One Great Reason To Learn Vertical Option Spreads

This message goes out to all of the naked put sellers.

For a moment, say the market has made an extended higher in your favor.

There is a good chance you are getting a little nervous.

Will the rally keep going, and if not, how I can protect my current position without too much impact on your ‘potential’ profit.

Questions like these are the most common questions concerning short naked options.

When you turn a naked option into something more risk-defined, you may be able to gain additional option buying power -while- taking some of the risk off of the table.

There is no doubt that selling naked options can be a lucrative strategy, it is not for beginners or the weak of heart.

Naked options are capital intensive because of margin requirements to hold onto these positions.



The risk of a naked call is infinite. Which in dollars and cents means you can lose WAY more than most people are comfortable losing.

Alternately a short naked put’s risk is determined by how far the option’s strike price is from zero.

There is, however, a way to turn naked options into risk-defined positions and free up capital at the same time.

The strategy: a vertical spread.

Naked Short Option into a Vertical Spread? Take a Leg

By definition, a call vertical spread is long one call option and short another call option at a different strike price in the same underlying asset, in the same expiration cycle. Similarly, a put vertical spread is long one put option and short another put option at a different strike price in the same underlying asset, in the same expiration cycle.

Usually, both legs of a vertical spread are established simultaneously, but you can create the same position by buying an option that’s further out of the money than the existing short option position.

Here’s an example to illustrate. Let’s say a week ago you sold one naked 20 Apr 67-strike put (“20 Apr” represents that particular option’s expiration, which in this case is on April 20th. The “67” represents the strike price of the option) in XYZ stock. Suppose you sold it for $1.25, and now it’s trading at $1.10. The position is working in your favor, but you would like to reduce your risk and lower the margin requirement without closing the position.

Short Put Vertical Spread

In this case, you could buy a 20 Apr 62-strike put for $0.25, which would create an XYZ 20 Apr 67/62 short put vertical spread, for a net credit of $1.00. The result is a risk-defined short put vertical with a risk of $400 per contract (plus transaction costs)

Note: The risk of a short vertical is determined by the difference between the strike prices, minus the net credit received, times 100, which is the multiplier for standard U.S. equity options. So, for this spread:

((67-62) – ($1.25 – $0.25)) x 100 = $400 in risk and a potential profit of $100 (minus transaction costs).

And Here’s the Kicker: Margin Reduction

The original margin requirement for selling a 67-strike cash-secured put is its strike price, less the credit received, times the multiplier, or:

($67 – $1.25) x 100 = $6,575. The new margin requirement for the short 67/62 put vertical spread is the difference between the strikes x $100, or: (67-62) x $100 = $500.

In this example, turning the naked short put into a put vertical spread lowered your potential profit by $25, but reduced your margin requirement by a whopping $6,075 per contract!



Margin and Levels of Options Approval

Without full options approval (Level 3), you cannot sell naked puts and instead must sell puts that are cash-secured, which is capital intensive.

By the way, selling cash-secured puts requires Tier 1 option approval or higher. The margin on one cash-secured put is determined by multiplying the strike price of the put by $100 and subtracting the credit received. For example, if you sold one cash-secured put with a strike price of 50 for $1, you would have to put up ($5,000 – $100) = $4,900 in margin to place the trade. That’s a large sum to tie up when the max profit potential is $100.

Naked calls cannot be sold without full options approval because of their infinite risk.

Stocks or other underlying assets have unlimited upside—theoretically, they could rise to infinity. This risk is transferred to short naked calls because they are unhedged.

Capital preservation is one of the cornerstones of responsible options trading. By vastly reducing a margin requirement, you’re making funds available for your next trading opportunity. The intensive capital requirements associated with selling naked options can even be cost-prohibitive for those with full options approval.

So the next time you’re short a naked option and are looking for some extra option-buying power, think about turning your short option into a risk-defined vertical spread.

The naked put strategy includes a high risk of purchasing the corresponding stock at the strike price when the market price of the stock will likely be lower.

Spreads and other multiple-leg option strategies can entail substantial transaction costs, including multiple commissions, which may impact any potential return.


h/t: Ameritrade

— The Option Specialist

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About the Author: The Option Specialist