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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

May 23, 2016

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

Today’s idea is a little complicated, but it involves an important part of any prudent investment strategy. Market crashes do come along every once in a while, and we are eight years away from the last one in 2008. What will happen to your nest egg if it happens again this year?

Options can be a good form of market crash insurance, and it is possible to set up a strategy that might even make a small gain if the crash doesn’t come along. That possibility sets it apart from most forms of insurance which cost you out-of-pocket money if the calamity you insure against doesn’t occur.

Terry

How To Protect Yourself Against a Market Crash With Options

There are some strong indications that the old adage “Sell in May and Go Away” might be the appropriate move right now. Goldman Sachs has downgraded its outlook on equities to "neutral" over the next 12 months, saying there's no particular reason to own them. "Until we see sustained signals of growth recovery, we do not feel comfortable taking equity risk, particularly as valuations are near peak levels," the firm said in a research note.

For several months, Robert Shiller has been warning that the market is seriously overvalued by his unique method of measuring prices against long-term average p/e’s. George Soros is keeping the bears happy as well, doubling his wager against the S&P 500. The billionaire investor, who has been warning that the 2008 financial crisis could be repeated due to China's economic slowdown, bought 2.1M-share "put" options in SPY during Q1. The magnitude of his bet against SPY is phenomenal, essentially 200 million shares short. Of course, he almost always deals in stratospheric numbers, but the size of this bet indicates that he feels pretty strongly about this one. He didn’t become a billionaire by being on the wrong side of market bets.

So what can you do to protect yourself against a big tumble in the market? We are setting up a bearish . . .

May 17, 2016

How Option Prices are Determined

Today I would like to pass along some basic information about how stock options prices are determined. I have discussed this in the past, but we now have many new subscribers who may not have seen our earlier blogs. I apologize if this is old information for you.

Terry

How Option Prices are Determined

Of course, the market ultimately determines the price of any option as buyers bid and sellers ask at various prices. Usually, they meet somewhere in the middle and a price is determined. This buying and selling action is generally not based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of value, but is soundly grounded on some mathematical considerations.

There are 5 components that determine the value of an option:

1. The price of the underlying stock

May 11, 2016

An Options Play on Facebook Which Should Make 50% in 60 Days

Today I would like to suggest an options trade on Facebook (FB). It will involve waiting 6 weeks to close out. Many option players have short attention spans and don’t like to wait that long. On the other hand, I think this trade has a very high likelihood of making a profit of at least 50%, even if the stock fluctuates more than we might like. To my way of thinking, it should be worth the wait, especially since I think that there is a very small likelihood that this play would end up losing money.

Terry

An Options Play on Facebook Which Should Make 50% in 60 Days

Over the past month I have suggested legging into calendar spreads in advance of an earnings announcement for 7 different companies (FB, COST, TWX, TGT, SBUX, and JNJ, and ABBV). In every case, I was personally successful at creating a calendar spread at a credit and guaranteeing myself a profit no matter where the stock price ended up after the announcement. You should have been able to duplicate every one of these successes as well. I got a kick out of having 7 consecutive winning trades, some of which made me more than 100% on my amount at risk.

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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