We are living in an environment where it is virtually impossible to get yield in the traditional manner. The Federal Reserve has driven interest rates so low that traditional bank CDs or money market accounts returns are virtually zero. The Fed has promised to taper the quantitative easing (QE) practices that have driven yields lower, but even if the bounce of AAA bond yields above 3%+ sticks, inflation is currently outpacing those returns. So how do we create yield in such an environment? One strategy that all investors can use is options trading.
There are two strategies any investor can use to create yield that far exceeds traditional avenues. These options strategies are Covered Calls and Writing Puts. Keep in mind, both of these options strategies are inherently bullish, so your outlook for the stocks should be as well.
Many years ago, my grandfather owned a couple of Exxon Mobil (XOM) gas stations in downtown Chicago. He loved the company, and over the years he accumulated a couple of thousand shares of XOM. Upon his passing, each of his grandchildren received 200 shares. The options trader in me immediately went to work managing my newfound position, and I started selling covered calls.
Once considered a niche segment of the investing world, options trading has now gone mainstream.
With little knowledge on the best strategies, you can use options to work the odds in your favor and make trades that have up to an 80% probability of success. Find out how in this free report, How Options Work—and How to Hedge Portfolios with Options.Read Your Free Report Here.
A covered call is a strategy that consists of owning an underlying stock and selling an option against the stock. Since a call option represents 100 shares of the underlying stock, you can sell one call against each 100 shares of stock you own. Because you own the stock, your short call position is “covered” by the stock.
A short option position by itself (without the stock) is very risky, and requires a substantial margin balance. A short call on stock you own, on the other hand, is a very conservative strategy that requires no margin.
I would recommend a covered call options strategy against virtually any stock an investor holds. In my mind, it’s free money.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into this strategy.
Back in February of 2017, XOM was trading at 83 and as an owner of 200 shares, I could sell two calls against my stock position to create some extra yield. One option was to sell two April 85 calls for $1.25 each.
Here is the profit and loss graph of my 200 shares, and the two April 85 Calls I sold, on April expiration:
If XOM stayed below 85 by the April expiration, I would have collected $250 total ($1.25 x 100 for each contract)—a yield of 1.5% in just three months. If I were able to replicate this four times a year, I would earn 6%.
If XOM had risen above 85, I would have made $400 on my stock, plus I would have banked my call premium, but been taken out of my 200 shares by the owner of the call. However, if that were to happen, I could simply have bought my stock back if I wanted to, and started selling calls all over again.
The former happened, and I was able to collect my 1.5%, three-month yield, good for $250—not bad!
Writing Put Options
Writing puts is a more complex strategy, but when broken down and understood, this can be a tremendous trading strategy, and a great way to create yield for all investors.
Let’s start with what a put is. A put is a contract between two parties to exchange an underlying stock, at a specific price, on a determined date. The buyer of the put has the right to sell the underlying stock at a set price. The seller of the put has the obligation to buy the underlying stock at the set price.
If you write a put, you are the seller of the put. This can be thought of in terms of insurance: you’re the insurance agency, and the buyer of the put is the policy owner. If the owner of the put decides to exercise his right, you will be required to buy the stock at the predetermined price. However, as the seller of the put (the insurance agency), you receive a premium.
Let’s look at an example of this strategy:
At the beginning of February 2017, Apple (AAPL) closed trading at 130. I felt comfortable buying AAPL stock at 120 so I looked to sell the April 120 puts for $1.50.
If Apple’s stock price had stayed above 120 on April 21 (when the options expire), I would have collected the $150 premium by selling the put, a yield of 1.25%. Which I did as AAPL closed at 142.27 on April 21. If I did this four times a year, I would create a yield of 5%.
There is risk associated with this trade: if AAPL had dropped below 120, I would have been required to buy AAPL shares at 120. But as I said earlier, I was comfortable buying AAPL at 120, which was a 7.7% discount to where the stock was trading at the time.
This is a strategy many traders/investors use to enter a stock at a predetermined price. If I felt that AAPL was overvalued at its then-price of 130, but I was comfortable buying the stock at 120, this is a great way to buy the stock at that level if the price drops. And if it didn’t, I’d still have collected the premium and could always have sold another put later on.
In conclusion, there are countless ways to use options to create yield. Covered calls should be in every investor’s playbook. And writing puts, which are a bit more risky, is a tremendous strategy to enter a stock at a good price and create yield.
Do you use options to create yield? Why or why not?
Jacob Mintz is a professional options trader and Chief Analyst of Cabot Options Trader. He uses calls, puts and covered calls to guide investors to quick profits while always controlling risk. Beginners and experts alike can gain from following Jacob’s advice.Learn More
*This article has been updated from an original version that was published on February 1, 2017.