The selection and management of a vertical spread are only two-thirds of the game. Closing out, rolling or morphing the position has to be analyzed and executed with the same due diligence.
Looking at the closing out of a vertical call spread, we find there are three possible outcomes. The spread can finish out-of-the-money and valueless. For a call spread, this scenario occurs when the stock closes at or below the lower strike of the spread. In order to close out the spread, an investor would just let it expire. Both options finish out of the money so there is no residual position left over.
If the spread finishes fully in-the-money (at maximum value), meaning both options in-the-money, both options are exercised. You will exercise your long call and your short call will be assigned. They cancel each other out leaving you with no residual position. This scenario occurs when the stock price closes lower than the lower strike call involved in the spread.
Investors encounter a difficult scenario when a stock closes in between the two strikes of the spread. This creates a situation where one strike winds up being in-the-money while the other ends up out-of-the-money. When both options expire in-the-money, they are both exercised. One creates a long stock option, the other a short position canceling each other out. This is not the case here. The option that is in-the-money leaves a residual stock position. Since the other option is out-of-the-money, it cannot offset the residual stock position created by the expiring in-the-money option.
Two actions are possible in this scenario. One involves trading out of the spread on expiration Friday just before the close. Because of the bid/ask spread of the two options, you will probably have to give away some of your profits in order to close out the position. This may be the best thing to do in order to avoid naked, unlimited risk.
If you only trade out of the in-the-money option, you run the risk that the stock moves adversely and the out-of-the-money option suddenly becomes in-the-money. This risk is short-lived because you are doing this late on expiration day of the expiring month. If this happens, you will be naked in the residual stock position.
If there is still time, you can always trade out of the option, but that is very risky. If the stock is at a relatively safe distance from the out-of-the-money option, you may want to just close out the in-the-money option and let it expire worthless.
The two factors that must be considered are: the combination of the distance of the strike from the stock price in relation to the short amount of time for the stock to get there, and the amount of money saved by not buying back the out-of-the-money option. Remember, this takes place at the very end of the day on expiration day. These options only have minutes of life left. The risk is somewhat mitigated, but still there nonetheless.
The catch is the proximity of the stock to the out-of-the-money option. If the stock is close to the out-of-the-money option, it is best to trade out of the spread entirely.
As stated before, if the stock closes either with the spread fully in-the-money or out-of-the-money, the position will adjust itself through the exercise process leaving no residual position. If the stock price finishes between the two strikes, there will be a residual position.
We discussed how to trade out of this position. Your second choice is not to trade out and allow yourself to go through the expiration process. You must remember that if you are going to accept a residual stock position, you must be able to afford it.
If you have 10 July 50 calls and you exercise them, you will be receiving 1000 shares of stock at $50.00 per share. Thus, you must have $50,000.00 of cash and/or margin in your account to receive the stock. If you do not have enough cash and/or margin to accept delivery of the stock, then you must trade out of the position before it expires.
Ron Ianieri is currently Chief Options Strategist at The Options University, an educational company that teaches investors how to make consistent profits using options while limiting risk. For more information please contact The Options University at http://www.optionsuniversity.com or 866-561-8227