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It’s an Option: Increase Buying Power with Stock Replacement

Want to participate in the potential upside of a stock while using only a fraction of the buying power? Here’s how to do it with a long-dated call option.

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https://tickertapecdn.tdameritrade.com/assets/images/pages/md/Replacement is a bright idea: It's like changing a light bulb. Here's how to switch stock for a long-dated call option.
3 min read

Suppose an investor wants to buy 100 shares of a stock. Let’s say it’s a high-priced stock trading at $109, for example. It would cost an investor just over $10,900 (100 shares x $109) plus transaction costs to acquire those 100 shares.

But what if I told you that a simple, risk-defined option strategy potentially allows investors to participate in virtually the same way as buying the stock, but for a fraction of the cost and with a fraction of the downside risk?

Intrigued? Excited? You should be. Because this simple strategy can potentially allow smaller accounts to participate in higher-priced stocks, and larger accounts to increase volume with decreased margin and defined risk.

buying high-priced stocks

FIGURE 1: HIGH-PRICED STOCKS REQUIRE LOTS OF CAPITAL.

Buying 100 shares of a stock trading at $109. Data source: NYSE. Image source: the TD Ameritrade thinkorswim® platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Replacing Stock with Options

Stock replacement is a strategy where instead of buying a stock, an investor can buy a long-dated call option to “replace” the underlying stock. This strategy enables the investor to participate in the potential upside of a stock, but using only a fraction of the margin or buying power that would be required in an outright stock purchase.

For example, buying 100 shares of a $109 stock would cost just over $10,900. However, buying a January 2017 100 call option (with a 67 delta) would cost only $1,960 ($19.60 x 100) plus transaction costs. The $1,960 paid for one January 2017 100 call is about 82% less capital than the amount required to buy 100 shares of the stock.

Analyzing the Risks and Potential Rewards

The risk of the call is defined by the premium paid for the option plus transaction costs. Meanwhile, investors in the call have potentially unlimited upside, just as they would if they owned the stock, but with only a fraction of the downside risk.

long-dated call option versus stock

FIGURE 2: STOCK VERSUS LONG-DATED CALL OPTION.

This risk profile displays some of the differences in buying a $109 stock or buying a long-dated call option on the same stock. Data sources: NYSE, CBOE. Chart source: the TD Ameritrade thinkorswim® platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

One drawback to this strategy is if the stock pays a dividend, especially a relatively high dividend. The owner of a long-dated call option is not entitled to receive any stock dividends. Also, as with all long call strategies, there is a negative theta, or time decay, component that presents a risk.

Taking Stock Replacement to the Next Level

Now that you’ve learned how to replace buying a stock with a long-dated call option, let’s take it a step further and learn how to reduce the cost basis and theta risk of the long-dated call option. This can be achieved by selling a short-dated call option against the long-dated January 2017 call.

For example: an investor could sell an April 2016 115 call for $1.20 ($1.20 x 100) minus transaction costs. Now instead of having negative theta, the trade becomes a bullish diagonal spread. The risk profile of a bullish diagonal is similar to the covered call strategy. The bullish diagonal has positive theta decay and it reduces the cost basis of the long-dated call, all while working in the favor of an investor with a bullish posture.

Let’s break down some important factors pertaining to this risk-defined strategy. Considering the strike prices (100 long-dated call, 115 short-dated call) in this sample trade, it’s a bullish strategy with a target price equal to the strike of the short-dated call at 115 up until April expiration. There’s still downside exposure, but it’s a fraction of the risk compared to buying 100 shares of the stock. 

Further, an investor could roll or close the short option prior to expiration, particularly if they think the stock might hold steady. In fact, investors could implement a rolling strategy, which could be used many more times based on the January 2017 expiration of the long-dated call.

To sum it all up, this is a defined-risk strategy to control overall cost basis while still maintaining a directional posture. The stock example we looked at is simply for illustration—this strategy is indifferent to underlying stocks.

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Spreads, Straddles, and other multiple-leg option strategies can entail substantial transaction costs, including multiple commissions, which may impact any potential return. These are advanced option strategies and often involve greater risk, and more complex risk, than basic options trades.

Rolling strategies can entail substantial transaction costs, including multiple commissions, which may impact any potential return.

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Market volatility, volume, and system availability may delay account access and trade executions.

Past performance of a security or strategy does not guarantee future results or success.

Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options.

Supporting documentation for any claims, comparisons, statistics, or other technical data will be supplied upon request.

The information is not intended to be investment advice or construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular investment or investment strategy, and is for illustrative purposes only. Be sure to understand all risks involved with each strategy, including commission costs, before attempting to place any trade. Clients must consider all relevant risk factors, including their own personal financial situations, before trading.

This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business or where such offer or solicitation would be contrary to the local laws and regulations of that jurisdiction, including, but not limited to persons residing in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UK, and the countries of the European Union.

TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2018 TD Ameritrade.

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