Last month in Cabot Wealth Advisory, I explained some of the
basics of options and showed you how buying puts and calls can
You can read that issue here.
In the beginning of the article, I mentioned that approximately
75% of options expire worthless. And while that statistic may be
true, it's misleading because there are a huge number of options
written that are designed to expire worthless.
Let me explain this last point a little bit. Let's say that XYZ
Trading Group thinks that the
S&P 500 SPDR (
, trading just above 129, has topped out and won't go any higher.
While XYZ is confident in their opinion on SPY, they want to give
themselves a little cushion. They decide to write the February
132 strike Call. The bid on the option is 0.85. Because each
option represents 100 shares, the firm receives $85 for each call
they write. While it might not seem like all that much,
large institutions may write 10,000 of these options (10,000 X
For this trade to be successful for XYZ, the price of SPY needs
to stay below 132.85 (the strike of 132 plus the 0.85 premium
collected). Ideally, SPY will never go above the 132 level,
allowing the company to keep all of the premiums it collected. If
this trade is successful, 10,000 options will have expired
Trades like this add to the statistics of options that expire
worthless, but that is exactly what these types of options are
supposed to do. And there are many other types of trades that can
add to the misleading statement about 75% of options expiring
Let me give you another example: Let's say you think the
Materials Select Sector SPDR (
is in a long-term uptrend and want to own it, but think it is too
overbought to buy it now. XLB is currently trading at 38.88, but
you are more comfortable owning it down around 36.50. You have
two choices: Sit and wait to see if the stock pulls back out of
overbought territory or write Puts.
If you want to buy 500 shares of XLB, you can write five of the
February 37 puts (remember each option represents 100 shares).
The current bid price on this option is 0.40 or $40 for each
option. So you write five February 37 Puts on the XLB and collect
$200. If the stock drops below 37 between now and the expiration
date of February 18, the owner of the option can exercise the
option and you must buy the stock from them at 37. If the
exchange-traded fund (
) doesn't drop below 37, the options expire worthless and you
keep the $200.
If XLB drops to 36, you are obligated to buy the stock at
37. But, because you collected the premium of 0.40, your
cost basis for the stock isn't 37, it is 36.60. This is 5.9%
lower than the current selling price. If the options expire
worthless, you can repeat the process next month and maybe
collect another couple of hundred dollars. You can do this as
long as you want and you can adjust the price you are willing to
pay for the XLB each month. If the stock goes up to 40 and
becomes even more overbought, perhaps for the March expiration
series, you write the 38 strike put. This is the Priceline.com
version of investing … "you can name your own price."
In each of these trade examples, the investor would have made a
profit by writing the options and having them expire worthless.
In the SPY example, the investor wants the options to expire
worthless. In the second example, if you wrote the February
37 Put on the XLB, you are somewhat indifferent on the trade. If
the ETF drops below 37, you just bought the stock at a discount
from its current level. If the ETF remains above 37, you still
collected $200 and produced a little income for your portfolio.
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In the early 1990s I worked as a broker's assistant in Dayton,
Ohio. At that time, Dayton was a big General Motors town as the
Moraine Truck plant employed thousands of workers. We had a lot
of GM employees as clients and they owned shares of GM. Back in
those days, GM wasn't what you would call a high-flying stock-it
was fairly predictable and not very volatile.
What we did for a number of our GM clients was write calls
against the stock they held in GM, this is called covered call
writing. Rather than rehash the glory days of GM and how we were
able to enhance returns back then, let's look at an ETF where
investors can enhance their returns today.
Utilities Select Sector SPDR (
is a somewhat stodgy investment. It doesn't seem to change
greatly in either direction from month to month. Over the last
two years, XLU has traded between 22.50 and 32.50. XLU currently
yields just over 4% through dividends it pays throughout the
The strategy here is to buy shares of XLU as an income-producing
holding for your portfolio and then write covered calls against
these shares. If you buy 400 shares of XLU at the current price
of 31.80, you can write one, two, three or four calls and still
remain covered. I like to write options for half of my holdings,
so in this case, I would write two calls. This allows us to keep
a portion of the original investment even if the ETF rises
sharply and goes above the strike price of the calls we have
Because the XLU is so slow and steady with its movement, the
option premiums are very low. The current price on the June 33
Call is 0.40 ($40 each). So if we write two calls, we are
collecting $80 in premiums and 200 of our 400 shares are at risk
of getting called away should the XLU move above the 33 level
between now and June.
Let's look at how this trade scenario could work out. To purchase
400 shares of XLU would cost us $12,720 at the current price of
31.80. If XLU rises to 33 between now and June, our return would
be 3.7% (roughly $470) plus you would collect approximately 2%
(roughly $250) in dividends. This would result in a return of
approximately 5.6%. If we add the $80 we get from writing the
calls, we've made approximately $800 for a return of 6.3%. So we
boosted our return by 0.7% over a five-month period! And if none
of the shares get called away from us, we can do this again and
again. You can add several percentage points to your annual
returns by writing covered calls.
For Cabot Wealth Advisory
P.S. Leverage your investments to make money in all markets!
Cabot Options Trader Editor Rick Pendergraft uses the market's
volatility to bring his subscribers huge profit-making
opportunities. Just check out these gains from the last three
months: A 109% gain on a Call on Pride International (
) in only 15 days! An 88% gain on a Put on Arcelor Mittal (MIT)
in 13 days! A 70% gain on a Call on Linear Technology (LLTC) in