Put Writing Explained

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Contents

Introduction to Put Writing

A put is a strategy traders or investors may use to generate income or buy stocks at a reduced price. When writing a put, the writer agrees to buy the underlying stock at the strike price if the contract is exercised. Writing, in this case, means selling a put contract in order to open a position. And in exchange for opening a position by selling a put, the writer receives a premium or fee, however, he is liable to the put buyer to purchase shares at the strike price if the underlying stock falls below that price, up until the options contract expires.

Profit on put writing is limited to the premium received, yet losses can be rather substantial, should the price of the underlying stock fall below the strike price. Due to the lopsided risk/reward dynamic, it may not always be immediately clear why one would take such a trade, yet there are viable reasons for doing so, under the right conditions.

Key Takeaways

  • A put is an investment strategy that’s employed by traders who seek to generate income or purchase shares of stock at a discounted price.
  • When writing a put, the writer consents to purchasing the underlying stock at the strike price, but only under certain conditions. Mainly, the contract must be exercised.

Put Writing for Income

Put writing generates income because the writer of any option contract receives the premium while the buyer obtains the option rights. If timed correctly, a put-writing strategy can generate profits for the seller, as long as he is not forced to buy shares of the underlying stock. Thus, one of the major risks the put-seller faces is the possibility of the stock price falling below the strike price, forcing the put-seller to buy shares at that strike price. If writing options for income, the writer’s analysis should point to the underlying stock price holding steady or rising until expiry.

For example, let’s say XYZ stock trades for $75. Put options with a strike price of $70 are trading for $3. Each put contract is for 100 shares. A put writer could sell a $70 strike price put and collect the $300 ($3 x 100) premium. In taking this trade, the writer hopes that the price of XYZ stock stays above $70 until expiry, and in a worst-case scenario at least stays above $67, which is the breakeven point on the trade.

We see that the trader is exposed to increasing losses as the stock price falls below $67. For example, at a share price of $65, the put-seller is still obligated to buy shares of XYZ at the strike price of $70. He, therefore, would face a $200 loss, calculated as follows:

$6,500 market value – $7,000 price paid + $300 premium collected = -200

The more the price drops, the larger the loss to the put writer.

If at expiration the price of XYZ is $67, the trader breaks even. $6,700 market value – $7,000 price paid + $300 premium collected = $0

If XYZ is above $70 at expiration the trader keeps the $300 and doesn’t need to buy the shares. The buyer of the put option wanted to sell XYZ shares at $70, but since the price of XYZ is above $70 they are better off selling them at the current higher market price. Therefore, the option is not exercised. This is the ideal scenario for a put option writer.

Writing Puts to Buy Stock

The next use for writing put options to get long a stock at a discounted price.

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Instead of using the premium-collection strategy, a put writer might want to purchase shares at a predetermined price that’s lower than the current market price. In this case, the put writer could sell a put with a strike price at which they want to buy shares.

Assume YYZZ stock is trading at $40. An investor wants to buy it at $35. Instead of waiting to see if it falls to $35, the investor could write put options with a $35 price.

If the stock drops below $35, selling the option obligates the writer to buy the shares from the put buyer at $35, which is what the put seller wanted anyway. We can assume that the seller received a $1 premium from writing the put options, which is $100 in income if they sold one contract.

If the price falls below $35, the writer will need to buy 100 shares of stock at $35, costing a total of $3,500, but they already received $100, so the net cost is actually $3,400. The trader is able to accumulate a position at an average price of $34; if they simply bought the shares at $35, the average cost is $35. By selling the option, the writer reduces the cost of buying shares.

If the price of the stock remains above $35, the writer will not have the opportunity to buy the shares, but still keeps the $100 in premium received. This could potentially be done multiple times before the price of the stock finally falls enough to trigger the option to be exercised.

Closing a Put Trade

The aforementioned scenarios assume that the option is exercised or expires worthless. However, there is an entire other possibility. A put writer can close his position at any time, by buying a put. For example, if a trader sold a put and the price of the underlying stock starts dropping, the value of put will rise. If they received a $1 premium, as the stock is dropping, the put premium will likely begin rising to $2, $3, or more dollars. The put seller is not obliged to wait until expiry. They can plainly see that they’re in a losing position and may exit at any time. If option premiums are now $3, that is what they will need to buy a put option at, in order to exit trade. This will result in a loss of $2 per share, per contract.

