Options

Options Trading: Speculation or Income Producing?

By Lee Lowell  |  March 13, 2019

Many of the individuals I speak with about options trading will typically tell me that they use them for one reason: speculating on a big stock move.

“Might as well risk a small amount of money,” they say.

In other words, in case they’re wrong, they don’t have too much at stake.

I can get onboard with that if it’s a one-time thing, and they feel like taking a gamble. It’s no different than buying a lottery ticket. Hey, we all like to dream every once in awhile.

But when the activity becomes a long-term habit (which I see more often than not), then it becomes an issue.

Let me give you the reasons why I’m not a fan of buying options (speculating) on a big stock move.

Guessing A Stock’s Price Is Hard!

When investors buy a stock, they typically have an idea of where the stock is headed – up.

Obviously! Otherwise, they wouldn’t buy it.

But when buying options contracts, you need to have more than just a general directional opinion. You need to have an exact price in mind.

Fine, you could do that. But can you really?

Seriously, you know what price the stock will move to?

On top of that, to win when buying options, you need the stock to move to your predicted price within the time allotted – the expiration date. Unless you have a crystal ball (you don’t!), then predicting the where and when of a stock move is tough, tough, tough!

Here’s an example:

Shares of Gap, Inc. (NYSE: GPS) are currently trading near $26 per share.

Your thoughts are that it will rally again, surpassing recent highs near $35 per share.

Instead of buying 100 shares at its current price of $26 and spending $2,600, your inner cheapskate tells you to buy a September 2019 $35 call option for a measly $0.35 per contract.

Based on the $100 option multiplier, that call option purchase will cost you a grand total of $35 ($0.35 x $100 multiplier).

That’s $2,565 less than buying the shares outright – a discount of 98.7%.

You think, “heck yeah I’ll make that trade.”

Here’s why I’m not a fan: you won’t see a profit on the trade until GPS trades above $35.35 ($35 strike price + $0.35 option cost) if you hold it until the September expiration date.

Are you sure GPS can rally that much in six month’s time?

Let’s check the odds:

Based on the trusty probability calculator, GPS has less than an 8% chance of rallying that much by September. Said another way, there’s a 92% chance that it won’t.

Those are horrible odds.

“But I’m only risking $35,” you say.  Yes, that’s not much, but when you do it over and over and over again, the losses pile up. Eventually, you’ll end up walking away from the game altogether.

What happens if GPS rallies to $34.90 by September expiration?

Well, since the stock price remained below $35, the option will expire worthless and the buyer will lose their $35 investment. That’s you.

On the other hand, shareholders will see a nice appreciation of $8.90 per share, offering a gain of $890. Options buyers – you – got squat.

In a sense, length of the trade is another reason why it can cost you.

Most option buyers typically hold the trade all the way to expiration to squeeze as much time out of it as possible. But this action could cause them to miss taking potential early profits.

Did you know you could close out an option trade before expiration? Some investors don’t, and that could be a big mistake.

Once again, what if GPS rallies to $34.90 next month but then falls back to $26 a few weeks later?

If you didn’t pounce and lock in early profits, you’d give back those paper gains.

You might think: what’s the point of closing out a trade early when there’s months left before it expires? That’s like paying for a full-day park pass but leaving after only one hour. You might miss out on hours of enjoyment.

Yes, that’s true, and it’s the thinking of most option buyers. Still, in the end, the stock will rarely hit the predicted level and they walk away losing their bet.

Income Producing Is Better

As you know, I’m a big proponent of selling options, as opposed to buying them. Most of the articles I write in The Rich Investor focus on option-selling techniques that can produce current income.

When you’re the seller of an option, you get the cash upfront from the option buyer. This gives you current income, much like a dividend check.

And by playing the odds, most likely the option will expire worthless, allowing you to win on a very large amount of the trades.

This is one of the most important reasons why I sell options: the sheer fact that I can take advantage of the odds – specifically the high odds of profiting.

Although I wouldn’t be a seller of naked call options, I wrote just last week (see here) how you can produce current income by selling covered calls.

And in my Instant Income Alert service , we sell put options on high quality stocks that not only produce current income, but also allows us the opportunity to buy those stocks at really attractive prices should we want to.

Many investors don’t know you can sell options, as they’ve only heard about buying them. It’s a disservice to them, as option-selling is a great way to create ongoing cash flow.

But if you’re still inclined to buy options, have a look here at the only option-buying technique I endorse.

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Lee Lowell

A former Wall Street insider and floor trader, Lee Lowell has worked in the market for nearly 30 years now. He began his option trading career in 1991on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) in New York City.MORE FROM AUTHOR