Position Management - Part III
When stock ownership is involved, most investors employ simple stop-loss strategies to limit losses during unfavorable market trends. Generally, some type of technical (sell) signal triggers the closing order, forcing a timely exit or adjustment. The trigger may be as simple as a percentage decline in share value or a move below the break-even point of the position. It may also be more complex such as countertrend reversals, oscillator crossovers, or any price activity that results in a violation of the stock's primary trend. Regardless of the manner in which the transaction is initiated, the objective is to rely on a mechanical signal rather than intuition or some other human impulse to close a losing trade. Of course, no form of position management is "perfect" nor will any technique protect against a catastrophic drop in the underlying, especially after the close (or before the open) of trading.
Once an investor decides to terminate a covered-call position, the process is simple. He can repurchase the calls (at the ask price) and sell the stock (at the bid price) or he may use a "net" order in the closing transaction to ensure an efficient exit trade. In that case, an order is placed with the broker to simultaneously sell the underlying shares and "buy to close" the sold calls for a specific credit - hopefully more than the current market price. For those who want to remain in particular issue, there are several viable alternatives such as rolling the calls forward and/or down or even using the "ratio-call" rescue strategy.
Rolling the Options
Consider the recent position in Calgon Carbon (NYSE:CCC). The issue was offered as a longer-term covered-call candidate on February 24, when it closed near a multi-year high at $18.45. Here is the data for the original play:
Buy CCC Stock: Last Price = $18.45
The target entry price in our example trade was:
Net Debit = $16.25
Unfortunately, the stock began to drift lower after a few days and during Friday's marketwide sell-off, CCC retreated to an intermediate (technical) support level near $16. Because a number of industry experts have a bullish outlook for the issue, some investors may want to hold the stock in expectation it will eventually recover from the current slump. If that's their intent, they might consider rolling down and forward to the JUL-$15.00 strike, which is selling for approximately $3.00. To make the transition, they must first repurchase the (short) APR-$17.50 calls, which are trading near $0.90; then the JUL-$15.00 calls can be sold. The adjusted position offers a reduced cost basis of $14.15 ($16.25 + $0.90 - $3.00), which provides additional downside protection and offers an acceptable return on investment at the expense of tying up investment capital for an extended period (roughly five months). The specifics of the new position would be:
Long CCC stock at $17.15 ($16.25 + $0.90 = $17.15)
A more aggressive move would involve a transition to JUL-$17.50 calls, which offer greater potential gain due to the higher strike, but with the same time frame. Once again, repurchasing the (short) APR-$17.50 calls increases the investor's basis in CCC to $17.15 per share. However, the subsequent sale of JUL-$17.50 calls should yield a premium of $1.75 per contract, thus lowering the break-even point to $15.40, less any commission costs. Here is the outcome:
Long CCC stock at $17.15
Of course, these are only two of the many possible adjustments available and although one or the other alternative may work for certain people, each individual investor will need to find the position that best fits their personal risk-reward tolerance and outlook for the underlying issue. The essential concept to remember when you're in a covered-call position is there are different strategies that can be employed as time progresses. Despite what many people believe, an investor is not "locked-in" to the original trade. On the contrary, it is necessary to be flexible and creative with position management to ensure long-term profits with this approach.
In all cases, success with the covered-call strategy is based on effectively limiting the capital drawdown (and the potential for catastrophic portfolio damage) from a losing position. Stop-loss orders work well most of the time, but they are not appropriate for every unexpected decline in share value. Rolling the sold calls down and/or out to a distant expiration date can help offset the effects of short-term market downtrends, however the technique will not prevail in an extended bearish climate. The key to earning consistent income with covered-calls is to carefully evaluate the risk versus reward potential before entering a position then utilize proven money-management techniques in a timely manner, in order to maximize gains and minimize losses.