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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.

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