Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Observations on Dividend trading -- buy/writes

I will know more in the next day or two whether this stuff works the way I expect (options assigned), but I have already learned quite a bit with my recent intensive trading.

A quick tutorial. I am trying to make a small profit by buying a stock and simultaneously selling in-the-money options against the stock. I do this at a price point that locks-in a profit --where the price I pay (called the debit) is less than the strike price of the option. For example, if the stock is at $38 and I write $30 calls I will pay less than $30 for the combination (perhaps $29.80). My lock-in profit is this case is 0.20 per share. You need a fair amount of captial to make this worthwhile... I try to sell options that are well in the money (high intrinsic worth) because this protects my investment (Delta approx. -1) and increases the odds that the option will be assigned when the stock goes ex-dividend. If the option is assigned my position is automatically closed out and I immediate get lock-in profit (minus commisions of course). If the option is not assigned, I get the dividend from the stock, but the option price jumps up in the short term to negate that benefit. You have to wait (and tie up your money) until the option expires to get your full profit out in that case.

Some notes:
  1. It's you against the computers. The market makers seem to make a decision whether they are going to allow any profit lock-in (buy/write with debit less that option strike price) on a stock by stock basis. On very high dividend stocks this is a given. When you get into the stocks yielding around 2% per year it looks less consistent.
  2. If the bid value is near or above the breakeven value you are good to go. You can hope to split the spread or better. The longest I have seen a successful trade take is about an hour. Most of the time it goes pretty quick--making you feel like you have left money on the table.
  3. So far I have seen the buy/write stuff work well when the market makers are willing to play. Otherwise you better be willing to take a loss up front and hope your options don't get assigned. I'll be looking closely that that assignment data in the next couple of days.
  4. The big open issue right now is whether the options where the market makers are playing are going to be assigned. If not I will see the option volatility jump up and it could take until the options expire to get out with my profit (but it will be the buy/write profit plus the dividend)

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