentum and place spreads to profit from the underlying trend. Actually, the stock price can even fall a little bit for the maximum gain to be realized.


Global Payments (GPN) Poised to Break $100 Mark

Several analysts have recently refreshed their bullish targets for GPN. Here are two of them – Wells Fargo Upgrades Global Payments (GPN) to Outperform and Global Payments price target raised to $105 from $98 at Barclays.

GPN boasts a strong uptrend and has recently broken above major resistance at $93.31 after correcting lower for five weeks. The stock has regained its 20-day moving average following a turn higher in the second week of July and broke to all-time highs on Friday.

July 31, 2017

Transunion (TRU): A Stable and Consistent Player

This week we are discussing another one of the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List companies. We use this list in one of our portfolio's to find stocks that have displayed consistent upwards momentum and we look to place spreads that take advantage of this underlying strength.


Transunion (TRU): A Stable and Consistent Player

Several analysts have recently refreshed their bullish outlook towards Transunion. UBS Asset Management has increased their stake in the company and both Morgan Stanley as well as Deutsche Bank have raised their price targets to $50.

Transunion has been trading higher within a rising trend channel since the middle of February. After testing the lower line of the trend channel in the past week, the stock recovered to hit a fresh 52-week high. The $44.45 level held the stock price lower for a month prior to finally breaking above it earlier this month. The level is now viewed as support and its proximity to the 20-day moving average as well as the channel bottom emphasizes the area as strong support.

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