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Covered Calls for Life

How do you measure the financial health of a business or public company? They are measured by the amount of cash flow they produce. All investors understand this concept as this leads to the earnings reported and financial strength of the company. Covered call investing provides a large amount of cash flow.

There are several styles of covered call writing. Some investors never do more than write calls on their portfolio stocks that can be an art within itself. Many investors buy stocks for the express purpose of writing covered calls on them and then sell the stocks or let them be called away at expiration. There are covered call strategies for the active trader who seeks action, for the shoot for the moon directional trader, for the lazy writer and for those with a long-tern horizon. Then the conservative crowd are fearful of risk and seeking low-risk or limited-risk trades.

As an investor, you can have covered call your way. No matter your lifestyle, if you have a computer or smart phone, there is a covered call strategy that will work for you. Is it riskless? No – but there are ways to lower your risk in the trade like insuring the trade.

If you are an investor interested in creating income streams. Then, covered call writing should be part of your portfolio.  You can write calls against your dividend stocks to enhance your income. I like to think about covered call writing as a monthly income stream.

I can sell a call option each month on a stock I own. This premium income is automatically deposited into my account at the transaction completion. Now, do this every month for a year. Then, add up the amount of the premium income for the 12 months and divide it by the purchase price of the stock. Compare this calculated covered call yield to the stock dividend yield. Which is higher? Typically, the stock dividend yield may be 3-5% but the covered call yield will be 15-20% yield.

For an income investor, a call yield this high is a great stream of income and it provides some downside price protection. Using the “rule of 72” will result in doubling your investment in 3.5 years. Even better, you can add $1,000s of income each month to a medium size portfolio.

The theory of covered call writing explained here should catch the eye of the income investor. This clearly shows why covered call should be a lifestyle-making portion of your investments. We like to say Covered Calls for Life is where it is at for multiple streams of income.

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Covered Calls for Income Investing

Why don’t more people write covered calls? There are numerous reasons. The general population is unaware such an investment exists. Only a hand full of investing services promote them but popularity has increased as more brokers push option trading strategies these days. Also, they do require a level of education to learn them in depth. The popularity increase has moved covered calls by leaps and bounds as it should. This is moving investing to the next level which is income investing.

Many financial advisors, brokers, planners and others in the finance industry either are not comfortable with covered calls or simple don’t understand the opportunity for covered calls in their clients’ portfolios. Many advisors are fee based and accept sizable commissions from funds to recommend their products. They make extra money when you buy these paid recommendations in place of a strategy such as covered calls. Basically, covered calls are just not on their priority list.

The information disseminated about covered calls by advisors and websites who don’t know the theory behind covered calls tend to paint the strategy as being dangerous with little return for the risk taken. Then, these same advisors recommend you to hold low performing stocks or churn your account to increase commissions. If they used covered call writing on the buy and hold stocks it would generate income that will lower overall risk of the investment.

How can producing income from an asset increase the inherent risk of owning an asset? This argument against covered call is nonsense on the face. For example, a real estate developer is usually wiling to hold properties that generate positive cash flow. If they don’t cash flow, then you have a tax write off and a hope to sale at a higher valuation – sounds like buy and hold right!  Advisors recommend buying stock and funds based on commissions. If you are in the hammer business, everything looks like a nail.

Brokers fear liability when customers lose money, even on self-directed option trades and they make little on option trades.  The education of clients on options will increase the risk of them deflecting to discount option brokers online once they feel comfortable with covered calls.

You can’t blame the financial industry for doing what is in their best economic interest any more than in other industries such as plumbers, electricians and other trades. Just recognize your interest are different than the financial industry in terms of your long-term investing. Advisors make money when you do and they make money when you don’t. Your choice is to rely upon their advice or handle your own investing. What should you do?

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Here is a great quote from the greatest options expert Larry McMillan: “You will have to predict something in order to profit, for only market makers and arbitrageurs can construct totally risk-free trades that exceed the risk-free rate of return.”  Regardless of your style, stock picking or options trading, you must make choices and you must predict outcomes.

At Get Rich Investments, we believe covered calls do require a prediction but they lower the overall risk of investing. They produce premium income to offset some downside in stock price movement. If used with dividend stocks, they add another layer of income. Then, we couple a portion of our portfolio to monthly dividend stocks to lower portfolio volatility and risk while maximizing total portfolio income.

