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Vertical Spreads

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

A vertical spread is simply the purchase of an option and simultaneous sale of another option at different strike prices (same underlying security, of course).  A vertical spread is a known as a directional spread because it makes or loses money depending on which direction the underlying security takes.

You buy a vertical spread if you have a feel which way the market for a particular stock is headed.  You can buy a vertical spread if you think the stock is headed higher, or a different vertical spread if you believe it is headed lower.  A neat thing about vertical spreads is that if the stock doesn't move at all, you might just make a gain even if it didn't do exactly what you had hoped.

Here is an example of a vertical spread I recently placed.  I had a good feeling about Apple.  I thought the stock would go up in the next month, or at least not fall very much.  The stock was trading about $200 a share.  I purchased 10 Apple March 190 calls and simultaneously sold 10 Apple March 195 calls and paid out $3.63 per spread ($3653 + $30 commission = $3683).  I only had to come up with the difference between the cost of the option and the proceeds from the option I sold.

I bought this spread with calls, but the potential gains or losses would have been identical if I had used puts instead.  In vertical spreads, the strike prices are what is important, not whether puts or calls are used.

On the third Friday of March, both options would expire.  If the stock is at any price above $195, the value of my vertical spread would be worth $5000 less $30 commissions ($4750), and I would make a gain of $1067 on an investment of $3683, or 29% for a single month of waiting for expiration to come.

The maximum loss of my vertical spread would be my entire investment ($3683) if the stock fell below $190.  I would make a gain at any price above $193.69.  If the stock ended up at $192, my 190 call would be worth $2.00 ($2000) and the 195 would expire worthless.  In that event, I would lose $1683.

If the stock ends up over $195 at expiration, I do not have to place any trade to close out the vertical spread.  The broker will automatically sell the 190 calls and buy back the 195 calls for exactly $5.00, charging me a commission on both options ($1.50 each at thinkorswim where I trade).

I placed this vertical spread because I liked the prospects for Apple and because I would make the maximum gain (29% in a single month) even if the stock fell from $200 down to $195, so I could even be a little wrong about the stock and I would still make the maximum gain.

In retrospect, I would have been smarter to buy the vertical spread using puts rather than calls (if the same price for the spread could have been had).  If I used puts, I would buy at the same strike prices (buying the 190 puts and selling the 195 puts).  I would collect $1.37 ($1370 less $30 commissions, or $1340 because the 195 puts would carry a higher price than the 190 puts that you bought).  When you buy a credit spread like this, the broker places a maintenance requirement on your account to protect against the maximum loss that you could incur.  In this case, a $5000 maintenance requirement would be made, which after the $1340 you collected in cash was credited, would work out to $3660.  This is the maximum you would lose if the stock closed below $190.

A maintenance requirement is not a margin loan.  No interest is charged.  The broker just holds that amount aside in your account until your options expire.

There are several reasons that I would have been smarter to make this trade in puts rather than calls.  First, if Apple closes above $195, both put options would expire worthless, and I would not be charged $30 in commissions to close them out like I will have to with the calls.  Second, selling a vertical (bullish) spread in puts means that I would be taking in more cash than I paid out (i.e., it is a credit spread).  The extra cash in my account would be credited against a margin loan I might have in my account, thus saving me some interest (there is no interest charged on a maintenance requirement).  Third, buying a vertical put spread eliminates the possibility of an early exercise of a short in-the-money call - such an exercise might take place if the company declares a dividend during the holding period of the spread, or if the call gets so far in the money that there is no time premium left, and the owner of the call decides to take stock.

For all these reasons, put spreads are the best bet for vertical spreads when you expect the stock price to rise, assuming, of course, that they can be placed for the same price as the equivalent spread in calls.  The risk profile of each spread is the same, so the least expensive alternative should be taken, and if both put and call spreads are identical, then puts should be the spread of choice.

Terry's Tips Stock Options Trading Blog

December 4, 2014

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

Last week we outlined an options play based on the historical fluctuation pattern for our favorite ETP called SVXY. This week we will compare those fluctuations to the market in general (using the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY, as the market definition). We proposed buying a vertical call spread for a one-month-out expiration date with the lower strike about 6% above the starting stock price.

The results were a little unbelievable, possibly gaining an average of 65% a month (assuming the fluctuation pattern continued into the future). If you used an outside indicator to determine which months were more likely to end up with a winning result, you would invest in just under half the months, but when you did invest, your average gain might be in the neighborhood of 152%. Your average monthly gain would be approximately the same if you only invested half the time or all the time, but some people like to increase the percentage of months when they make gains (the pain of losing always seems to be worse than the pleasure of winning).

This week we will offer a second way to bet that the stock will rise by 12.5% in about 38% of the months (as it has in the past). It involves buying a calendar spread rather than a vertical call spread (and sort of legging into a long call position as an alternative to the simple purchase of a call).

Terry

Further Discussion on an Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month:

First. Let’s compare the monthly price fluctuations of SPY and SVXY. You will see that they are totally different. . . .

November 28, 2014

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and/or loved ones, and are ready for some exciting new information. Admittedly, the title of this week’s Idea of the Week is a little bizarre. Surely, such a preposterous claim can’t possibly have a chance of succeeding. Yet, that is about what your average monthly gain would have been if you had used this strategy for the past 37 months that the underlying ETP (SVXY) has been in existence. In other words, if the pattern of monthly price changes continues going forward, a 40% average monthly gain should result (actually, it would be quite a bit more than this, but I prefer to underpromise and over-deliver). Please read on.

We will discuss some exact trades which might result in 40%+ monthly gains over the next four weeks. I hope you will study every article carefully. Your beliefs about options trading may be changed forever.

Terry

An Options Strategy Designed to Make 40% a Month: First of all, we need to say a few words about our favorite underlying, SVXY. It is not a stock. There are no quarterly earnings reports to push it higher or lower, depending . . .

November 17, 2014

An Interesting Way to Invest in China Using Options

A week ago, I reported on a spread I placed in advance of Keurig’s (GMCR) announcement which comes after the market close on Wednesday. I bought Dec-14 140 puts and sold Nov-14 150 puts for a credit of $1.80 when the stock was trading just under $153. The spread should make a gain if it ends up Friday at any price higher than $145. You can still place this trade, but you would only receive about $1.15 at today’s prices. It still might be a good bet if you are at all bullish on GMCR.

Today I would like to discuss a way to invest in China using options. One of our basic premises at Terry’s Tips is that if you find a company you like, you can make several times as much trading options on that company than you can just buying the stock (and we have proved this premise a number of times with a large number of companies over the years). If you would like to add an international equity to your investment portfolio, you might enjoy today’s discussion.

Terry

An Interesting Way to Invest in China Using Options: My favorite print publication these days is

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