The Bottom Line

Selling puts can be a rewarding strategy in a stagnant or rising stock since an investor is able to collect put premiums. In the case of a falling stock, a put seller is exposed to significant risk, even though the profit is limited. Put writing is frequently used in combination with other options contracts.

Put Writing

Put writing is a family of options trading strategies that involve the selling of put options to earn premiums. One can either write a covered put or a naked put. Utilising a combination of covered puts and naked puts, one can also implement the ratio put write, which is a neutral strategy.

Call Writing

Besides the selling of puts, there are also strategies for selling call options. See call writing.

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Put and Call Writing Explained

Learn how to sell calls and puts

Making money in any type of market can be an extremely trying proposition. You’ve got to pick the right stock, pick the right options — oh, and you’re timing also has to be right.

Considering how many components are involved with a successful trade, i.e., how many things you have to get right, why not take greater control of the variables by writing your own ticket?

Writing your own ticket involves writing put and call options. And though the goal of put writing versus call writing is different in a strategic sense, the ultimate goal of increasing your overall gains — along with your overall wealth — is one and the same.

Let’s take a look at how we can make money writing puts, and then we’ll take a look at how to do the same by writing calls.

‘Put’-tin on the Ritz: Writing Put Options

You often hear about a public company making the move to repurchase a block of its own shares on the open market. This is good for shareholders because it reduces the number of shares outstanding, while typically boosting the value of existing shares. It also increases a company’s earnings per share.

When PC moguls Bill Gates and Michael Dell wanted to do a share-buyback program for their respective empires, they took advantage of the options markets to increase the return on their investment. What they did was write (or sell) put options, and by doing so they created a win-win situation with their stock performance.

How was this accomplished?

Well, when put contracts are written, if the stock goes down in value then the shares are “put” to the writer (i.e., to buy from the owner of the shares). But if the market price spikes, as the person who has shorted the puts, you get to keep the premium you collected when you initiated the position (as “selling to open” an options position oftentimes results in an initial credit to your trading account).

Either way, it’s better for the shareholders of a company participating in a buyback because it ultimately means that the company is purchasing its stock back at lower prices, thus increasing the return on the investment for the company and, in turn, its shareholders.

Of course, writing puts isn’t just for the big guys. Individual traders can use this technique to enter into a long stock position.

Just keep in mind that when you’re selling a put option, you don’t expect the stock price to drop below the exercise (or strike) price, nor to increase significantly. That way, if the option owner assigns you to buy the stock, you will do so at the strike price of the option.

So if a stock is trading for $25 and you short a $22.50 put, if the share price dips to $22.50 and the option holder “puts” that stock to you, then they’ve saved you the legwork of making the purchase and you’re now the owner of the stock you were planning to buy anyway.

The ‘Call’ of the Wild: Writing Call Options

Often investors cite their fear of risk as the reason why they might shy away from trading options. And while the level of risk can increase with some of the more complicated options strategies out there, that’s not the case with writing covered calls.

In fact, writing covered calls is one of the most frequently used and safest options strategies, because it is one of the most conservative plays a trader can make.

On the surface, writing covered calls seems like hitting a home run. Also known as a “buy-write,” this strategy involves selling call options against stock that you already hold long.

When you sell an option, you immediately collect a premium up front, and because options settle in one business day, the credit you collect hits your trading account a day later. It’s like you get to make money just because you decide to.

Suppose you’re sitting on 1,000 shares of the hypothetical XYZ Corp. with the stock currently trading at $34. Suppose the shares are trading pretty steadily and haven’t made a significant jump in a while.

Instead of waiting around and hoping for the stock to receive its own version of a stimulus package, you can take the opportunity to sell calls at the $35 strike against your position.

Let’s say the XYZ Oct 35 Calls trade at $1.95 per share. That’s $195 per contract, and as one contract covers 100 shares, you can sell a 10-lot, or 10 contracts, for $1,950, so that’s the amount of money that you would take in by selling your calls.

Why the XYZ Oct 35 Calls? Well, for two reasons.

One, the strike price is higher than the current market value, which means that you are agreeing to sell your shares for $35 each should the buyer wish to exercise his or her right to buy the stock (i.e., call it away from you). This means that in addition to the $1,950 that you took in, you’d be selling the shares for $1 more than the level where they’re currently trading.

