Medium term
Trade view / 27 September 2016 at 13:52 GMT

Enhancing Facebook position with a covered call

Product Manager Futures and Options / Saxo Bank

Selling a covered call is one of the most popular strategies among option users, both institutional and retail. In the US the strategy is considered fairly conservative and it's even allowed in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). On this side of the pond, however, investors are yet to discover the benefits of this straightforward option strategy.

Anatomy of a covered call

As a review, the strategy consists of long stock and short call. One contract will be sold for every 100 shares of stock investor owns in their account. Hence the term "covered" call. By selling a call against a stock, the investor receives money from the buyer of that call. By collecting that income the stock owner obliges himself to deliver their shares to the "potential" buyer. Frequently, that buyer has no intention of buying – they are simply looking to make a quick profit from price movement. 

Covered Call Benefits/Risks

For the seller of a covered call there are a few benefits. In a low or negative interest rate environment, that investor can create cash flow on monthly basis on the stock they own or they'd like to own. It's like creating a synthetic dividend on that stock.

Sometime we fall in love with our stock and cannot depart from it, even after the price is falling. The most we can lose of course is what we put in. 

Example, investor purchased 500 shares of Wells Fargo at $50 for a total net investment, excluding brokerage fees, $25,000. 

The most that investor could lose is the price he paid for Wells Fargo shares ($50). So the smaller the cost for that position, the less the maximum loss for that position would be. 

By employing on systematic basis a covered call strategy investor could help his overall position and even improve it over time. If that investor extended to a call option 35 days out, slightly above the current market price of WFC (at the time of writing $44.88), he could sell a call option with a price of $45 and collect $1.50 or $150 for every 100 shares he owns. The cash goes into his account and reduces his cost basis in the stock from $50 to $48.50. That's a 3% reduction!

What's the worst that could happen in a covered call?

The worst that could happen to that investor is for the shares to continue to fall. Better outcome will be for the stock to stay at current levels or move higher. An investor who wants to stay in the stock could roll out the covered call and adjust it according to their current market view. That's the beauty of using options as a strategic tool. For more info on covered calls, please check out our educational webinar on covered calls from May 16 here, or at the Options Industry Council

Setting up Facebook covered call

Shares of Menlo Park, a California-based social media company, are up some 20% year-to-date and have been trading in a steady, predictable pattern. More recently the shares seem to change hands between a high of $132 and $126. 

 Source: Saxo Bank

If you own shares at current levels or lower, this pause in the overall uptrend, could be the right time to sell a covered call and enhance your overall return in the position.

The first question to ask is how much time should you sell and what price? Most investors will sell 30-50 days out as there is enough time premium than shorter dated ones. Some will also extend as far out as six months. There are many ways to skin a cat and options are no exception.

The strike price selection depends on your market view. If mildly bullish, don't expect shares to rocket up, you could sell a technical level such as resistance or 2%–3%. If very bullish, however, and you feel that the price will explode, a covered call is not the right strategy. 

For the trade example above we would sell November 130 calls for $4 per contract (100 shares) against 100 shares of Facebook at $127.31

Management and risk description

The risk in a covered call lies in the underlying stock price and not on the short call that you have sold. Remember to purchase the shares first.

Investors can make adjustments at any time during the life of the option, based on their market view of the underlying shares. We will provide a couple of updates, but there's no need to be reactive with this strategy. Let the paint dry. 

You can also close out of this at any time. Simply buy back the same call option you sold. 

Underlying price (FB) @ $127.31

Trade: SELL -1 FB 18 NOV 16 130 CALL at $4 Limit

Trade Risk: purchase price - premium or $127.31 - $4 = $123.31 => new cost basis in the stock and also (breakeven at expiration)

Return on Risk, if called out at $130 = 123.31/$130 = 9.5% over 52 days or 28% annualised

Entry: Today, first must purchase the shares, if you don't have them already

Stop: no stops

Target: to get the most of this strategy, shares should be at $130 or above

Time horizon: medium-term

— Edited by Clare MacCarthy

Non-independent investment research disclaimer applies. Read more
27 September
Philidor Philidor
Why suggest to purchase the shares if you don't have them? A covered call is a strategy for shares you already own. If you don't own them, why not just sell a put instead. It's the same net effect and it saves you fees and spreads.
27 September
Georgio Stoev Georgio Stoev
Hi there, If you don't own the shares we suggest buy/write.
And yes you are right-Short put is equivalent to cc.
27 September
AlexF AlexF
Hi Georgio could you suggest same for BABA I have a position of 128 shares cost average 70 USD thanks
27 September
AlexF AlexF
Dont find the webinar 16 th of may
27 September
AlexF AlexF
Read the option council. Please correct if I am wrong so in the case of FB the risk is that FB rallies above 130, say 150. Then I woudl loose 20 $ per share since I would have to sell it at 130. On the down side the premium collect will protect me for 4$ drop but beyond I would be down with the position since I cannot sell. So basically best is to find a sotck that will rise or stay stable not too volatile and I am willing to keep no matter what. eg in my case maybe SLB or VOD
27 September
AlexF AlexF
What is your opinion on doing this on VOD since it yields 5% paid quaterly + covered call it would enhance the fixed income strategy of the stock (VOD does not move much)
27 September
Georgio Stoev Georgio Stoev
In strong bull markets, investors will prefer no to limit their stock performance by using a covered call. With FB we are arguing that stock will stay steady and perhaps move up a little.
27 September
AlexF AlexF
27 September
Market Predator Market Predator
To conclude: for dummies (myself and maybe other novices). CC is for physical Shares. Premium will move BE $4 down to level $123. Really good in zero interest rate time and in case Investor assume neutral market. It's not protection: in case that Stock collapse = trouble.
28 September
AlexF AlexF
U wont profit above strike 130 USD but still benefit from the move from 123 to 130 + premium at least this is how I get it ? Georgio can you confirm and yes learning here on the CC
28 September
Georgio Stoev Georgio Stoev
yes, limited upside/little ($4) cushion for the downside. Think of it as This is why we call the strategy "enhancing" the overall return.
28 September
AlexF AlexF
Yes great thanks I did my first one today on baba not much premium at 125 USD strike but happy with it
30 September
Georgio Stoev Georgio Stoev
Too far out of the money on BABA
ChristianK ChristianK
Hi Giorgio. Great call. FB traded around 130 yesterday. Would consider to play another CC on FB for the next month? Thx.


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