Option Selling With Limited Risk?
How to sell options with peace of mind and manage your portfolio like a professional
Hypothetical Situation: The futures trader has just read yet another article of how selling options can increase the returns in his portfolio. Curious, and somewhat excited, he picks up the phone and calls his broker. “I want to sell options. How would we go about that?”“Sell Options!?” the broker gasps in disbelief. “Why would you want to do that? Don’t you know that selling options is risky!?” He then puts the investor on hold and calls the floor. “Buy 10 Natural Gas futures at the market!” he barks and then picks up the investor again. “Like I was saying, that’s probably more risk than you want to take.” He never blinks an eye.
“Sell Options!?” the broker gasps in disbelief. “Why would you want to do that?”
This is the rap that option selling has historically received in much of the futures trading community. Many traders and brokers will more than willing trade the underlying stock or futures contract, yet shy away from selling options because of the perceived risk.
In reality, selling options carries no more, and often much less risk than trading the actual underlying product. It has only been in the last few years that selling option premium has begun to catch on with individual investors. Unfortunately, the misunderstood risk in option selling has kept many investors from enjoying the fruits that the strategy can provide. (This is one reason we provide the free Option Selling Video Tutorials on our website)
To be sure, option selling does involve risk. What you may not know, is that there is a strategy in which you can sell options with the peace of mind of absolute limited risk while still enjoying the considerable advantages offered by time decay.
Unlike novices, professional traders often design their trading model with risk management as their number one priority. Professionals know that capital preservation is the first objective of any trading plan and generally build the rest of the model around it. Novice traders often get caught up in the favorable success percentages or profit potentials of selling options and may consider risk management as a secondary matter.
Do you want to manage your portfolio like a professional? Employing the strategy below is one such way you can do so.
Naked vs. Spread
In the latest edition of The Complete Guide to Option Selling (McGraw Hill, 2014) , you will find 3 full chapters discussing option spreads – some of which can be described as “covered” option selling.
But what is “covered” option selling? Many people think of a covered position as selling an option and then owning the underlying contract – especially in regard to stocks. However, holding the underlying is only one way to cover an option and not necessarily one we would recommend, at least when trading futures options.
Covered, for our purposes here, means you have mitigated the unlimited risk of selling a naked option (which is a viable strategy in some circumstances) by buying or selling another option (or options) that partially offsets or “covers” it.
Covered option selling can offer many of the same benefits as selling naked, yet without the unlimited risk that makes many investors squeamish. This is why selling covered options can make an excellent “bread and butter” strategy for the serious option selling portfolio that is focused not on excitement and action, but on a strong annual return.
Options then, can be covered by other options. This can reduce margin and risk and in some cases, totally limit risk to an absolute amount. Yes, you can sell options and have limited risk.
The following covered strategy is one that we recommend as offering strong risk management benefits as well as very favorable SPAN margin requirements while maintaining high returns on funds invested.
Example of a Covered Short Option Position
The bear call or bull put spread (also known as a vertical spread)
The Bull Put Spread
Scenario: A trader is neutral to bullish the coffee market in November.
The trader sells a March 1.60 coffee put and collects a premium of $1100. He then takes part of the collected premium and buys a March 1.50 coffee put for $500. The net credit of $600 ($1100-$500) would be his profit if the options expire with March Coffee anywhere above 1.60 per pound at the ICE Exchange in New York.
The maximum loss on this trade would be $3,150. That is, the dollar difference between the two strikes (10 cents x $3.75 =$3750), minus the net credit collected ($600). This maximum loss would only be realized if March Coffee futures were below 1.50 at expiration. The profits from the purchase of the 1.50 call would cover any losses below that level. While it does provide limited risk, one would not necessarily have to hold this spread to it’s maximum loss capacity (nor would any reasonable trader want to). The spread can be bought back at any time prior to expiration.
If a trader is bearish a market, he can utilize this same strategy using call options. Thus a bear call spread.
Benefits to Covered Vertical Spread
The primary benefits of the bull put (bear call) spread are threefold.
