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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 10, 2021

Make a Friend out of PayPal (PYPL)


On
Wednesday, PYPL blew past earnings estimates, as profits jumped 84% from a year
earlier. The EPS of $1.22 easily beat the consensus analyst estimate of $1.02.
Revenue was up 29%, also beating expectations. For good measure, the company
upped its guidance for 2021. The news was greeted by several target price
updates. The average price target is now above $317, which is 25% above
Friday’s close.





Although
the stock is up about 2% since earnings, it hasn’t blown anyone’s hair back so
far in 2021, as the shares are up only 8%. In fact, they’ve been flat for 3-1/2
months. But a longer-term view shows the stock’s monster uptrend since the
March 2020 bottom – it’s more than tripled – is alive and well. The rising
20-week moving average has guided the rally nearly perfectly, allowing just
three weekly closes below it during the past year. This trendline is sitting
near 255, so we’re looking at a put credit spread with the short put sitting
below the 20-week.





If
you agree that PYPL will stay above its 20-week moving average, consider the
following trade that relies on the stock remaining above $250 through
expiration in six weeks.





Buy
to Open PYPL 18Jun21 240 Put (PYPL210618P240)

Sell to Open PYPL
18Jun21 250 Put (PYPL210618P250) for a credit of $3.60 (selling a vertical)





This
credit is $0.05 less than the mid-point
of the option spread when PYPL was trading at $253. Unless the stock rallies
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 $358.70. This
trade reduces your buying power by $1,000 and makes your net investment $641.30
($1000 – $358.70).  If PYPL closes above
$250 on June 18, both options will expire worthless
and your return on the spread would be 56% ($358.70 / $641.30).


May 3, 2021

Caterpillar (CAT) Drops After an Earnings Beat … And It’s a Bullish Sign

On Thursday, CAT did something it’s done for the past three quarters – it easily topped earnings estimates. The company reported $2.87 in adjusted earnings versus the projected $1.95. Sales ($11.9 billion) also soared past estimates ($10.5 billion). The numbers were well received by Wall Street, as a couple of brokerages raised their target prices.

April 26, 2021

Danaher (DHR) Earnings Bring Record High

DHR – a medical diagnostics and research company - reported earnings Thursday morning that blew away estimates. Adjusted earnings came in at $2.52 per share compared with 81 cents a year earlier and the analyst estimate of $1.76. Revenue soared 58% from a year earlier

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This Chicago brokerage firm with the unlikely name thinkorswim, Inc. by TD Ameritrade is considered by many to be the best option-friendly broker. For openers, they have extremely good analytic software and their option trading platform is exceptional. Thinkorswim Mobile has been called the best mobile app in the industry. In 2017, TD Ameritrade received 4 stars out of 5 in the annual Barron`s* Best Online Brokers Survey. TD Ameritrade was tops as an online broker for long-term investors and for novices. The company is the only broker that receives the highest 5.0 score for research amenities among all firms participated in the ranking last year.

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