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Proof that Option Income Writing is a Winner

With a covered call and protective put strategy, you have a win – win- win –win situation.  Here is what happens when the underlying stock changes:

  • Stock price increases –      you win by keeping the premium and either rolling up your call to a higher strike price or letting the stock get assigned;
  • Stock price is unchanged – you win by keeping the premium and possibly the stock to write more calls against it in coming expiration months;
  • Stock price slightly declines – Your amount of premium received will cover a slight decrease in the stock price so you win and keep the stock for more call writes for income;
  • Stock price declines aggressively – the protective put will gain value as stock prices decline closer or through the put strike price while you keep the premium and stock for more writes.

If you use the covered call with a protective put, you can create a great wining trade.  This is better for writing calls against a stock several months as this will offset the cost of buying a put for protection.  The protective put should be at least six months ahead of the current call expiration month when initially purchased.   This allows the investor to spread the put cost over the six month period to increase the profitability of the trade.  For example, if the protective put cost $300 to buy, the cost will average $50 per month on average.  However, if you exit the covered call position before the put expires, you can sell the put to recoup some of its cost.

In the case of a significant price decline, the put will become more profitable as it will increase in value.  The call writer can buy back the sold call
for pennies and sell a new call at a lower strike price to get more premium income.  After a few months of this, the trade should be profitable.

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The Biggest Mistake New Call Writers Make

Covered call trading is not like directional trading which has an objective to time the movement of a stock in the direction it is moving.  Covered writing is a game of regular, incremental returns.  The covered call writer’s objective is to collect the option premium for income without taking any damage to the downside of owning the stock.  The secret to success for the call writer is to make smaller, more consistent returns compared to a advanced option trader who makes many bets waiting for a 50% – 100% winner.  The biggest mistake by new call writers is writing a stock solely to capture the fattest time value premiums.

To improve the chances of being successful, the call writer should focus on stock selection.  The covered call trader should focus on 3% monthly returns.  However, a 15% drawdown on a trade will require 5 months of 3% returns to recoup the loss and get back to even.  This is why the Monthly Income Plan focuses on 5 star stocks signaling high quality stocks.

Why avoid the fattest premiums for a measly 3% monthly return?  The short answer is that high premiums often signal high risk, and writing calls on these options without regard to stock quality will eventually decimate your trading account.  There are two reasons that value premium becomes high enough to offer big returns:

1)   The stock is volatile and implied volatility is in line with the stock, or

2)   Implied volatility (IV) is significantly higher than actual volatility.

Simply, the higher the rate of return, the higher either actual or implied volatility (or both) must be on the options.  If two stocks had volatility of 60% we would expect the option premiums to be roughly comparable.  What if one stock had an IV of 25%?  This indicates a market expectation of less volatility in the future but it also means the investor is not getting paid for the 60% volatility risk he is taking on.  If the other stock had IV of 80% then the investor must determine what is causing the IV to be higher than the 60% actual volatility.  This usually indicates that the market is expecting some new event on the stocks such as news, announcement, earning or more.

If the IV is in line with the stock volatility, then the options are priced fairly so the decision comes down to – do you want to invest in the stock.  The rule is to AVOID stocks with spiking IV and look for a different trade.  To be conservative, look to write calls on stocks with a volatility of 40% or less.  If you are experienced and seek more income, look for stocks with volatility between 40% and 60%.  Anything above 60% I would consider high risk so proceed with caution.  You should at least look at the volatility of the stock before you invest to know what the risk of the trade may be over the coming option period.

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Selling Time Value of Options

When selling time value, you will use a different philosophy than those stock investors looking for a stock to go up in price.  Your gains will come from the time value of the options you will sell.  This approach to stock selection is unusual.  Most investors use fundamental analysis or technical analysis while you will use the time value of s stock’s options, tempered by fundamentals and long-term hold principles.

Deciding to create a covered call trade requires choosing an expiration month and strike price.  Option strategies require making modifications during the life of an option trade.  The option expiration month you select will have significant impact on the success of any option trade.

There are at least four different expiration months available for every stock on which options trade.  Initially, the CBOE set up only four months for options but later LEAPS were introduced so it was possible for options to be traded for more than four months on stocks with LEAPS options.  When stock options first began trading, each stock was assigned to one of three cycles: January, February or March.  Stocks assigned to January cycles will offer options in the months of January, April, July and October.  The same quarterly sequence will hold for the February and March option cycles.  Under the new rules, the first two months are always available but for the later months the original option cycles are used.

To select a stock for your covered call portfolio, you must have available a current option chain list.  You can select the expiration month based on the time value of the stock options and the strike price.  Then, if the stock meets your stock selection criteria, but it as the underlying stock in your portfolio.

