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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 11, 2017

Floor & Decor Holdings (FND) Is Set To Grow

This week we are featuring another of the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List companies. We use this list in one of our portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place spreads that take advantage of the momentum. The 10 actual option portfolios carried out by Terry's Tips for its paying subscribers have gained an average of 108% for 2017. This is down a little from a few weeks ago because many of the tech stocks that we trade options on have fallen over the past few weeks. We are still pleased with the composite results, however. (One of our newest portfolios adds the Trading Idea of the Week that we send out to you each week to its holdings).

Terry

Floor & Decor Holdings (FND) Is Set To Grow

Investors are optimistic about the outlook for FND after a recent Moody’s upgrade and an upgrade from Zacks Investment Research to a buy rating with a $46.00 price target.

December 5, 2017

Will Essent Group (ESNT) Continue the Momentum?

This week we are looking at another of the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List companies. We use this list in one of our portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place spreads that take advantage of the momentum.

Terry

Will Essent Group (ESNT) Continue the Momentum?

Essent Group has received a lot of attention as of late and several analysts are expecting more upside in the stock price. Here are two of them – Essent Group Earns Outperform Rating from Analysts at Wells Fargo & Company and Zacks: Analysts Anticipate Essent Group Ltd. Will Announce Earnings of $0.77 Per Share.

ESNT has recently seen a pickup of upside momentum after a . . .

November 20, 2017

Facebook (FB): Time to Buy The Dip?

This week we are looking at another of the Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) Top 50 List companies. We use this list in one of our portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place spreads that profit if the momentum continues, at least a little.

The last 12 ideas which we have published here which have expired resulted in 11 gains averaging 39% (including the loss which was only 10% on one of the spreads). If you had invested the same amount in each of the 12 ideas, you would have made 468% on that amount. Of course, we can’t promise that future results will be this great.

Terry

Facebook (FB): Time to Buy The Dip?

Several analysts are expecting Facebook stock to continue higher, here are two of them – Facebook Inc Stock Can Still Deliver Value, Event at These Levels and Three stocks to buy on recent weakness.

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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TastyWorks

Tastyworks is a new brokerage firm from the brains behind tastytrade and it is our top choice of options-friendly brokers. Their commission rates are extremely competitive - options trades are only $1 per contract to open and $0 commission to close (all options trades incur a clearing fee of $0.10 per contract). The tastyworks trading platform quickly became our favorite platform for options trading and it keeps getting better with new features released each week. Terry uses tastyworks and loves everything about them!

TD Ameritrade

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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