Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Option Writing For Passive Income

As I've written about in the past, my real estate partner doesn't have enough deals to invest in, so I've been looking for alternate places to put my funds to work. I was toying with the idea of investing in RealtyShares. I think this is a viable option for the future, but right now I need my funds to be a little bit more liquid. I'm looking to buy a house after our move to Washington. The funds I am investing are technically my Tesla funds, but the housing market is so crazy here, I may need to borrow from them, so I don't want to lock them up for an extended amount of time. (More on this is a later post.)

Enter Option Investing

I have already traded options for passive income in the past. What I did then was sell covered calls. When you sell a call, you are giving someone the right to buy the stock from you at a certain price within a certain amount of time. It's called covered because you already own the shares you have promised to sell. (If you didn't own them, it would be called a naked call.)

Selling Covered Calls

Covered call selling is about the safest way to use options to generate additional income from a stock. In return for agreeing to sell the stock to someone at a certain price, that someone pays you a fee, called the option premium. If the expiration date arrives and the stock is trading above the price you agreed to sell it at, the option buyer makes money because you have agreed to sell them the stock at a price below the current market value. You lose out on any additional gains above what you agreed to sell for. If the stock is trading below the agreed on option price, you get to keep the money the option buyer paid you and your stock (since it would be cheaper for the option buyer to buy the stock on the open market then from your agreed upon higher price).

Here's an example of a trade I actually made back in 2007 and wrote about on my old blog:

I sold 5 March 17 calls with a strike price of 55 for $1.25 per share per contract. One contract is good to buy 100 shares of stock, so I've sold someone the right to buy 500 shares of SFI from me at $55 per share on or before March 17. For this right, they paid me $625, or $1.25 per share times 500 shares. If the stock price on March 17 is below $55 per share, their contract is worthless (since they can buy the shares on the open market for less). If it is above $55, then they can exercise their contract and I must sell them the shares at $55 per share. But because they have already paid me $1.25 per share for the option, I actually make $56.25 per share.

Obviously, I hope the price on March 17 is below $55, but even if it isn't, I'm not worried. It can go up to $56.25 and I still won't be losing money.

In that case, the options expired out of the money (meaning at the option expiration date, the stock was under $55/share) and I was able to keep the premium I collected and did not have to sell the stock.

 Selling Naked Puts

A few months ago, I read a couple of posts over at Early Retirement Now where they talked about another strategy - selling naked puts. (I recommend you read their posts, as they go into much more detail than I will.)

In a nutshell, when you sell a put, you are agreeing to buy stock from someone at a specified price, even if the price on the open market is lower. For the person buying the put, this represents insurance against price drops. Even if the price drops to zero, they have a contract to sell it to someone at a higher price.

But for the person selling the put, i.e., the person guaranteeing to buy the stock at a certain price, this represents a potential loss. If the stock price does drop, they would have to buy the stock at the higher price. Why would you want this?

Well, as the folks over at Early Retirement Now point out, many mutual fund managers are highly risk averse and don't want to take any losses, so there is a big market for puts. If you can get a good price, the risk vs. reward ratio can be good enough to make this an attractive offer for the put seller.

There are some things the put seller can do to minimize the risk. Most importantly, keep the length of the option contract as short as possible. The folks at ERN trade futures options with an expiration date one week out. I don't have the funds required to do that, so I'm trading options on common stock with a one month expiration date. I'm also only selling puts on stocks I am willing to own and hold. In my case, this means Realty Income, my favorite REIT.

By the way, if you want to sell puts and you have the cash to cover any purchase you might be forced to make, you should ask for your brokerage account to be approved for cash-backed naked put selling. This is one of the option trading levels available at most brokerages.

My Trade

I made a spreadsheet to make the calculations easier. Here's a screenshot:

Click to enlarge

What I am really trying to do is get a certain rate of return. In most investments, you calculate the rate of return by taking the income or profit received divided by the amount of money you invested, then converting that percentage to a yearly percentage figure. But when you sell a naked put, this formula can't be used.

Why? Because I really haven't invested any money! I simply received money in exchange for promising to buy stock from someone at a certain price. I have incurred no out of pocket expense. You can't divide by zero, so how do you calculate the rate of return in this case?

I did some research and there are a couple different methods people use, but the one I settled on is this: you treat the money you would be forced to spend to buy the stock at the specified price as your investment.

So, looking at the spreadsheet above, the cells highlighted in green indicate the cash I would need to spend if my puts were called (i.e., if I was forced to buy the stock at the option strike price).

With that definition out of the way, we can go over the rest of the spreadsheet. The first couple of cells show the date of the trade, the expiration date of the option contract, and how far away that is in days and years. I also enter the current stock price, the total amount of cash I have in my account, and how many option contracts I want to sell. (One contract controls 100 shares of stock.)

The cells in the next column contain commission data and the dividend data of the underlying stock, used in calculations later.

The bottom rows of cells is where the calculations are performed. I enter two strike prices and the price those puts are selling for. The next column, net stock cost if called, gives me the net price per share I would pay, taking into account the option premium I receive. In the case of the 55 put, I was paid a $0.55 per share premium, so if my put was called and I had to buy, I would actually only be paying $54.45 per share ($55 - $0.55).

The Net Income cell shows my how much cash I get from selling the number of contracts specified above (5) minus the various commissions and fees.

The two yield columns tell me what my rate of return is. This is calculated using the cash needed if called figures (green cells) and the time until expiration fields. One value is straight percentage and the other is an annualized return (per annum, or p.a.).

The two fields for stock dividend yield don't play much of a role in my decision to sell a put, but are more for informational purposes. They calculate the dividend yield of the stock at the strike price and at the strike price taking into account the premium I received from selling the put. As I said, I'm only doing this with stocks I would be happy to own, so I like to see what my dividend yield would be if my option is called and I had to buy the stock.

My Criteria

In order for me to sell a put, I'm looking for an annualized return of at least 8%. As you can see above, the 55 put meets this criteria. In fact, this spreadsheet shows an actual trade I made.

As long as Realty Income stock is trading above $55 on September 15, I get to keep the $266.70 I received for selling the put and I don't have to buy any stock. Then I can sell another put the following month.

I'll keep you posted on how this turns out.


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