When Is Covered Call Writing an Appropriate Strategy?

Every day people speculate wildly on stocks putting leveraged bets that a stock will be bought out, or surge in value. However, for every buyer there is a seller, for everyone who buys the leverage, there are people who sell the leverage. If you dream of a $1 stock flying to $100, this isn’t for you, you should learn to be the one buying calls, not selling them. Be warned, however that if you are a buyer of call options that you will be taking on much greater risk, and you will be relying on the price of the stock moving up sometimes very significantly in order for you to make money. In addition, buying options require costs that are not redeemable, so even if the stock remains the same price you could still lose money buying options.

However, if you believe in buying for the long run, yet think things currently will stay the same, get worse, or better yet, get better, but by a limited amount, then a covered call strategy may in fact be right for you.

It is said that a call option is similar to putting a $100 nonrefundable down in hopes of reserving an item at a price lower than you believe it will be sold for. Now selling a call is instead selling that right to allow others to buy away your item that you own at a fixed price such as $1000. If for example there was a new car that wasn’t even released yet, and the retail value was set at $20,000, and you believed there would be a lot of demand, you might pay 2000 to speculate at a set price of $22,000 that it would be worth more. The car would have to be worth $24,000 for you to break even, but if it was worth $26,000 you would double your money, where as someone who reserved it at $20,000 and paid the full $20,000 would tie up 10 times more money for the same gain. Now one can obviously see the excitement for owning a call option, but why would you sell an option?

Lets say you were actually the builder of that $20,000 car. You may have put $30,000 into it, you may have put $15,000 into it, it really doesn’t matter, because you think that the car will be sold for around $20,000 which is what it would go for now. For some reason you think that this car actually will go up in value over time, however for the next month you do not. You would then sell the $20,000 option, and if you’re right and the car stays under $22,000 then you collect that full $2000. If you’re wrong and the car goes to $23,000, then you still collect $1000 as the contract is only worth $1000 but you sold it for $2,000. If the car goes to $26,000 you would owe $4000. Since you owned the car itself, you would pay the contract buyer the difference, or the car would be called in, and you would have to sell it at $22,000, and give the contract buyer the $4000 difference. If you still wanted the car, you would have to buy it back at $26,000. Even if the car went to $100,000 you would still gain $2,000 for the contract. Of course, you would miss out on a HUGE gain, but it is the price you pay for writing calls. The risk is both that you miss out on a bigger gain, and that you are still only offered limited protection from a loss.

One example is if instead the car could only be sold for $18,000. Although this normally would be a $2,000 loss, you would collect the $2,000 from the option call buyer and lose nothing. Now if the car attracted no buyers, it would be worthless, and you would only collect a lousy $2,000. Options work in a very similar way to the above example. Writing a covered call is merely selling a contract that entitles someone else to you potential gains, that you risk giving up for guaranteed income. You sell hope for a sure thing at the expense of giving up your own potential for large gains, while still maintaining the downside risk of the stock.

In a covered call trading system, the idea is to write covered calls over and over again every single month, collecting a premium. Ideally you would want to have the stock rise to the strike price and expire, and then you could perform a covered call the next month at a higher and higher strike price as your stock actually gained in value.

Now say you own 100 shares of a stock at $73 per share. Lets say you don’t expect it to go up beyond 75 this month. So you sell a covered call at $75, receiving a fixed amount like $200. If the stock rises above 75, you will not be entitled to the gain, but you will receive the $200 for the stock going from $73 to $75 ($2 per share for 100 shares). The hope is that you can continuously collect these calls and that the stock never goes above whatever strike price you buy. You are essentially trading a stocks potential for steady income. Of course if your stock goes to zero, you lose everything but the $200. Its important to own stocks that will be around for a long time, and to know this, you must understand a stocks balance sheet and financial statements, and you still probably want to be willing to cut your losses short, selling both your call and your stock price. You still need to educate yourself in the risk of the less liquid option market as there is a big difference in the bid and ask price.