How a Covered Call Works for a Small Investor

On the famous Friday the 13th, I was scrolling my Twitter account. I felt like talking to people and answering my opinion on various investment issues and the market in general.

I saw a post (I’m not going to mention names because I didn’t ask for permission) where he mentioned covered calls, one of his primary sources of income through his investment portfolio.

Among the comments, there was one that caught my attention and said:

“I’m still learning. I have a $50 call on Verizon ($VZ) which expires in June of next year. Is there a better way to do this than buy and wait?”

I answered:

“Yes. Sell weekly or monthly covered calls. You’ll get income every month apart from dividends every three months (Verizon pays quarterly dividends). Reinvest profits. A call that expires in a year freezes your money.”

He tells me:

“Could you explain a covered call to me like I’m 6 years old? I understand calls and puts perfectly. I don’t understand anything beyond that. So I did that option really to learn and because it was so cheap. So I thought, why not?

I want to say I congratulate you and Thank you very much.

I congratulate you because not many dare to accept that they still do not have the necessary knowledge and are afraid to ask for help, especially in public, as is the Twitter network.

Thank you very much because I just got back from vacation from the island of Puerto Rico and I wasn’t sure what to write. You allow me to help you and others in a similar learning position.

Let’s do it this way first, I’ll give an example of a child investor, then I’ll cover what a covered call is, its risks and benefits, and I’ll finish with two real-life examples that I’m actively managing.

Key takeaways:

* What is a ‘covered call’?

* Risks of this strategy

* Benefits of this strategy

* Real examples

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The Small Investor

You’re 6 years old, and you buy 100 hot-wheels cars for $2. However, you want to sell them in the future at a higher price. A ‘covered call‘ gives you the option to sell them at a higher price in the future while earning you income while keeping the cars in your possession.

Therefore, you sell the option to Juanito to buy the cars from you for $2.50 if the cars are worth $2.50 or more in the future. Juanito pays you a credit, let’s say $0.50, for having the opportunity to buy those cars.

At a stipulated date in the future, say a month from now, one of two things will happen.

1. Cars are worth $2.50 or more. Juanito returns to you to buy the cars. He takes your cars and pays you the $2.50. You keep the $0.50 he paid you for the contract and receive the $2.50 per car in cash.

You have the cash and credit to go back and make another investment. You generated a profit of $0.50 per car ($2.50 sale price – $2 cost) plus the $0.50 credit.

2. Cars have not yet increased in value above $2.50. The contract expires. Since it is not worth more than $2.50, Juanito will not want to exercise his contract since he can get the cars at a lower price. Juanito loses $0.50 that you keep for yourself.

So you keep the $0.50 contract and keep your cars in your possession. It allows you to make a new contract for the next month, generating more income while you continue to reduce the cost of your cars.

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What is a ‘covered call’?

It is an income strategy that helps investors generate income in addition to dividends (if the company pays dividends) and capital gains on the stocks or ETFs that you already manage in your portfolio.

Risks of ‘covered calls’

There are two types of risks:

1. The most considerable risk we incur is that we limit our profits on price appreciation.

For example, we buy 100 shares at $45 and sell a call at $50. We limit our earnings to $5 per share ($50 – $45) plus the credit we receive. If the stock rises above $50, the person who bought the call will exercise their option to buy $50 from us and sell it at the current market price.

2. The other type of risk is if the share price falls too low from where we buy because the further the price is from our effective cost, the credit we receive also decreases.

Benefits of ‘covered calls’

1. Selling ‘covered calls’ provides weekly or monthly income depending on the company. Some companies, like Verizon, sell weekly options. Others, like MPLX LP, sell options on a month-to-month basis.

2. Regardless of what price does after selling a covered call, the credit we receive is ours to do with as we please.

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Possible results

When we sell ‘covered calls,’ there are 2 possibilities:

1. The stock price rises more than the price established by our sale. At this point, the buyer is very likely to exercise his option and take our shares. Then, automatically, the equivalent of the money appears in our account as cash, and our shares disappear.

In this example, we realize capital gains plus any credit we have received. Now we start looking for another investment to repeat the process.

