Options Strategies: Bull Call Spread

by The Options Industry Council | March 10, 2011 4:43 pm

Establishing a bull call spread involves the purchase of a call option on a particular underlying stock, while simultaneously writing a call option on the same underlying stock with the same expiration month, at a higher strike price. Both the buy and the sell sides of this spread are opening transactions, and are always the same number of contracts. This spread is sometimes more broadly categorized as a “vertical spread”: a family of spreads involving options of the same stock, same expiration month, but different strike prices. They can be created with either all calls or all puts, and be bullish or bearish. The bull call spread, as any spread, can be executed as a”unit” in one single transaction, not as separate buy and sell transactions. For this bullish vertical spread, a bid and offer for the whole package can be requested through your brokerage firm from an exchange where the options are listed and traded.

Market Opinion?

Moderately Bullish to Bullish

When to Use?

Moderately Bullish
An investor often employs the bull call spread in moderately bullish market environments, and wants to capitalize on a modest advance in price of the underlying stock. If the investor’s opinion is very bullish on a stock it will generally prove more profitable to make a simple call purchase.

Risk Reduction
An investor will also turn to this spread when there is discomfort with either the cost of purchasing and holding the long call alone, or with the conviction of his bullish market opinion.

bull call spread Options Strategies: Bull Call Spread

Benefit

The bull call spread can be considered a doubly hedged strategy. The price paid for the call with the lower strike price is partially offset by the premium received from writing the call with a higher strike price. Thus, the investor’s investment in the long call, and the risk of losing the entire premium paid for it, is reduced or hedged.

On the other hand, the long call with the lower strike price caps or hedges the financial risk of the written call with the higher strike price. If the investor is assigned an exercise notice on the written call and must sell an equivalent number of underlying shares at the strike price, those shares can be purchased at a predetermined price by exercising the purchased call with the lower strike price. As a trade-off for the hedge it offers, this written call limits the potential maximum profit for the strategy.

Risk vs. Reward

Upside Maximum Profit: Limited
Difference Between Strike Prices – Net Debit Paid

Maximum Loss: Limited
Net Debit Paid

A bull call spread tends to be profitable when the underlying stock increases in price. It can be established in one transaction, but always at a debit (net cash outflow). The call with the lower strike price will always be purchased at a price greater than the offsetting premium received from writing the call with the higher strike price. Maximum loss for this spread will generally occur as the underlying stock price declines below the lower strike price. If both options expire out-of-the-money with no value, the entire net debit paid for the spread will be lost.

The maximum profit for this spread will generally occur as the underlying stock price rises above the higher strike price, and both options expire in-the-money. The investor can exercise the long call, buy stock at its lower strike price, and sell that stock at the written call’s higher strike price if assigned an exercise notice. This will be the case no matter how high the underlying stock has risen in price. If the underlying stock price is in between the strike prices when the calls expire, the long call will be in-the-money and worth its intrinsic value. The written call will be out-of-the-money, and have no value.

Break-Even-Point (BEP)?

BEP: Strike Price of Purchased Call + Net Debit Paid

Volatility

If Volatility Increases: Effect Varies
If Volatility Decreases: Effect Varies

The effect of an increase or decrease in the volatility of the underlying stock may be noticed in the time value portion of the options’ premiums. The net effect on the strategy will depend on whether the long and/or short options are in-the-money or out-of-the-money, and the time remaining until expiration.

Time Decay?

Passage of Time: Effect Varies

The effect of time decay on this strategy varies with the underlying stock’s price level in relation to the strike prices of the long and short options. If the stock price is midway between the strike prices, the effect can be minimal. If the stock price is closer to the lower strike price of the long call, losses generally increase at a faster rate as time passes. Alternatively, if the underlying stock price is closer to the higher strike price of the written call, profits generally increase at a faster rate as time passes.

Alternatives before expiration?

A bull call spread purchased as a unit for a net debit in one transaction can be sold as a unit in one transaction in the options marketplace for a credit, if it has value. This is generally the manner in which investors close out a spread before its options expire, in order to cut a loss or realize profit.

Alternatives at expiration?

If both options have value, investors will generally close out a spread in the marketplace as the options expire. This will be less expensive than incurring the commissions and transaction costs from a transfer of stock resulting from either an exercise of and/or an assignment on the calls. If only the purchased call is in-the-money as it expires, the investor can either sell it in the marketplace if it has value or exercise the call and purchase an equivalent number of shares. In either of these cases, the transaction(s) must occur before the close of the market on the options’ last trading day.

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