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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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Should You Sell Covered Calls in an Up Market?

So the stock market is up and at record highs, should you still sell covered calls?  The answer is yes because stocks don’t move up in a straight line as there are many up and downs along the long-term trend.  Here are six reasons why you may want to consider selling covered calls in a rising market:

1 — Momentum
Maybe a stock has risen more than the market recently and the momentum traders are doubling down. In doing so they usually increase the call premiums to where they’re just too juicy to not try a deep in the money buy-write. These can be highly volatile so it is probably wise to keep the durations short (i.e. sell the near month, and not four to six months out).

2 — Pending News
Before a big news announcement, for example, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), or any company before an earnings announcement) the option premiums tend to increase. Rather than buying into the hype, consider selling the hype by selling covered calls. The amount in- or out-of-the-money should scale with your opinion of which way the news will fall.

3 — Margin
When trading on margin you need to be extra careful. You can get hurt quickly if there is a sudden move against you. One way to increase your protection is by selling deep in-the- money calls. You may still lose money if there is a dramatic move down, but the call premium should buy you time to exit the position (if you need to) with fewer losses than you would have had if you had merely held the stock long.

4 — Taking some off the Table
Don’t be too greedy. After you’ve had a nice run in a stock it is prudent to either (1) sell a portion of the stock, or (2) write some calls against it so that if it gives back some of its recent gains you can capture some profit from the call premium. Often these can be combined by selling covered calls that are in-the-money on the portion of the stock you want to sell anyway. That way you eek out a bit more profit from the position. Or, if you’re still very bullish then try selling some near-term out-of-the-money covered calls.

5 — Partial Cover
If you can’t make up your mind whether you should cover the entire holding, then consider selling covered calls on part of your position. You’ll end up being half right and half wrong at the same time, but at least you won’t have been all wrong.

6 — Monthly Income
If you have core holdings that you plan to own for the long-term then why not write some out-of-the-money calls on them to generate some extra income (even if they’re rising in a bull market)? Depending how far out-of-the-money you choose, you may need to sell several months worth of time instead of near-month (to cover the transaction costs).

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How To Use a Protective Put with a Covered Call

One of the basic mistakes that new covered call traders make is that they trade for the highest premium available to maximize their monthly income without looking at the amount of risk they are taking on with this type of trade.  When option premiums are high there is a reason for the increase in option pricing because of some uncertainty or increased risks.  The advanced covered call trader knows this and uses a protective put to manage their risk of loss on a high volatility trade.

The classic strategy is protect a position is to buy a put which is referred to as a “protective put.”  With a put buy you have the right (but no obligation) to sell a stock at the strike price of the put.  The protective put allows the stock owner to keep the stock but limits the amount of downsize to a lower stock price at the put’s strike price.  The stock owner no longer has price risk once the stock price falls below the put strike price as they can sell the stock at the put strike price before the option expires.
Stock investors refer to a put as price insurance as the cost of buying a put is similar to paying an insurance premium and the ownership of the put is
the insurance policy.  The management of stock price insurance is an additional cost to the trade.  For covered call investors, they must determine if it is worthwhile to buy the put as it will affect their monthly income plan.  The amount of buying a put depends on the amount of time before expiration, the strike price and the implied volatility of the put.  As you know, as volatility increases then option prices will tend to increase as well.

The table below shows an example trade with Under Armour (UA).  The stock is trading at $67.74 per share.  This example displays buying a put for protection at three strike prices: ITM, ATM & OTM.  As shown, the more in-the-money (ITM) the put then the more protection in stock price and less risk exposure in dollar terms.  The risk exposure is calculated by subtracting the put strike price from the net debit (share price + put cost).

The bottom two rows in the table show selling an ATM October call of 67.5 on UA.  You will receive $5.80 in premium for every call sold.  If you subtract this call premium from the risk exposure shown in the top portion of the table, you get the total risk exposure of the covered call with protective put trade.

Again – the more ITM the trade, the less risk exposure.  This example assumes the protective put strike price comes into play.  Of course, you would not usually use this strategy in a bull market as it is more effective during bear markets with increased levels of uncertainty.  You can also play what-if by using different
expiration months for the protective put.

How to use a protective put with a covered call

Click to enlarge

 

How To Recover From A Covered Call Trade

To remind you, this trade involves holding at least 100 shares of a company’s stock, then selling call options against them (one options contract for every 100 shares you own).  If the underlying stock declines, you’ll begin to see the option’s premium erode, too. But depending on the timeframe of the trade, you may see a greater loss in your stock position in real dollar terms than you will in your option position.  The objective of covered call writing is to produce monthly investment income and to protect your capital.

