There’s no free lunch in the market…but is there?

Richard Ho
November 10, 2020
5 minutes read
There’s no free lunch in the market…but is there?

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” This old adage refers to the idea that it is impossible for anyone to get something for nothing. Even if something is free, someone somewhere is paying for it. However, investors have the choice to either accept a price or not, that is why we have limit orders. Imagine if everyone had the same risk tolerance and expectations; then there would not even be a market. In the market, every investor has a unique combination of risk tolerance and expectations. The ultimate goal is to get the highest return for the least amount of risk. So let’s cut to the chase and talk about opportunity cost and what dollar amount would make you click on the trade button. In the world of options, you are given rights, but they come at a cost. And if you are the option writer, what kind of payoff are you comfortable with?

Call buyers Call writers
For call options, you need to pay the price of the option to have the right to buy the underlying stock at the strike price before expiry. If you are the one receiving the premium from the call buyer, then you are on the hook to deliver the underlying shares, if you get assigned.

No one likes to be obliged to do anything. Being forced to deliver shares might sound especially awful, but what if you are happy to do it? What if you can profit from this trade? It sounds better now, right? Let me show you an option strategy where you get paid upfront to potentially sell your shares. This might seem like a free lunch, but as we said above, there is no such thing. This strategy is called covered call writing.


Here’s an example of how a covered call strategy works:

Step 1: Buy 200 shares of ABC Inc. for $20/share.

Step 2: Look at the option chain and write 2 x $22 calls for $0.60/share. Call Bid Ask
3-mth $18 strike $2.50 $2.60
3-mth $20 strike $1.35 $1.45
3-mth $22 strike $0.60 $0.70

Step 3: Here is how a covered call will appear in your trading account:

Quantity Position Price Amount Tip: Use the strike price at which you are willing to sell your shares.
-2 ABC 3-mth $22 call $0.60 $120 credit
200 ABC stock $20 $4,000 debit

There you go, you just made $120 over a 3-month period on 200 shares (2 x 100 x $0.60 = $120). By writing the calls, you made a 3% premium return ($0.6÷$20) right off the bat. This is 12% on an annualized basis. This looks great, so you can treat yourself to a nice meal, right? Not so fast. Let’s take a look at the implications.

Covered: The term “covered” in “covered call writing” comes from the fact that you are using shares you own to cover your obligation to deliver the stock in the event that you get assigned.

Step 4: Potential outcomes in 3 months’ time:

#1 ABC Inc. < $19 #2 ABC Inc. stayed at $20 #3 ABC Inc. > $22
Sometimes bad trades will happen.

  • The call buyer will not buy the shares from you at $22 (the strike).
  • You hold on to the shares.
  • The $0.60/share is yours to keep.
  • Rinse and repeat the covered call strategy.
The stock was a dud and didn’t move.

  • Same as the points in #1, plus the following:
  • By implementing the covered call strategy, at least you made $120.
  • You received a 3% return on a stock that didn’t move.
  • This is still better than no return compared to a stock buyer.
The call buyer is going to exercise the call and buy the shares from you for $22 (the strike). You are assigned. But don’t despair. Take a closer look, you achieved 2 goals here:

  • You made a 3% return from writing the calls.
  • You made 10% in capital gains (receiving $22 for the shares you purchased for $20).

So now you understand the covered call strategy. After reading the three scenarios above, who got the free lunch after all? Bon appétit!

The strategies presented in this blog are for information and training purposes only, and should not be interpreted as recommendations to buy or sell any security. As always, you should ensure that you are comfortable with the proposed scenarios and ready to assume all the risks before implementing an option strategy.

Richard Ho
Richard Ho http://www.m-x.ca

Senior Manager, Equity Derivatives

TMX | Montréal Exchange

Richard Ho, senior manager equity derivatives at TMX Montréal Exchange has been in the financial industry for over 15 years. Prior to joining TMX in 2006, he worked with a national brokerage firm in executing trades for active and high net worth clients. In his current role as senior manager equity derivatives, Richard leads various education initiatives and partnerships with brokerage firms. His aim is to help self-directed investors adapt to the use of equity options with a focus on developing and strategizing option portfolios for directional trading with predefined risk parameters. He also runs programs to show investors how to use option strategies to generate consistent income and to hedge their portfolios during times of high volatility. Richard is a derivative market specialist (DMS) by designation and a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA®) charterholder. Striving to help investors elevate their knowledge about options, Richard is a proud member of the Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI®) and shows leadership through various speaking and academic contributions.

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