This past week in Group Coaching, a student asked me about buying deep out-of-the money (OTM) options. Many option traders especially those that are new initially buy deep out-of-the-money options because they are cheap and can offer a huge reward. Unfortunately many times, these “cheap” options are rarely a bargain. Don’t get me wrong, at first glance an OTM call that costs $0.25 may seem like a steal. If it works out, it could turn into a real homerun as they say in baseball; maybe even a grand slam. But if the call’s strike price is say $20 or $30 (depending on the stock price) above the market and the stock has never rallied that much before in the amount of time until expiration, the option will likely expire worthless or close to it.
Many factors work against the success of a deep OTM call from profiting. The call’s delta (rate of change of an option relative to a change in the underlying) will typically be so small that even if the stock starts to rise, the call’s premium will not increase much. In addition, option traders will still have to overcome the bid-ask spread (the difference between the buy and sell price) which might be anywhere from $0.05 to $0.15 or even more for illiquid options.
Option traders that tend to buy the cheapest calls available are probably calls that have the shortest time left until expiration. If an OTM call option expires in less than thirty days, its time decay measured by theta (rate of change of an option given a unit change in time) will be often larger than the delta especially for higher priced and more volatile stocks. Any potential gains from the stock rising in price can be negated by the time decay. Plus each day the OTM call option premium will decrease if the stock drops, trades sideways or rallies just a tad.
A deep OTM call option can become profitable only if the stock unexpectedly jumps much higher. If the stock does rise sharply, an OTM call option can hit the proverbial homerun and post impressive gains. The question option traders need to ask themselves is how much are they willing to lose waiting for the stock to rise knowing that the odds are unlikely for it to happen in the first place? Trades like these have very low odds and may be better suited for the casino then the trading floor.
A collar strategy is an option strategy that can particularly benefit investors. In this blog we have a lot more options education for traders and less for long-term investors so here is a strategy both can consider. A collar is simply holding shares of stock and buying a put and selling a call. Usually both the call and the put are out-of-the money (OTM) when establishing this option combination. A basic single collar represents one long put and one short call along with 100 shares of the underlying stock. A collar strategy is frequently implemented after stock (investment) has increased in price. The main objective of a collar is to protect profits that have accrued from the shares of stock rather than increasing returns. Is that an option strategy you might consider? Let’s take a look.
Why a Collar?
Since the market has been on a rather a bullish run and there are a plethora of stocks that have increased in value, it might be a good time to talk about them. One option strategy is to buy a put. The investor has some protection for the unrealized profits in case the stock declines. The other part of the combination is selling the OTM call. By doing this, the investor is prepared to sell his or her shares of stock if the call is exercised because the stock has moved above the call’s strike price.
The advantage of a collar strategy over just buying a protective put is being able to pay for some or the entire put by selling the call. In essence, an investor buys downside stock protection for free or almost free of charge. Until the investor exercises the put, sells the stock or has the call assigned, he or she will retain the stock.
Volatility and Time Decay
Even though implied volatility (IV) has been really low over the last several months in the market, volatility and also time decay are not usually big issues when it comes to a collar strategy. The simple explanation is because the investor is long one option and short another so the effects of volatility and time decay will generally offset each other.
An investor could have bought 100 shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) in December of last year for about $28 a share. At the time of this writing the stock has climbed to $38.40 a share and the investor is worried about the current market conditions being extended to the upside and protecting his unrealized gains. The investor can utilize a collar strategy.
The investor can buy a June 37 put for 0.75. If the stock falls, the investor will have the right to sell the shares for $37. At the same time the investor can sell a June 39 call for 1.00. This will make the trade a net credit of 0.25 (1 – .75). If the stock continues to rise, it can do so for another $0.60 until the stock will most likely be called away from him.
Three Possible Outcomes
The stock finishes over $38 at June expiration. If this scenario happens, another $0.60 per share is realized on the stock and $25 on the net credit of the combination is the investors to keep.
The stock finishes between $37 and $39 at June expiration. In this case, both options expire worthless. The stock is retained and the $25 net credit is the investors to keep.
The stock finishes below $37 at June expiration. The investor can sell the put option if he wishes to retain the stock or exercise the right to sell the stock at $37. Either way the $25 net credit is the investors to keep.
The nice thing about a collar strategy is that an investor knows the potential losses and gains right from the start. If the stock climbs higher, the profits may be curbed due to the short call but if the stock takes a dive, the investor has protection due to the long put and protection might not be such a bad idea if the market corrects itself. Even an investor can benefit from some options education!
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Option (ODD) which can be obtained from your broker; by calling (888) OPTIONS; or from The Options Clearing Corporation, One North Wacker Drive, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60606. The content on this site is intended to be educational and/or informative in nature. No statement on this site is intended to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any security or to provide trading or investment advice. Traders and investors considering options should consult a professional tax advisor as to how taxes may affect the outcome of contemplated options transactions.