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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

July 22, 2018

Can Adobe Systems Continue the Upside 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 options portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place option spreads that take advantage of the momentum.

Terry

Can Adobe Systems Continue the Upside Momentum?

ADBE has posted impressive gains in the year thus far, and several analysts believe there is further upside.  Here are two of them – Why Adobe Systems Stock Has Jumped 39% So Far in 2018 and 4 impressive Liquid Stocks for Marvelous Returns.

July 15, 2018

Palo Alto Networks (PANW) Breaks to Record Highs, What’s Next?

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 options portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place option spreads that take advantage of the momentum.

Terry

Palo Alto Networks (PANW) Breaks to Record Highs, What’s Next?

Palo Alto Networks has seen a remarkable rise in its stock price over the last few years and several articles on The Motley Fool suggest there will be further upside.  Here are the latest two – Palo Alto Networks’ Bull Run Probably Won’t Be Ending Anytime Soon and Forget Cryptocurrencies: You’re Better Off Buying These 3 Stocks.

On a daily chart, PANW appears to be consolidating in a range since around the middle of May.  However, a closer look reveals a notable technical break.  Range support near $200 wasn’t just important because of the psychological implications, the level also triggered a sharp turn in 2015 that led to a two-year correction.  Although there have been marginal breaches below the level since the stock price initially climbed above it a few months ago, bears have been unable to drive the stock price below it on a sustained basis.  To the upside, resistance near $216 had capped rallies in June but the recent bullish break of the level suggests the uptrend has resumed.

July 8, 2018

Micron Technology (MU) Dips To Support, Is It a Buy?

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 options portfolios to spot outperforming stocks and place option spreads that take advantage of the momentum.

Terry

Micron Technology (MU) Dips To Support, Is It a Buy?

Micron Technology stock has been impacted by negative headline news as of late but these following two articles make a strong case for why this news is not likely to cause bearish pressure for the stock price moving forward.  Micron’s China Woes May Not Be the Disaster Investors Thought and Micron Technology is rebounding after saying China ban will have minimal impact.

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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!

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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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