1. Peace of Mind
It allows a trader to know his worst case loss scenario. In other words, he can sleep at night.
2. Staying Power
The spread allows a trader tremendous staying power in the market. If March coffee began rapidly declining in price and began to approach the 1.60 price level, chances are the 1.50 put would begin increasing rapidly in value. If one were naked a put at this strike price, odds are good that one of the risk parameters for exiting naked options would be triggered. However, with the covered position, the 1.50 put would be increasing in value almost as rapidly as the 1.60 put. Therefore, profits from the long 1.50 put are making up much of the loss on the 1.60 put. For this reason, in most cases, a trader can hold the puts in adverse market conditions, up until the time the underlying contract approaches or even slightly exceeds the short strike and still exit the position at that time with a controlled or even minimal loss.
3. High ROI
The third and possibly most enticing benefit of writing bull put (or bear call) spreads is the attractive margin treatment it gets from the exchanges. By writing this kind of spread, you may initially believe you are “sacrificing” premium or somehow accepting less in order to “buy protection.” Yet, by buying the protective put, the trader converts his position from one of “unlimited” risk to finite risk. Therefore, the exchange lowers the margin substantially for these types of positions. If you would have entered the put spread illustrated above at the premiums listed, the margin on the spread was approximately $850. That’s a 70% return on capital. That doesn’t sound like a sacrifice to me.
Drawbacks and Conclusionheld through or close to expiration before full profit can be realized. In addition, spreads between options can vary based on volatility, meaning that this kind of credit spread is not always a practical alternative. Another factor a trader may want to consider is that a bear call or bull put spread must often be sold slightly closer to the money than a naked option in order to collect a similar premium.[/p]
However, on the whole, a vertical credit spread can be a desirable method of collecting premium, especially in volatile markets.
While selling naked can be advantageous in some circumstances, credit spreads offer an alternative tool an investor can use to build a solid, risk conscious portfolio that will enable him to take advantage of the high percentage of options that expire worthless while still sleeping at night.
Option Seller Discovery Kit
If you are a high net worth investor and would like to learn more about working directly with James Cordier and Michael Gross through a managed option selling portfolio*, you do not want to miss a Free Package we have created just for you. The Investor Discovery Kit is a comprehensive primer on getting started in option selling with OptionSellers.com. This kit provides you with program details, qualifications and acceptance criteria, a full length video DVD of James Cordier’s seminar for high net worth investors, and much, much more. If you believe in hiring top expertise for your financial affairs , this Discovery Kit is a MUST HAVE for you.Learn More about the Kit *Waiting list may apply.
James Cordier is the founder of OptionSellers.com, an investment firm specializing exclusively in writing commodities options since 1999. OptionSellers.com offers managed option selling portfolios starting at $250,000 minimum investment. James’ market comments are published by several international financial publications and news services including The Wall Street Journal, Reuters World News, Forbes, Bloomberg Television News and CNBC.. Michael Gross is director of Research at OptionSellers.com. Mr. Cordier’s and Mr. Gross’ book, The Complete Guide to Option Selling 3rd Edition (McGraw-Hill 2014) is available at bookstores and online retailers nownow or at a special discount through the OptionSellers.com website. For more information visit www.OptionSellers.com.
Price Chart Courtesy of CQG, Inc.
***The information in this article has been carefully compiled from sources believed to be reliable, but it’s accuracy is not guaranteed. Use it at your own risk. There is risk of loss in all trading. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. Traders should read The Option Disclosure Statement before trading options and should understand the risks in option trading, including the fact that any time an option is sold, there is an unlimited risk of loss, and when an option is purchased, the entire premium is at risk. In addition, any time an option is purchased or sold, transaction costs including brokerage and exchange fees are at risk. No representation is made that any account is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to those shown, or in any amount. An account may experience different results depending on factors such as timing of trades and account size. Before trading, one should be aware that with the potential for profits, there is also potential for losses, which may be very large. All opinions expressed are current opinions and are subject to change without notice.