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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

February 20, 2017

Using Investors Business Daily to Create an Options Strategy

Today I would like to share an idea that we are using in one of our Terry's Tips’ portfolios. We started this portfolio on January 4, 2017, and in its first six weeks, the portfolio has gained 30% after commissions. That works out to about 250% for the whole year if we can maintain that average gain (we probably can’t keep it up, but it sure is a good start, and a positive endorsement for the basic idea).

Terry

Using Investors Business Daily to Create an Options Strategy

IBD publishes a list which it calls its Top 50. It consists of companies which have a positive momentum. Our idea is to check this list for companies that we particularly like for fundamental reasons besides the momentum factor. Once we have picked a few favorites, we make a bet using options that will make a nice gain if the stock stays at least flat for the next 45 – 60 days. In most cases, the stock can actually fall a little bit and we will still make our maximum gain.

The first 4 companies we selected from IBD’s Top50 list were . . .

February 5, 2017

An Update on Our Last Trade and a New One on AAPL

About a month ago, I suggested an options spread on Aetna (AET) that made a profit of 23% after commissions in two weeks. It worked out as we had hoped. Then, two weeks ago, I suggested another play on AET which would make 40% in two weeks (ending last Friday) if AET ended up at any price between $113 and $131. The stock ended up at $122.50 on Friday, and those of us who made this trade are celebrating out 40% victory. (See the last blog post for the details on this trade.)

Today, I am suggesting a similar trade on Apple (AAPL). It offers a lower potential gain, but the stock can fall in price by about $9 and the gain will still come your way.

Terry

An Update on Our Last Trade and a New One on AAPL

This trade on APPL will only yield about 30% after commissions, and you have to wait six months to get it, but the stock can fall over $8 during that time, and you would still make your 30%.

January 20, 2017

Another Interesting Short-Term Play on Aetna (AET)

Ten days ago, I sent you a note showing how you could make 23% on an options spread on Aetna (AET) if the stock closed at any price above $118 today. Back then, it was trading at $122.67. The day is not yet over right now, but AET is trading at $122 with an hour to go until closing, so it seems safe to say that the 23% will be enjoyed by everyone who placed the trade.

Today, I would like to suggest another trade on AET that will end two weeks from today. It will make 40% on . . .

Making 36%

Making 36% – A Duffer's Guide to Breaking Par in the Market Every Year in Good Years and Bad

This book may not improve your golf game, but it might change your financial situation so that you will have more time for the greens and fairways (and sometimes the woods).

Learn why Dr. Allen believes that the 10K Strategy is less risky than owning stocks or mutual funds, and why it is especially appropriate for your IRA.

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