Monthly Archives: November 2011
Synthetic Long Stock
Options can be used to create positions that act like the underlying investment. Every underlying, option and complex option position has a synthetic equivalent. In other words the tactical option investor can put together option positions that will act in a similar fashion to another option or underlying position. We’ll start with a simple one the synthetic long stock position. A synthetic long stock position will act like owning a long position in an underlying investment whether it’s an individual stock or an ETF. A synthetic long stock consists of a short put combined with a long call. Remember we used the long call position when we wanted to participate in the upside of the market and have limited exposure to the downside. We used the short naked put position to accumulate shares of stock. The naked put has profit potential limited to the premium received for the put if the market makes a large move to the upside the investor does not participate. The long call will participate in a large upside move, but will decay over time if the market is flat, and of course will decline in value if the market goes down. The synthetic long stock is generally put on for a credit when the investor is willing to take on the full risk of stock ownership. They can also be put on for a debit. The short put is sold and the long call is purchased. The tactical option investor is targeting an underlying that they are willing to own if it goes below the strike price of the put, but also wants exposure to the upside to participate in gains if the underlying makes a large upside move. For example say we want a long position in the S&P 500 index. We could purchase 100 shares of SPY for about $13,400. Or, we could sell a LEAP put and buy a LEAP call that expires in about one year, January 2012. The 130 put is currently priced at $8.15 and the 135 call is priced at $8.05. This trade would be opened for a net credit of .10 or $10 for one contract. The margin requirement would be 20% of 130 or $2,600. That means that the difference between the cost of the 100 shares of SPY and the margin requirement for the synthetic long stock position, the $10,800, could be invested in a safe interest bearing Treasury bond for the duration of the trade. It provides for a better use of capital. If the SPY is below in a year we’ll purchase the shares at 130 plus our credit for a net cost of $129.90. Between 130 and 135 we’ll keep the $10. Above 135 we keep the initial credit plus any price above 135. If the S&P has a 10% gain for the year. It would close at $147.95. The profit from the synthetic would be $1,305, which is a 50% gain on the margin requirement, plus the interest on the $10,800 which was set aside in a treasury obligation. At today’s low interest rates the return on the bond is not that much, but in a higher rate environment it can add up. If rates were at 5% the return would be $540 at 1% the return is only $108. The key point is that a 10% move in the market gave us a 50% gain on the margin requirement and the risk is the same. If you just bought the 100 shares outright and paid $13,400 you’d still have a nice gain of $1,395 or 10%.
What is an option? An option is a contract written on an underlying investment vehicle. There are options on stocks, futures, indexes and exchange traded funds. We are going to focus on stock and ETF options. There are two types of option contracts, call and put. There are also two parties to each contract, the buyer of the option also known as the holder and the seller of the option who is also known as the writer. The holder of a call option has the right but not the obligation to purchase the underlying. The writer of a call has the obligation to sell the underlying. The holder of a put has the right to sell the underlying, while the writer of a put has the obligation to purchase the underlying. In market jargon if you buy an option you are considered to be long that option contract. Similarly if you sell an option you are considered to be short that option contract. If you sell and are short the option you can be either covered or uncovered. The market term for uncovered option positions is naked. So if you sell a call on a stock where you already own the underlying you are considered to be covered and that is known as a covered call. If you sell a call and do not own the underlying then you are short a naked call and the risk is potentially unlimited. Remember if you buy a call you have the right to buy the underlying stock at the strike price of your call contract. If you sell a call you are required to deliver the underlying stock at the strike price of the call contract. If you sell a naked call and the stock price rises dramatically due to a merger announcement or new product announcement the losses can be severe. If you have seen options literature that suggests you can have 90% winners that is the kind of risk they are taking on. There are always option contracts available that have a 90% probability of being out of the money at expiration. It’s the 10% that end up in the money that create substantial losses. Tactical option investors who use options to manage and enhance returns on stock and ETF portfolios control risk at all times. We do not use positions ever that have unlimited risk even if the probability of success is very high. When we employ option positions it is to enhance the performance of our portfolio and we are always aware of the risk we have at all times and only use option positions that have a defined risk. There are only two types of option contracts, call and put but they can be put together in numerous ways to create complex positions based on one’s outlook for the market. There are spreads, straddles, strangles, butterflies, condors and more. Later on we’ll discuss the various strategies, how they relate to market conditions and how they can be strategically employed along with an existing portfolio.