To calculate your exact current position in the trade versus when you placed it, you must:

  • Get the quote for the stock.
  • Get the quote for the option.
  • Subtract the current option price from the current stock price.
  • Compare that number to your net cost of the trade when you executed it.

The net cost of the trade is the breakeven when you enter a trade.  You can use this number as your threshold to take action if the stock price decreases to this point.  Some covered call investors use the breakeven to unwind a trade.  If the new net number is below your stop-loss threshold – let’s say 20% – then you have the following options:

  • Either: Stick with the position and hope that the share price recovers, so you can sell another option at expiration.
  • Or: Reverse the trade by buying back the current option and selling the stock.
  • Or: You can also buy back the option and sell another one at a lower strike price to mitigate some of the loss. However, if the new strike price you choose is below your cost, then you’re going to take a loss there, too.
  • Or: Buy a protective put on the stock used in the covered call trade.  The put will increase in value if the stock price falls so it will hedge losses from your stock ownership.  Of course you can buy a put as protection for all covered call trades especially when you plan to continueously sell calls each month on the same stock.  If you use a protective put, then select a month with a longer timeframe than the call sold against the stock.

But there’s one way to pretty much avoid this situation entirely… Sell deep-in-the-money calls against your position.  While this does reduce the overall return available, the upside is that it also reduces your net cost significantly and thus provides a nice cushion against risk.

Writing Covered Calls With High Quality Stocks Using Volatility

This is a great strategy because it uses the highest quality stocks that high a high volatility.  I define a high quality stock as a stock rated 5 stars by the S&P rating agency.  As we know, when volatility is high you get more premium from selling calls against your stock.  This will increase your return on investment for covered writes.

Here is how it works:

  • stock volatility is higher than the market volatility measured by the S&P 500 index (SPY);
  • stock has high implied volatility to generate good call writing return on investment;
  • Stock pays an annual dividend whose yield is at least 3% or better.

Then, if not called out, you can rewrite the call month after month until you are called away.  This strategy will minimize the amount of time used in selecting stocks and managing trades.  This will also lower the stress involved with covered call trading.

To implement this strategy, you should look for:

  • A low to medium historical volatility between 20-40% but higher implied volatility which tends to generate more premiums;
  • A historical volatility of 30-60% with similar implied volatility as you will hold these stocks for several months – the high HV will provide more premium each month.
  • Lastly, do not try this strategy on a lower quality stock just to increase your returns – stay with the 5 star stocks.

The use of high quality stocks will lessen the number of potential stocks because you have preselected a stock list.  The high quality stocks are generally blue-chip stocks that pay a dividend.  I am not a fan of buy and hold investing but this strategy is an effective way to maximize monthly income from investments.

The high quality stocks or blue-chips tends to move less in price compared to smaller cap stocks.  These high quality stocks tend to outperform during periods of uncertainty in the markets.  This is why we use these stocks in this strategy as they can weather the market downturns and rise during a bull market.  this a nice strategy to include in your monthly income plan.

Writing Covered Calls on Market Down-Days

One strategy to deal with the current market turmoil is called down-day covered writing.  This is based on looking for stocks that are down on a day that the market is down.  This strategy assumes the rubber band reaction of the stock bouncing back up when the market move up. This gives the writer the advantage of buying the stock at a cheaper price than on a market up-day.

On a day with a big pullback, you are trading a lower premium for the potential capital gain of the bounce back price.  For example, a stock is trading at $45 and the current month 45 call is priced at $2.10 indicating a cost basis of $42.90 and a assigned return of 4.9%.  However, on the market down-day, the stock drops to $43 and the 45 call price drops to $0.90.  If you enter this trade by buying the stock at $43 and selling the 45 call for $0.90, your cost basis is now $42.10 and your assigned return is now 6.9%.  If the stock falls short of $45 at expiration, you keep the $0.90 in premium and write a new 45 call at the next expiration date.

Example of covered call on market down-day

Click to enlarge

 

 

The key to this strategy is making sure the stock is trading with the market.  Here we will define the market as the S&P 500.  Use a chart service such as bigcharts to create a chart with your stock.  Then click the compare buttom to add the SPX (S&P 500).  See chart below of ESRX compared to SPX.  You should notice that the stock and SPX have a very similar pattern.  If yes, the two are moving in lockstep together and this is a good candidate for this strategy.

This strategy is not about the technical movement of the charts but about the potential snap back movement of the stock.  This serves as an example of why covered call traders sell out-of-the-money (OTM) calls to increase return on investments.

Stock Chart comparing SPX price movement to ESRX.