Two, insofar as choosing the October calls, their expiration date is far enough away that if you are expecting the stock to move up (so that the options become more valuable), you’re giving yourself enough time to be right.

But what if the stock doesn’t go up to, or through, that $35 strike by that third Friday in October?

Well, then you’d keep your premium money — as well as your stock — because the option buyer wouldn’t want to call the shares away from you at a cost that’s above the market price. His or her option would likely expire worthless.

Owning stock and selling covered calls against it is like having an apartment building and collecting rent on the available units. If you can’t find tenants or just haven’t gotten around to renovating a perfectly usable space, then you’re not making any money. And in neutral markets, not collecting “rent” with options trading means you could be passing up a lot of gains that you might never see by just holding on to the stock and playing the waiting game.

Uncovered Put Write

Writing uncovered puts is an options trading strategy involving the selling of put options without shorting the obligated shares of the underlying stock.

Uncovered Put Write Construction
Sell 1 ATM Put

Also known as naked put write or cash secured put, this is a bullish options strategy that is executed to earn a consistent profits by ongoing collection of premiums.

Limited profits with no upside risk

Profit for the uncovered put write is limited to the premiums received for the options sold and unlike the covered put write, since the uncovered put writer is not short on the underlying stock, he does not have to bear any loss should the price of the security go up at expiration. The naked put writer sells slightly out-of-the-money puts month after month, collecting premiums as long as the stock price of the underlying remains above the put strike price at expiration.

The formula for calculating maximum profit is given below:

  • Max Profit = Premium Received – Commissions Paid
  • Max Profit Achieved When Price of Underlying >= Strike Price of Short Put

Unlimited Downside risk with Little downside protection

While the premium collected can cushion a slight drop in stock price, loss resulting from a catastrophic drop in stock price of the underlying can be huge when implementing the uncovered put write strategy.

The formula for calculating loss is given below:

  • Maximum Loss = Unlimited
  • Loss Occurs When Price of Underlying

Breakeven Point(s)

The underlier price at which break-even is achieved for the uncovered put write position can be calculated using the following formula.

  • Breakeven Point = Strike Price of Short Put – Premium Received

Example

Suppose XYZ stock is trading at $45 in June. An options trader writes an uncovered JUL 45 put for $200.

If XYZ stock rallies to $50 on expiration, the JUL 45 put expires worthless and the trader gets to keep the $200 in premim as profit. This is also his maximum profit and is achieved as long as XYZ stock trades above $45 on options expiration date.

If instead XYZ stock drops to $40 on expiration, then the JUL 45 put expires in the money with $500 in intrinsic value. The JUL 45 put needs to be bought back for $500 and subtracting the initial credit of $200 taken, the resulting net loss is $300.

Note: While we have covered the use of this strategy with reference to stock options, the uncovered put write is equally applicable using ETF options, index options as well as options on futures.

Commissions

For ease of understanding, the calculations depicted in the above examples did not take into account commission charges as they are relatively small amounts (typically around $10 to $20) and varies across option brokerages.

However, for active traders, commissions can eat up a sizable portion of their profits in the long run. If you trade options actively, it is wise to look for a low commissions broker. Traders who trade large number of contracts in each trade should check out OptionsHouse.com as they offer a low fee of only $0.15 per contract (+$4.95 per trade).

Similar Strategies

The following strategies are similar to the uncovered put write in that they are also bullish strategies that have limited profit potential and unlimited risk.

Writing Put Options

Writing Put Options Definition

Writing put options is making the ability to sell a stock, and trying to give this right, to someone else for a specific price; this is a right to sell the underlying but not an obligation to do so.

Explanation

By definition, Put options are a financial instrument that gives its holder (buyer) the right but not the obligation to sell the underlying asset at a certain price during the period of the contract.

Writing put options also referred to as selling the put options.

As we know the put option gives the holder the right but not the obligation to sell the shares at a predetermined price. Whereas, in writing a put option, a person sells the put option to the buyer and obliged himself to buy the shares at the strike price if exercised by the buyer. The seller in return earns premium which is paid by the buyer and committing to buy the shares at the strike price.

Thus in contrast to the call option writer, the put option writer has a neutral or positive outlook on the stock or expects a decrease in volatility.