2. The share price remains below the established price by our sale. At this point, the option loses most or all of its value, generating our credit income, and we keep our shares intact so we can repeat the process.

In this example, we have 2 options:

          a. We can wait for the option to expire and go up into the options heaven. It happens on Fridays, either weekly or monthly depending on the availability of the options. Then, when the market opens the following Monday after the expiration, we go back to sell another call with a new expiration date in the future.

b. We can do what is called a ‘roll over’ of the position, which means that we buy/close the current position before it expires for a low price between $1 to $5 and sell/open a new position for a credit to a new date in the future.

As an investor, it is up to you to decide which options to execute. It is your portfolio, and you must manage it your way. Both options are feasible.

Real examples:

Before we get into the examples, there are 2 requirements for this to work.

1. You must be authorized to buy and sell options.

2. You must be able to buy at least 100 shares of the company of your interest.

Each option consists of 100 shares. Therefore, if you do not have at least 100 shares in your portfolio, you cannot sell options contracts against that position. The part that refers to ‘covered’ means that your 100 shares are collateral for that position.

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MPLX LP ($MPLX)

1. The ex-dividend date for MPLX LP ($MPLX) was May 5, 22. If we wanted to receive its dividend, we had to buy the shares on May 4. That’s precisely what I did.

On May 4th, I bought 100 shares at $33 for an investment of $3,300. I sold the $33 call expiring May 20, 22, for a $40 credit.

It left me with two options:

1) the price closes below $33, and I keep the $40 credit and the shares to receive the $70 dividend ($0.70 dividend * 100 shares). By keeping the shares, I could continue to sell covered calls in the future.

2) the price closes above $33, and my shares get assigned to the person who bought my call. So I had $3,300 deposited into my account, and my shares disappeared.

The second option was what happened.

For a couple of hours of holding the stock, I received a $40 credit. After that, the shares disappeared, and my $3,300 returned to my account as cash. It left me with $3,340 to repeat the process.

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Intel Corporation ($INTC)

Like $MPLX, Intel Corporation had an ex-dividend date of May 5, but the difference is that $INTC has options available weekly.

So on May 3rd, I bought 100 shares for $45.40 for an investment of $4,540. I sold the call expiring on May 6 at $46 for a $38 credit.

Since the price of $INTC was below $46 on May 6, the option’s value lost the vast majority of its value, falling to $3. Therefore, I decided to roll over that position before the end of the day, buying the position for $3 and selling/opening a new position for $54 credit expiring May 13.

The price of $INTC is down, with the rest of the market hovering around $43.64 at yesterday’s close. Therefore, I did another ‘rollover,’ closing the position for $2 and selling/opening another position expiring on May 20th for a credit of $27.

I currently have a loss in the value of $INTC shares of ($176). However, I have received $114 in credits in two weeks. Here is the breakdown:

Credit: $38

Debit: $3

Credit: $54

Debit: $2

Credit: $27

Adding the credits ($119) and subtracting the debits ($5) gives us $114. Add to this the dividend of $36.50 ($0.365 dividend * 100 shares) that I will receive on June 1 since I held the shares as of May 5, and we have a total of $150.50 ($114 + $36.50).

I will keep doing this process until, in the future, the price of $INTC recovers to $46 or higher. Then, my shares get assigned to someone else, giving me my money back in the form of cash and allowing me to start the process with a new position either at $INTC or another company.

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Note: We have several things to keep in mind.

1. If we want to keep our shares, depending on the price recovers, we can sell ‘covered calls’ at higher prices like $48, $50, etc. Not only does this continue to leave us weekly or monthly income through credits, but we also ensure more significant capital gains.

2. If the stock price continues to decline with the market, two things can happen:

          a. Credits decrease if we continue to sell covered calls at the same price we started.

          b. We are forced to sell covered calls at lower prices than initially started. It decreases the capital gain when shares get assigned to someone else. However, the credits must be higher since we are approaching the current share price.

I hope this can help you understand and learn other ways to make money in the market. If you want to read from other sources, click on this Investopedia link.

Now, begin your Road to Wealth!

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