In the world of investing, finding strategies that offer a balance between generating income and managing risk is the Holy Grail for many investors. One such strategy that has gained popularity is trading covered calls on the options market. By leveraging in-the-money call options against spot holdings, investors can potentially lock in consistent profits and lower their entry prices. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of this strategy and why it can be an attractive option for those managing significant spot holdings.
A covered call is an options trading strategy where an investor holds a long position in an underlying asset, such as stocks, and simultaneously sells call options on that asset. It is considered “covered” because the investor holds the underlying asset, which can be delivered if the call options are exercised. By selling call options, the investor receives premiums, which provide immediate income. The purpose of writing covered calls is twofold: to generate income from the premiums and to potentially offset potential downside risk in the underlying asset. This strategy is often employed by investors who are looking to enhance their returns or lower their cost basis on their existing holdings. It allows them to participate in the stock market while generating income, providing a balance between income generation and risk management.
A quick covered call example
Let’s see a quick idea of a covered call trade. Warren Buffett is a very active buyer of $OXY shares, let’s assume he is usually right in picking long term gainers. Here is the current book of the June 30 expiry options of Occidental Petroleum Corporation:
As you see, the current price is about $59. Expiry is in about 5 weeks. Let’s assume we make a spot purchase of 1000 shares of $59000. Simultaneously to the purchase, we are able to write 10 call contracts at the strike of $54 for a total collected credit of $6000.
Within the following 5 weeks we have two possible scenarios:
- shares pump above $60 and our stocks are called away, we make a profit of 1.5% in this case within one month;
- shares stay below $60 by expiry, we keep the credits, lowering our entry price to $53 per shares, also within a bit more than one month.
Sound about okay right? No heart attack, calculated position, win-win situation. Can an investor ask for more?
The Pros of Covered Call Strategies
- Income Generation: One of the key advantages of writing covered calls is the ability to generate income. When you sell call options, you receive premiums, which provide a consistent cash flow. This is particularly advantageous in sideways or slightly bullish markets, where the spot holdings may not experience significant capital appreciation.
- Lowered Entry Prices: Another benefit of this strategy is the ability to lower entry prices. If the market moves against your spot holdings, the premiums received from selling call options act as a buffer, reducing the cost basis of your underlying shares. This allows you to lower your average purchase price and potentially improve your overall returns.
- Risk Mitigation: Covered calls provide a certain degree of downside protection. The premiums received from selling call options act as a cushion against potential losses in the spot holdings. While it doesn’t eliminate all risk, it can help mitigate the impact of adverse market movements and provide a level of comfort to risk-averse investors.
- Capital Appreciation: Despite the income generation, investors can still benefit from capital appreciation. If the price of the underlying stock increases beyond the strike price of the call options sold, you can participate in the upside move while generating additional income. This allows you to potentially capture both income and capital gains simultaneously.
The Cons of Covered Call Strategies
- Limited Upside Potential: A trade-off of writing covered calls is the limitation on potential upside gains. Since you have sold call options with strike prices, your potential profits are capped at that level. If the stock price surpasses the strike price significantly, you may miss out on larger gains that could have been realized had you not sold the call options.
- Opportunity Cost: In a scenario where the price of the underlying stock experiences a significant upward move, you may be forced to sell your shares at the strike price of the call options. This means you could miss out on potential future gains if the stock continues to rise beyond the strike price. It’s essential to consider the opportunity cost of potential profits forgone when implementing this strategy.
- Time Decay: As the expiration date of the call options approaches, the time value of the options decreases. This leads to a decline in the premiums you receive, reducing the income generated. It’s important to monitor and manage your positions accordingly to ensure the strategy remains effective over time.
- Limited Downside Protection: While covered calls provide some downside protection, it is not foolproof. In the event of a significant decline in the price of the underlying stock, the premiums received may not fully offset the losses, resulting in a net loss for the strategy. Investors should carefully assess the risk-reward profile and evaluate the potential impact of adverse market movements.
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trading covered calls on the options market can be an attractive strategy for investors managing significant spot holdings. By generating income, lowering entry prices, and mitigating risk, this strategy offers a balanced approach to investing. However, it’s important to consider the limitations, such as capped upside potential and opportunity cost, when implementing this strategy. Careful selection of stocks, strike prices, and risk management are key to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the drawbacks. With proper planning and execution, trading covered calls can be a valuable tool for investors seeking low-risk speculation with calculated risks and profits.