Option Credit Spreads - Limited Risk with Limited Profit
By Brad Griffin
Option trading all comes down to probability of profit. Statistically, option sellers always have a better chance of profiting. It's true that when you sell options your profit is limited, but your chances of walking away with that profit are high. The reverse is true for option buyers. Their potential profit is limitless, but the odds of achieving that profit are very small, especially with out-of-the-money options.
Why not put the odds of success on your side and learn how to become a smart option seller? Naked (uncovered) option selling entails unlimited risk and limited profit, but there is a strategy of option selling that has limited risk as well as limited profit. It's called a credit spread. In a credit spread, you sell an option and buy a cheaper option at the same time to limit your risk. Since you are selling a more expensive option than you are buying, you get to take an initial credit into your account. As long as you implement the trade as a spread, you will never be exposed to unlimited loss, as is the case with naked option selling.
Credit spreads come in two types -- the bear call spread and the bull put spread. A credit spread is always used with either all calls or all puts and within the same expiration month. A call credit spread consists of selling a more-expensive, lower-strike call, and buying a less-expensive, higher-strike call. A bull put spread consists of selling a more-expensive, higher-strike put and buying a less-expensive, lower-strike put. The best outcome of a credit spread is to have all the strikes expire worthless so you can keep the entire premium you collected at the beginning. Credit spreads should be initiated using the two closest months to expiration. This is when time decay starts to accelerate, and it gives the underlying security less chance to make a move against the position.
Credit spreads can be used with individual stocks, futures options, or indices such as the NDX, RUT, SPX Standard & Poor's 500, and so on. If you are playing the stock market, credit spreads are preferable with an index such as the SPX, NDX or RUT options because there's less chance of a gap move than there is with many individual stocks.
Credit spread trading is a simple, safe, and stress-free type of trade that does not require a great deal of monitoring. You just place the trade, collect the credit, and wait for the options premiums to decrease or expire worthless. And if the underlying security starts to move against your position, there's no need to worry; your loss is limited, no matter how far the security might move. Plus, you can always unwind the spread at a small loss before expiration occurs.
Options lose all of their time premium by expiration, which is referred to as time decay. Because they have no intrinsic value, out-of-the-money options expire worthless.
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