To get an annual return of 20% or more, you must find available options with time value that will produce a 2% return each month or 5% each three months on the price of the stock.  Using the option chain list, you can calculate the percentage of stock price that the time value represents.  Of all the optionable stocks, you can find at least 5 to 10 stocks to consider.  If the time value seems attractive, then look at the fundamental and technical analysis to make your decisions.

Personally, I like to sell an option in the current or next month with a time value return of no less than 3%.  However, I will caution all covered writers  to proceed with caution if the time value return is very high as usually there is something pending with the underlying stock such as a news event, earning  release and other items.  Volatility can play a significant role in the pricing of options so the higher priced time value options usually have a significantly higher volatility.

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Option Selection for Covered Call Writing

Throughout the day, a person makes hundreds of decisions.  Paper or plastic? Double cheeseburger or salad?  Home brewed coffee or Starbucks Brew to Order?  And for option traders, which option to select from a large list of strike prices and expiration dates.

Option selection can be difficult especially for the new option investor.  Do you play a short-term or long-term option?  Do you take risk with OTM options or play it safe with DITM options?  Don’t let the selection process get too complicated for you.  Follow these three questions when making an option selection:

  1. What direction will the underlying stock go in the future?
  2. What are your expectations for the stock?
  3. What is your risk tolerance?

For the first question, don’t just guess where you think the stock will go in the next few months.  Look at the put/call ratio on the open interest tables.  Are there more calls than puts?  This indicates that investors feel the stock will rise.  If there are more puts than calls, then investors feel that the stock is going to decline.  You can use the put/call ratio to help determine the future direction of the stock.

The risk is in selecting the strike price of the option.  You have three choices: ITM, ATM and OTM.  Which one works for your stock?  An ITM has the highest price as it has intrinsic value because the stock price is higher than the option strike price.  This intrinsic value provides a spread for the option, making it less risky.   An ATM is when the stock price and option strike price are very close.  Generally, the price of the option is all time value and it has more premium than an OTM option.  This is the middle ground on the option risk scale.  The OTM option is the riskiest option play.  The option writer gets less premium income and takes on the risk that the stock will move higher to get a better return.  However, when the stock price does rise, OTM options have the greatest return.  You probably have heard about the more risk, higher return trade.

Now, you need to select what time to sell?  The more time the more premium income.  Selecting the right time to sell is up to the option trader.  Regular options are up to nine months and LEAPS are for up to 2 years.  You must decide how much premium you want to receive based on how long you want the trade to be.  For covered calls, most writers select the monthly option and repeat until called away.  However, this should be based on the objective of the covered call writer.

As income investors, we seek to create consistent monthly income by selling options to collect monthly premiums. We focus on the Monthly Income Report which is published the weekend following option expiration each month. To supplement members, we will publish additional trades and income opportunities.

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Support and Resistance levels for the Covered Call Writer

One of the keys to covered call writing success is knowing how to determine support and resistance levels.  A support level is a stock price low that the price has hit and recovered from to advance back up due to more buying than selling of shares.  This is referred to as the trading floor until a stock price breaks below it.  The resistance level is a higher level that the stock price has hit and pulled back due to more selling than buying of shares.  This ceiling acts as resistance that the stock price must break through to advance higher.

The more times the price has hit a support or resistance level, the stronger it is and more difficult to move through it.  The longer it takes for the stock to test
these levels, the stronger they are to break through.  For example, an intraday test is not as strong as a one week test of these levels.  The higher the stock volume at the level, the stronger the level is holding.  For example, if volume is above average and the stock price doesn’t break out then the level will hold and be more difficult to go through.

Most technicians draw the support and resistance levels at the lowest and highest price points on a stock chart.  If stock price reached a certain support or
resistance level multiple times, you can safely disregard a single price spike above or below these levels.

How can the covered call writer use these support and resistance levels.  If a quality stock has successfully tested the support levels, then you know where the price bottom is for that stock.  You can also use the support level to tell you when to react as a break below support requires a new decision on what to do with your covered call – close it, roll out, etc.  The other use of support and resistance for the call writer is to delay entering a new trade when a support or resistance level is being tested.  These price points should be watched closely to see if they hold.  If they do not hold, then be prepared to make
a decision on managing the covered call trade.

As income investors, we seek to create consistent monthly income by selling options to collect monthly premiums. We focus on the Monthly Income Report which is published the weekend following option expiration each month. To supplement members, we will publish additional trades and income opportunities

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How To Manage A Covered Call Portfolio

We create multiple streams of income to achieve financial independence and early retirement. Learning how to get rich trading covered calls is what we do here.

