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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

November 22, 2021

On Target Trade


Target
(TGT) reported earnings before the bell on Wednesday that beat estimates on
both revenue and profits. The company also expects its fiscal Q4 comparable
sales growth to be higher than previous forecasts. Moreover, TGT claimed the
supply chain mess has not been an issue - store shelves are full and ready for
the holiday buying onslaught.





Analysts
were mostly bullish on the report, giving TGT several target price increases
(there was one lower price). One went as high as $350, a 38% premium to
Friday’s closing price. The stock price was not rewarded, however. The shares
dropped 4.7% on Wednesday and slid further the rest of the week. However, this
was a common theme among several retailers, including Walmart (WMT). In fact,
the overall retail sector was lower for the week.





The pullback dropped the shares to just above their 50-day moving average (blue line in chart). This trade is thus a bet that TGT will regain its footing and stay above the 50-day as holiday sales numbers – that are predicted to be robust – start rolling in. The short 245 strike (red line) of our put credit spread is below the 50-day, relying on trendline support to hold through expiration.









If
you agree that TGT will stay atop its 50-day moving average line in chart),
consider the following trade that relies on the stock remaining above 245  (through expiration in six weeks.





Buy
to Open TGT 31Dec 240 put (TGT211231P240)

Sell to Open TGT
31Dec 245 put (TGT211231P245) for a credit of $1.60 (selling a vertical)





This
credit is $0.02 less than the mid-point
of the option spread when TGT was trading around $251. Unless the stock rises
quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.





Your
commission on this trade will be only $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $158.70. This
trade reduces your buying power by $500 and makes your net investment $341.30
($500 – $158.70) for one spread.  If TGT
closes above $245 on December 31, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would
be 46% ($158.70/$341.30).


November 15, 2021

An AFRMation Trade


Affirm
Holdings (AFRM) provides a platform for point-of-sale payments for consumers
and merchants. In August, AFRM announced a partnership with Amazon.com (AMZN)
to offer flexible payment solutions to customers with AMZN purchases above $50.
AFRM reported earnings on Wednesday after the bell that missed on profits but
beat on revenue. The company also raised sales guidance.





Wall
Street apparently forgave the earnings miss, largely because it was not clear
if the discrepancy used comparable numbers. Moreover, AFRM said its AMZN
relationship as a buy-now-pay-later service was exclusive. Clearly, analysts
were looking at AFRM’s growth prospects, as the company was greeted with
several target price upgrades that reached as high as $185 (the stock closed at
$149 on Friday).





After a nasty, four-day 21% plunge heading into earnings that pulled the stock to its 50-day moving average, the stock rebounded 13.7% the day after the earnings news. Given the earnings rebound, analyst target upgrades and deal with AMZN, we are going with a bullish trade on AFRM that keys on the stock maintaining its three-month rally and staying atop its 50-day moving average (blue line in chart). The short put strike of our credit spread sits at $133 (red line in chart), just below the 50-day.









If
you agree that AFRM will continue its uptrend and stay atop its 50-day moving
average line in chart), consider the following trade that relies on the stock
remaining above $133  (through expiration
in seven weeks.





Buy
to Open AFRM 31Dec 128 put (AFRM211231P128)

Sell to Open AFRM 31Dec
133 put (AFRM211231P133) for a credit of $1.85 (selling a vertical)





This
credit is $0.05 less than the mid-point
of the option spread when AFRM was trading at $149. Unless the stock rises
quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.





Your
commission on this trade will be only $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $183.70. This
trade reduces your buying power by $500 and makes your net investment $316.30
($500 – $183.70) for one spread.  If AFRM
closes above $133 on December 31, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would
be 58% ($183.70/$316.30).


November 10, 2021

A Me(h)T Trade


MetLife
(MET) won’t get anyone’s juices flowing. It’s frankly a rather boring insurance
and financial services company that’s been around for 158 years. But who cares …
if we can make money on a trade, right?





MET
reported earnings last week that beat estimates on the top and bottom lines.
Hardly anyone noticed. Analysts were silent. There were no stories other than a
dry listing of its key performance numbers. And the stock fell 2% the next day.
Ho hum.





But MET is up 36% for the year, which is well ahead of the S&P 500’s 25%. After a swoon in June and July, the stock has been grinding steadily higher along the dual support of its 50-day and 200-day moving averages. The key is the 50-day (blue line in chart), which has allowed just three daily closes below it during the past three months. This trendline, which is rising slightly, sits at $61.10, which is above the short strike of our put spread trade. Thus, MET would have to pierce this support to hurt this trade. And the 200-day (red line in chart) sits at $61 to provide another layer of support. The last time MET closed below the 200-day was more than a year ago.









If
you agree that MET will continue its slow ascent and stay atop its 50-day
moving average line in chart), consider the following trade that relies on the
stock remaining above $62.50  (through
expiration in six weeks.





Buy
to Open MET 17Dec 60 put (MET211217P60)

Sell to Open MET 17Dec
62.5 put (MET211217P62.5) for a credit of $0.75 (selling a vertical)





This
credit is $0.04 less than the mid-point
of the option spread when MET was trading at $64. Unless the stock rises
quickly from here, you should be able to get close to this amount.





Your
commission on this trade will be only $1.30 per spread.  Each spread would then yield $73.70. This
trade reduces your buying power by $250 and makes your net investment $176.30
($250 – $73.70) for one spread.  If MET
closes above $62.50 on December 17, both options will expire worthless and your return on the spread would
be 42% ($73.70/$176.30).


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