Today I would like to discuss how you can use calendar spreads for a short-term strategy based around the date when a stock goes ex-dividend. I will tell you exactly how I used this strategy a week ago when SPY paid its quarterly dividend.
Calendar Spreads Tweak #4
Four times a year, SPY pays a dividend to owners of record on the third Friday of March, June, September, and December. The current dividend is about $1.09. Each of these events presents a unique opportunity to make some money by buying calendar spreads using puts to take advantage of the huge time premium in the puts in the days leading up to the dividend day.
Since the stock goes down by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day, the option market prices the amount of the dividend into the option prices. Check out the situation for SPY on Wednesday, September 14, 2016, two days before an expected $1.09 dividend would be payable. At the time of these prices, SPY was trading just about $213.70.
Note that the close-to-the-money options at the 213.5 strike show a bid of $1.11 for calls and $1.84 for puts. The slightly out-of-the-money put options are trading for nearly double the prices for those same distance-out calls. The market has priced in the fact that the stock will fall by the amount of the dividend on the ex-dividend day. In this case, that day is Friday.
SPY closed at $215.28 on Thursday. Friday’s closing price was $213.37, which is $1.91 lower. However, the change for the day was indicated as -$.82. The difference ($1.09) was the size of the dividend.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I decided to sell some of those puts that had such large premiums in them to see if there might be some opportunity there. While SPY was trading in the $213 to $216 range, I bought put calendar spreads at the 214.5, 214, 213.5, and 213 strikes, buying 21Oct16 puts at the even-strike numbers and 19Oct16 puts for the strikes ending in .5 (only even-number strikes are offered in the regular Friday 21Oct16 options). Obviously, I sold the 16Sep16 puts in each calendar spread.
Note: On August 30th, the CBOE offered a new series of SPY options that expire on Wednesday rather than Friday. The obvious reason for this offering involves the dividend situation. Investors who write calls against their SPY stock are in a real bind when they sell calls that expire on an ex-dividend Friday. First, there is very little time premium in those calls. Second, there is a serious risk that the call will be exercised by the holder to take the stock and capture the dividend. If the owner of SPY sold the series that expired on Wednesday rather than Friday, the potential problem would be avoided.
I paid an average of $2.49 including commissions for the four calendar spreads and sold them on Friday for an average of $2.88 after commissions. I sold every spread for more money that it cost (including commissions). My net gain for the two days of trading was just over 15% after commissions.
The stock fell $.82 (after accounting for the $1.09 dividend). If it had gone up by that amount, I expect that my 15% gain would also have been there. It is unclear if the gains would have been there if SPY had made a big move, say $2 or more in either direction on Friday. My rough calculations showed that there would still be a profit, but it would be less than 15%. Single-day moves of more than $2 are a little unusual, however, so it might not be much to be concerned about.
Bottom line, I am delighted with the 15% gain, and will probably try it again in three months (at the December expiration). In this world of near-zero interest rates, many investors would be happy with 15% for an entire year. I collected mine in just two days.
Trading SPY options is particularly easy because of the extreme liquidity of those options. In most cases, I was able to get an execution at the mid-point price of the calendar spread bid-ask range. I never paid $.01 more or received more than $.01 less than the mid-point price when trading these calendar spreads.
While liquidity is not as great in most options markets, it might be interesting to try this same strategy with other dividend-payers such as JNJ where the dividend is also over $1.00. I regularly share these kinds of trading opportunities with Terry’s Tips Insiders so that they can follow along in their own accounts if they wish.