The option income portfolio approach to selling covered call options seek to do the following:

  • To create options portfolios with the objective of earning consistent returns on investment throughout the stock market cycle;
  • To maximize options premium income, dividend income, capital gains potential and downside protection;
  • To increase long-term capital appreciation and income from stock ownership;
  • To minimize risk and provide diversification.

The option income portfolio is a continuous investment strategy.  Stock should be owned and options sold.  Dividend and option premiums can be earned and capital gains increased.  This is a key step in successful investing.

The more active you are, the greater you potential returns will be.  For example, when a sold call’s market value drops to 10-20% of the call premium received when initially sold – the investor should buy to close the call and then write a new call for more time value and/or at a different strike price.  This makes the covered call strategy more continuous and more profitable.

The experienced covered call investor will not panic when the stock price exceeds their call strike price.  They will buy to close the sold call for a loss and sell a new call at a higher strike price.  The loss will be covered by the additional call premium and the potential capital gain of the increased stock price.  The loss from the initial call buyback is a taxable loss for your income tax statement.  The loss is calculated by subtracting the cost of the buyback from the initial call premium received.  The investor should always keep a running log of these buyback transactions that result in a trading loss for income tax purposes. Like any losses over the allowable $3,000 in annual investing losses, they can be carried forward.

As an individual investor, you may not have time to manage a covered call portfolio like described above.  This is OK as you can still create a covered call portfolio for monthly income.  As you gain more investing experience, you can move in the direction of being more active in managing your covered call investing.

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How To Use Moving Averages in Covered Call Selection

The use of moving averages are important to assessing the price trend of a stock.  Even better is using multiple moving averages to increase your accuracy of identifying the stock trend.  The definition of a moving average is the average of the stocks closing price over a period of time. As a new closing price is made, it is added to the calculation and the oldest closing price is removed from the calculation. This creates a new data point on the moving average as this process continues into the future.

The simple moving average (SMA) is the total of all closing prices for the time period divided by the number of points in the period. The exponential moving average (EMA) weighs more recent closing prices higher than older data prices as the newest data point is more relevant than older price points.  the EMA is more sensitive than the SMA but it has more frequent false signals.

I prefer to use the 20-day SMA and the 50-day SMA in my price charting.  There is nothing magical about these SMAs as other investors may use a 14-day and 40-day SMA.  I like the 20 and 50 day SMAs as a 20-day is 4 weeks or one month based on closing prices and the 50 day is 10 weeks. I usually sell the current month so the 20-day is more suitable to a one month call option while the 50-day serves as my longer term marker.

What should you look for in moving averages?  First, any time one SMA crosses the other the trend has changed (see chart below).  When the 20-day crosses ABOVE the 50-day, then the stock is starting an uptrend.  Conversely, if the 20-day crosses BELOW the 50-day the trend is moving down. The predictive factor happens when the stock price gaps way above the 20-day SMA as this signals a pullback for the stock.

The best covered call candidate will have the 20-day SMA above the 50-day with a flat or uptrending price line.  If the 20-day is below the 50-day, I usually pass on the stock as there are so many other stocks better suited to a profitable covered call trade.

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Click to enlarge

The Best Method for Call Writing

Most experts in the stock market will generally say, “the writer of an options is foregoing any increase in stock price that exceed the strike price for the premium received when selling calls.  The option writer continues to bear the risk of a sharp decline in the price of the stock. The cash premium will only offset this loss.”  Do you buy into this way of thinking?  This is not correct based on how I trade covered calls.

With my method, you no longer care about the price of the stock that you purchased.  When the stock does go down, we would buy back the option at an inexpensive cost and immediately write a new option.  For example, we received a premium of $3.00 and close it at $0.25 when the stock price drops.  If the stock price went down $5.00, we would write a new call at at a $5 lower strike price.  This may net an addition premium of $3.00 so when you add the premiums minus the buy back of the first option we have $5.75 while the stock only dropped $5.00.  The second premium helped to offset the loss from the strike price.

When the stock does not reach the strike price, let the option expire, keep the premium, and write a new cal at the same strike price.  When the stock price goes above the call strike price, buy back the call option and write a new option at a higher strike price to reflect the gain in the stock. the second premium will help defray the cost of the buyback while you have a gain in the stock price.

For the buyer, options are a wasting asset as time decay erodes value.  The time value portion of a option is always zero at expiration.  Selling the time value repeatedly on the same stock makes option income work for you.

With my trading method, you will not be waiting on the stock price to go up to make money.  You will make money on the wasting time value of options you have sold.  this will change your investing philosophy about the stock market.

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