If You Like The Income From Covered Calls, Here’s How To Double (Or Triple) It…

Ready to add a little more firepower to your covered call strategy?

As you may know, the covered call trading approach is a great way to generate extra income for your portfolio. This strategy involves selling one call option for every 100 shares of a stock you own.

Selling these option contracts doesn’t just add additional income to your portfolio… It also reduces the risk typical investors take by simply buying and holding stock positions. (Read our covered call primer here.)

As we’ve mentioned before, covered calls are a relatively conservative way of generating additional income. But for more aggressive traders who who want to generate more income, there is the ratio write approach.

Depending on how you apply this strategy, you could generate double or triple the amount of income that a normal covered call strategy would produce. Of course, it’s safe to assume that the amount of risk you take will also increase. The ratio write approach is only for aggressive traders who fully understand the risks with this strategy. But if you are skillful in managing your positions, you can produce significantly more income over the long run.

Selling Additional Call Contracts for Extra Income

The ratio write strategy typically involves selling more options contracts than your position size will cover. For example, you could buy 100 shares of a stock that trades at $48, and then sell twice the typical number of call contracts against this position.

Remember, selling a call contract gives us the obligation to sell stock to the other party if they choose to exercise their option. If the stock is trading above the strike price when these calls expire, you can expect the call buyer to exercise their right. And you will have an obligation to sell shares at the strike price.

If the stock remains below the strike price (in this case, let’s say it’s $50) when the calls expire, the other party will almost certainly not exercise their right to buy stock from you. This is because they could buy the same stock in the open market at a cheaper price.

So, using the example above, let’s say the stock traded above $50. We would need to buy stock in the open market to meet our double obligation of selling shares at $50. But if the stock remained below the $50 strike price, we would get to keep twice the amount of income that we normally would have generated. This is because we sold twice the number of calls in the first place.

Getting Creative With Your Ratio Write

When setting up a ratio write position, there are a number of creative approaches you can use. One is to sell a normal block of calls that are at the money, and also sell an additional block that is out of the money.

As an example, we could buy a stock trading near $50 per share. Then, we sell a block of call options with a $50 strike price. This would represent a “traditional” covered call trade. Next, we might sell a second block of call option contracts that has a $55 strike price. This second block wouldn’t give us quite as much income (because out-of-the-money options are typically cheaper). But the small amount of additional income can really add up over time.

Another variation of the ratio write approach is to use two different expiration dates for your call options. So in the example above, you might sell one block of calls that expires in a month and another block that expires in three months.

The greater the amount of time before the expiration date, the more expensive the call contracts. So by selling a second call contract with a longer-term expiration date, we are creating a significant additional piece of income for our portfolio. (Also, by selling a contract that expires in three months, we are giving ourselves more time to adjust the position if necessary.)

Managing Your Risk and Adjusting for Price Changes

It is important to note that you typically need a margin account to use a ratio write approach. You will need to check with your broker. Make sure that you have trading access to be able to sell additional call contracts against your stock position.

Again, if you set up a ratio write position and the stock remains below your strike price, then you will not be required to adjust your positions. On the other hand, if the stock price moves above your strike price (or one of your strike prices), you may need to make some changes. To understand what adjustments are necessary, let’s review our ratio write obligations.

By selling an extra set of calls, we have a potential obligation to sell more shares than we presently own. This means we need to do one of two things:

  1. Buy back our extra call position to close out our obligation, or
  2. Buy additional stock that we can use to satisfy our obligation.

Just because we have to adjust a position does not mean that the ratio write strategy was unsuccessful. Many times, we are able to sell an additional set of calls for a significant premium. This can allow us to collect a very attractive amount of income.

If the stock moves higher and we have to buy stock to match against our extra set of calls, the additional premium could more than make up for the fact that the stock traded through the strike price of our extra set of calls.

Closing Thoughts

Setting up a ratio write trade introduces a new element of risk to the covered call strategy. This is because we have a liability that is triggered if the stock continues to trade higher. But by managing this liability through buying back stock when necessary or buying back portions of our call options, we can generate significantly more income. And if repeated successfully, this will compound over time.

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