Example

Suppose share of BOB trades at $75/- and it is one month $70/- put trade for $5/-. Here, the strike price is $70/- and one lot of put contract is of 100 shares. An investor Mr. XYZ has sold a lot of put options to Mr. ABC. Mr. XYZ expects that the shares of BOB to trade above $65/- ($70 – $5) till the expiry of the contract.

Let’s assume three scenarios of movement of BOB share at expiration and calculate the pay-off of Mr. XYZ (writer of a put option).

#1 – The Stock price of BOB falls below and trades at $60/- (option expires deep in the money)

In the first scenario, the stock price falls below the strike price ($60/-) and hence, the buyer would choose to exercise the put option. As per the contract, the buyer has to buy the shares of BOB at a price of $70/- per share. In this way, the seller would buy the 100 shares (1 lot is equal to 100 shares) of BOB for $7,000/- whereas the market value of the same is $6000/- and making a gross loss of $1000/-. However, the writer has earned an amount of $500/- ($5/ per share) as premium incurring him a net loss of $500/- ($6000-$7000+$500).

Scenario-1 (when option expire deep in the money)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 60
Net Pay-Off -500

#2 – The Stock price of BOB falls below and trades at $65/- (option expires in the money)

In the second scenario, the stock price falls below the strike price ($65/-) and hence, the buyer would again choose to exercise the put option. As per the contract, the buyer has to buy the shares at a price of $70/- per share. In this way, the seller would buy the 100 shares of BOB for $7,000/- whereas the market value now is $6500/- incurring a gross loss of $500/-. However, the writer has earned an amount of $500/- ($5/ per share) as premium making him stand at a break-even point of his trade with no loss and no gain ($6500-$7000+$500) in this scenario.

Scenario-2 (when option expire in the money)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 65
Net Pay-Off 0

#3 – The Stock price of BOB jumps and trades at $75/- (option expires out of the money)

In our last scenario, the stock price soars above instead of falling ($75/-) strike price and hence, the buyer would rather not choose to exercise the put option as exercising put option here does not make sense or we can say that no one would sell the share at $70/- if it can be sold in the spot market at $75/-. In this way, the buyer would not exercise put option leading seller to earn the premium of $500/-. Hence, the writer has earned an amount of $500/- ($5/ per share) as premium making net profit $500/-

Scenario-3 (when option expire Out of the money)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 75
Net Pay-Off 500

In writing put options, a writer is always in profit if the stock price is constant or move in an upward direction. Therefore, selling or writing put can be a rewarding strategy in a stagnant or rising stock. However, in the case of falling stock, the put seller is exposed to significant risk, even though the seller risk is limited as the stock price cannot fall below zero. Hence, in our example, the maximum loss of put option writer can be $6500/-.

Below is the Payoff analysis for the writer of Put Option. Please note that this is only for 1 stock.

Options Contract Notations

ST: Stock Price

X: Strike Price

T: Time to expiration

CO: Call option premium

PO: Put option premium

r: Risk-free rate of return

The Payoff for Writing Put Options

A put option gives the holder of the option the right to sell an asset by a certain date at a certain price. Hence, whenever a put option is written by the seller or writer it gives a payoff of zero (since the put is not exercised by the holder) or the difference between stock price and the strike price, whichever is minimum. Hence,

Payoff of short put option = min(ST – X, 0) or

We can calculate the payoff of Mr. XYZ for all the three scenarios assumed in the above example.

Scenario -1 (when the option expires deep in the money)

The payoff of Mr. XYZ = min(ST – X, 0)

= – $10/-

Scenario -2 (when the option expires in the money)

The payoff of Mr. XYZ = min(ST – X, 0)

= – $5/-

Scenario -3 (when the option expires out of the money)

The payoff of Mr. XYZ = min(ST – X, 0)

= $5/-

Strategies in Writing put options

The strategy of writing put options can be done in two ways:

  1. writing covered put
  2. writing naked put or uncovered put

Let’s discuss these two strategies of writing put option in details

#1 – Writing Covered Put

As the name suggests, in writing a covered put strategy, the investor writes put options along with shorting the underlying stocks. This Options Trading strategy is adopted by the investors if they strongly feel that stock is going to fall or to be constant in the near term or short term.

As the share prices fall, the holder of the option exercises at the strike price and the stocks are purchased by the writer of the option. The net payoff for the writer here is premium received plus income from shorting the stocks and cost involved in buying back those stocks when exercised. Therefore, there is no downside risk and the maximum profit than an investor earn through this strategy is the premium received.