Click to enlarge

How to Get Started With Writing Calls

How do you get started with trading covered calls?  Once you understand the principles of writing options, you must determine what stock to purchase for this trade.  The simplest method is to start with a list of stocks.  I suggest the S&P Dividend Aristocrats list.   Since this trade requires buying stock, why not get paid a dividend in addition to the call premium.  This is more effective when you continue to write calls on the stock month after month until you are assigned.  This gives you a second dividend income to increase your monthly income stream.

The S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats is currently a list of 42 companies that have increased dividends (not just remained the same) for 25 years straight.  Keep in mind just because they are on this list now, doesn’t mean in the future they will be forced to reduce their dividend.  Unfortunately during our last recession in 2008 many investors found out their dividend was cut on their once stable stock.  For example, Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and General Electric Company (GE) both cut their dividend, and were removed from the Dividend Aristocrat list in 2009.  In 2009 a total of 10 companies were removed from the list.  As you can see from the list of stocks, these aren’t exactly a list of highflying tech stocks like Apple (AAPL) or Google (GOOG). In fact most people consider these stocks boring, but boring is sometimes better.

The list below shows the stocks included in the Dividend Aristocrats list for 2011.  You should start looking at the company’s with a 4 or 5 star rating by Standard & Poors.  You can find a level of ease when a stock is rated a strong buy or buy by S&P.  There are 5 stocks rated strong buy on the list: XOM, WMT, KO, PPG, and VFC.

Company Name Symbol Price PE Yield % SP Rating SP Recommend
Exxon Mobil Corp XOM        85.22 12.1 2.2 5 Strong Buy
Wal-Mart Stores WMT        54.52 12.7 2.7 5 Strong Buy
Coca-Cola Co KO        69.73 13.0 2.7 5 Strong Buy
PPG Industries Inc PPG        88.94 14.0 2.6 5 Strong Buy
VF Corp VFC      120.50 21.1 2.1 5 Strong Buy
Chubb Corp CB        64.45 9.1 2.4 4 Buy
AFLAC Inc AFL        46.21 10.4 2.6 4 Buy
Target Corp TGT        51.81 12.6 2.3 4 Buy
Abbott Laboratories ABT        52.95 12.7 3.6 4 Buy
Dover Corp DOV        66.84 15.0 1.7 4 Buy
Walgreen Co WAG        40.02 15.6 2.3 4 Buy
Johnson & Johnson JNJ        66.72 16.0 3.4 4 Buy
PepsiCo Inc PEP        65.76 16.7 3.1 4 Buy
Becton, Dickinson & Co BDX        87.16 16.8 1.9 4 Buy
Grainger, W.W. Inc GWW      155.45 18.5 1.7 4 Buy
Brown-Forman Corp B BF/B        75.96 19.5 1.7 4 Buy
Stanley Black & Decker SWK        70.10 19.5 2.3 4 Buy
Leggett & Platt LEG        23.50 20.3 4.6 4 Buy
Cintas Corp CTAS        34.37 20.5 1.4 4 Buy
Automatic Data Processing ADP        53.23 21.7 2.7 4 Buy
Sigma-Aldrich Corp SIAL        73.53 22.4 1.0 4 Buy
Archer-Daniels-Midland Co ADM        32.12 10.0 2.0 3 Hold
Cincinnati Financial Corp CINF        28.40 12.5 5.6 3 Hold
CenturyLink Inc CTL        38.66 13.0 7.5 3 Hold
Consolidated Edison Inc ED        53.58 14.4 4.5 3 Hold
Pitney Bowes Inc PBI        22.41 14.6 6.0 3 Hold
Kimberly-Clark KMB        67.90 15.4 4.1 3 Hold
Lowe’s Cos Inc LOW        22.62 15.9 2.5 3 Hold
3M Co MMM        95.38 16.4 2.3 3 Hold
Bemis Co Inc BMS        33.95 16.7 2.8 3 Hold
Procter & Gamble PG        64.25 16.9 3.3 3 Hold
Air Products & Chemicals Inc APD        91.90 17.2 2.5 3 Hold
McCormick & Co MKC        50.25 17.5 2.2 3 Hold
Family Dollar Stores Inc FDO        54.14 17.9 1.3 3 Hold
McDonald’s Corp MCD        88.56 17.9 2.8 3 Hold
Emerson Electric Co EMR        55.10 19.2 2.5 3 Hold
Ecolab Inc ECL        53.05 23.8 1.3 3 Hold
Bard, C.R. Inc BCR        99.28 26.9 0.8 3 Hold
Clorox Co CLX        74.36 39.4 3.2 3 Hold
Hormel Foods Corp HRL        30.29 17.7 1.7 2 Sell
Sherwin-Williams Co SHW        79.64 17.4 1.8 1 Strong Sell
McGraw-Hill Cos Inc MHP        43.92 16.1 2.3 NA NA
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