Why Your Biggest Payout Could Arrive At Expiration… and Not Before

It’s easy to worry about when to exercise your trades.

Especially when you’re new to options.

If you exit your position too early, you could miss out on huge profits.

But if you wait too long, and the stock ends up in-the-money…

Then there’s a chance that the options will be exercised, and you’ll be assigned the shares.

The key is knowing when to make your move.

And while, normally, I’m happy to take a double on my trades right away…

There are times when it pays to wait all the way until expiration.

Let me show you the perfect example:

Waiting Until Expiration Could Deliver the Greatest Rewards

When you’re looking at the type of volatility that we’ve seen all year, the idea of holding a position right up until its expiration date may make not seem like the best idea.

Many traders believe that in-the-money options have a greater risk of getting assigned at expiration, which means that they’ll need to cover the cost of the assigned shares. And this can drive them to exit their positions before expiration.

But we’re going examine how this really works using a bull call spread – or loophole trade– as our case study.

Remember a bull call spread is a bullish strategy where you buy calls at a low strike price while simultaneously selling the same number of calls at a higher strike price. The calls all have the same expiration date.

In the case of an in-the-money bull call spread, the calls that you sold at a higher strike price would normally get exercised, and the stock would normally get assigned to your account. However, since you also bought calls to hedge against the ones you sold -these should be exercised at the same time and at the same strike price.

And the best part…

Since there’s no transaction cost for this trade, your account is credited the amount of the spread (per contract) minus the cost of the calls you bought when you opened the trade (or the debit).

Let’s get started…

We’re going to look at The Priceline Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: PCLN) PCLN February 19, 2016 $1130/$1140 Call Spread for two reasons:

  1. The pattern and statistics Money Calendar gave me showed an average upward price movement in nine of the last 10 years using an end date of February 25. This means that for 90% of the time, PCLN has made a bullish move by February 25. For this reason, the expiration date we’re using is February 19.
  2.  PCLN has a recent history of strong price movements after its earnings reports are released.

Now we opened the trade with a debit of $4.00 per contract (or $400 per contract). Since this is a call spread, we bought-to-open the $1130 calls and sold-to-open the $1140 calls simultaneously on the same ticket.

To maximize our profitability on this trade, PCLN needs to be at least $0.01 in-the-money at expiration. If this happens, then we’re looking at a reward potential of $6.00 when the trade is executed.

Below is an image of this trade. To make things even easier, I’ve numbered the graph as follows:

  1. The date the trade was opened
  2. The sideways movement and subsequent drop before its earnings announcement
  3. The price pop after the earnings announcement

Now remember that for every position you take on a trade, there’s someone else on the other side of that trade.

So to close this position, we’d actually have to reverse our orders by selling-to-close our $1130 calls and buying-to-close our $1140 calls simultaneously on the same order ticket.

And this is when a lot of beginner traders – especially those who are new to spreads- feel compelled to close the trade before the expiration date. Understandably, many fear that the options will get exercised, thereby assigning the stock to them.

But here’s why being patient and not shutting this trade down early pays off…

Take a look at where this trade stands right now:ppt2

If we were to sell-to-close the $1130 calls, we’d get 102.40. If we were to buy-to-close the $1140 calls, we could get them at 96.60, resulting in a credit of $5.80 to the account. Subtract the debit of $4.00 to open the trade and we’re looking at a profit potential of $1.80 – which is a 45% return of investment (ROI).

That’s not bad…

But, when we’re this far in-the-money, the likelihood of the stock remaining above $1140 at expiration is pretty high. And if this happens at expiration, the trade will be closed, and we’ll get the difference between the strike prices that we bought and sold the calls – $10.

This means that we’re debiting the cost to open the trade of $4.00 from our $10 credit, resulting in a profit of $6 per contract (or $600).

This is a 150% return on investment compared to the 45% ROI we would have made by closing this trade before expiration.

And with a number like that, it pays to be patient.

Here’s Your Trading Lesson Summary

One of the hardest parts of trading options is knowing when to exercise your position. It can be tempting to close your trades before expiration. But there are times when it simply pays off the most to wait until the expiration date.

Until next time…

Good Trading,

Tom Gentile

7 Responses to “Why Your Biggest Payout Could Arrive At Expiration… and Not Before”

  1. Hi, thanks for the comments… Closing a spread out at 9.90 is fantastic when you still have a day to expiration. As good as it gets in my book. Many times however you wont get anything close to max until expiration, so it makes sense that if your that deep in the money to just let it expire if you cant get something like that… congrats!

    Also Vickie, its a bit confusing, because on one hand the trading floors will not accept GTC orders but brokers will still allow them to be used on their trading platforms.


  2. PCLN worked out great for my trading as a proof of concept. The GILD did not meet the mark on either side and was a looser but I learned the concept. Unfortunately for my account the NFLX was not properly entered as was a bit of a disastrous matter – but I do see what I did incorrectly so it was a learning experience. Generally this seems a fine tool set in trading.

  3. When the spread is fully in the money, the sold call is closer to at the money than the purchased call, so it has more time value (hence you get less than the difference when selling the spread early). Selling at (or very near) expiration date (depending on how far in the money) can get you almost the full spread.

    tdameritrade charges commissions on the stock transactions, but they’re less than on the option transactions.

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