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Long Call Spread

AKA Bull Call Spread; Long Vertical Spread

The Setup

  • Buy a call, strike price A
  • Sell a call, strike price B
  • Generally, the stock will be at or above strike A and below strike B

NOTE: Both options have the same expiration month.

Who Should Run It

Veterans and higher

When to Run It

You’re bullish, but you have an upside target.

The Sweet Spot

You want the stock to be at or above strike B at expiration, but not so far that you’re disappointed you didn’t simply buy a call on the underlying stock. But look on the bright side if that does happen — you played it smart and made a profit, and that’s always a good thing.

About the Security

Options are contracts which control underlying assets, oftentimes stock. It is possible to buy (own or long) or sell (“write” or short) an option to initiate a position. Options are traded through a broker, like TradeKing, who charges a commission when buying or selling option contracts.

Options: The Basics is a great place to start when learning about options. Before trading options carefully consider your objectives, the risks, transaction costs and fees.

The Strategy

A long call spread gives you the right to buy stock at strike price A and obligates you to sell the stock at strike price B if assigned.

This strategy is an alternative to buying a long call. Selling a cheaper call with higher-strike B helps to offset the cost of the call you buy at strike A. That ultimately limits your risk. The bad news is, to get the reduction in risk, you’re going to have to sacrifice some potential profit.

Maximum Potential Profit

Potential profit is limited to the difference between strike A and strike B minus the net debit paid.

Maximum Potential Loss

Risk is limited to the net debit paid.

Break-even at Expiration

Strike A plus net debit paid.

TradeKing Margin Requirements

After the trade is paid for, no additional margin is required.

As Time Goes By

For this strategy, the net effect of time decay is somewhat neutral. It’s eroding the value of the option you purchased (bad) and the option you sold (good).

Implied Volatility

After the strategy is established, the effect of implied volatility depends on where the stock is relative to your strike prices.

If your forecast was correct and the stock price is approaching or above strike B, you want implied volatility to decrease. That’s because it will decrease the value of the near-the-money option you sold faster than the in-the-money option you bought, thereby increasing the overall value of the spread.

If your forecast was incorrect and the stock price is approaching or below strike A, you want implied volatility to increase for two reasons. First, it will increase the value of the option you bought faster than the out-of-the-money option you sold, thereby increasing the overall value of the spread. Second, it reflects an increased probability of a price swing (which will hopefully be to the upside).

Options Guy's Tips

  • Because you’re both buying and selling a call, the potential effect of a decrease in implied volatility will be somewhat neutralized.
  • The maximum value of a long call spread is usually achieved when it’s close to expiration. If you choose to close your position prior to expiration, you’ll want as little time value as possible remaining on the call you sold. You may wish to consider buying a shorter-term long call spread, e.g. 30-45 days from expiration.


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