On the other hand, if prices of underlying stocks rise, then the writer is exposed to unlimited upside risk as stock price can rise to any level and even if the option is not exercised by the holder, the writer has to buy the shares (underlying) back (because of shorting in spot market) and the income for writer here is only the premium received from the holder.

With our above argument, we can view this strategy as a limited profit with no downside risk but unlimited upside risk. The pay-off diagram of the covered put option is shown in image-1.

Example

Let’s assume that Mr. XYZ has written a covered put option on BOB stock with a strike price of $70/- for one month for a premium of $5/-. One lot of put option consists of 100 shares of BOB. Since this is a covered put writing, here Mr. XYZ is short on the underlying i.e. 100 shares of BOB and at the time of shorting the share price of BOB was $75/per share. Let’s consider two scenarios wherein in the first scenario, the share prices fall below at $55/- at expiration giving the holder the opportunity to exercise the option and in another scenario, the share prices rallies to $85/- at expiration. It is obvious that in the second scenario, the holder will not exercise the option. Let’s calculate payoff for both the scenarios.

In the first scenario, when the share prices close below the strike price at expiration, then the option will be exercised by the holder. Here, the payoff would be calculated in two steps. First, while the option is exercised and second when the writer buys back the share.

The writer is in a loss in the first step as he is obliged to buy the shares at the strike price from the holder making the pay-off as the difference between stock price and strike price adjusting with the income received from premium. Hence, the payoff would be negative $10/ per share.

In the second step, the writer has to buy the shares at $55/- which he has sold at $75/- earning a positive pay-off of $20/-. Therefore, the net payoff for the writer is positive $10/- per share.

Scenario-1 (Stock prices falls below strike price)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 55
Income from shorting of shares 75
Expenses towards buying back of shares 55
Net Pay-Off $1000/-

In the second scenario, when the share price rallies to $85/- at expiration, then the option will not be exercised by the holder leading a positive pay-off of $5/- (as premium) for the writer. Whereas in the second step, the writer has to buy back the shares at $85/- which he sold at $75/- incurring a negative payoff of $10/-. Therefore, the net payoff for the writer in this scenario is negative $5/- per share.

Scenario-2 (Stock prices rallies above strike price)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 85
Income from shorting of shares 75
Expenses towards buying back of shares 85
Net Pay-Off -$500/-

#2 – Writing Naked Put or Uncovered Put

Writing uncovered put or naked put is in contrast to a covered put option strategy. In this strategy, the seller of the put option does not short the underlying securities. Basically, when a put option is not combined with the short position in the underlying stock it is called writing uncovered put option.

Profit for the writer in this strategy is limited to the premium earned and also there is no upside risk involved since the writer does not short the underlying stocks. On one side where there is no upside risk, there is huge downside risk involved as more the share prices fall below strike price more the loss writer would incur. However, there is a cushion in the form of a premium for the writer. This premium is adjusted from the loss in case the option is exercised.

Example

Let’s assume that Mr. XYZ has written an uncovered put option on BOB stock with a strike price of $70/- for one month for a premium of $5/-. One lot of put option consists of 100 shares of BOB. Let’s consider two scenarios, in

Let’s consider two scenarios, in the first scenario, the share prices fall below to $0/- at expiration giving the holder, the opportunity to exercise the option whereas in another scenario, the share prices rallies to $85/- at expiration. It is obvious that in the second scenario, the holder will not exercise the option. Let’s calculate payoff for both the scenarios.

The pay-offs are summarized below.

Scenario-1 (Strike price Stock Price)
Strike Price of BOB 70
Option Premium 5
Price at maturity 85
Net Pay-Off 500

Looking at the payoffs, we can establish our argument that the maximum loss in uncovered put option strategy is the difference between the strike price and stock price with the adjustment of the premium received from the holder of the option.

Margin Requirement Exchange Traded Options

In an options trade, the buyer needs to pay the premium in full. Investors are not allowed to buy the options on margins since options are highly leveraged and buying on margin would increase these leverage at a significantly higher level.

However, an option writer has potential liabilities and therefore has to maintain the margin as the exchange and broker has to satisfy itself in a way that the trader does not default if the option is exercised by the holder.

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