A naked call is a high-risk options strategy where an investor sells call options on the open market without owning the underlying security. This article explores the intricacies of naked calls, including their benefits, drawbacks, and how to use them effectively.
Understanding naked calls
When it comes to options trading, a naked call is a strategy that can either be a bold move for experienced investors or a recipe for significant losses for the unprepared. In this strategy, an investor sells call options without holding the underlying security, exposing themselves to the potential for unlimited losses if the market moves against them.
A naked call is sometimes referred to as an “uncovered call” or an “unhedged short call.” To truly grasp the concept, let’s delve deeper into the key aspects of this intriguing yet risky strategy.
How a naked call works
At its core, a naked call involves selling call options, typically with the hope that the underlying security’s price will decrease. The primary motivation for selling these options is to collect the premium income generated from the sale.
Investors who use this strategy essentially bet that the price of the underlying security will not rise significantly above the strike price of the call options before they expire. If the options expire without being exercised, the seller keeps the premiums as profit.
However, the real challenge with naked calls lies in the potential for losses. Unlike other strategies where your losses are capped, a naked call’s downside risk is theoretically unlimited. If the underlying security’s price skyrockets, the seller can be forced to buy the security at a much higher market price to fulfill the call option, resulting in substantial losses.
Calculating breakeven point
One critical aspect for the seller of a naked call is the breakeven point. This point is determined by adding the premium received from selling the call options to the strike price of the call. In other words, it’s the point at which the seller would neither gain nor lose money if the underlying security’s price were to rise to that level.
It’s important to note that a naked call writer hopes that the options will expire worthless. Therefore, the ideal scenario is for the underlying security’s price to remain below the strike price.
Risks and rewards
The naked call strategy is not for the faint of heart. It carries substantial risks due to the potential for unlimited losses. However, it does offer some potential rewards in the form of premium income. The maximum gain for the seller is limited to the premium received upfront, which is typically credited to their account.
On the flip side, the maximum loss is theoretically unlimited because there is no cap on how high the price of the underlying security can rise. In reality, though, sellers often buy back the options before such losses occur, based on their risk tolerance and stop-loss settings.
One consideration for sellers is that a rise in implied volatility can be detrimental because it increases the probability of the options being exercised. Since sellers want the options to expire out of the money (OTM), the passage of time, or time decay, works in their favor.
Using naked calls strategically
While the risks of naked calls are apparent, they can be used strategically by investors who strongly believe that the price of the underlying security will fall or remain stagnant. Here’s a closer look at how investors can employ this advanced strategy:
Scenario 1: Profitable outcome
If the price of the underlying security remains below the strike price between the time the options are written and their expiration date, the options writer keeps the entire premium, minus commissions. This is the ideal scenario for the seller, as they profit from the premiums without having to buy or sell the security.
Scenario 2: Unprofitable outcome
Conversely, if the price of the underlying security rises above the strike price by the options’ expiration date, the buyer of the options can demand the seller to deliver shares of the underlying stock. In this case, the seller must purchase the shares on the open market at the current market price to fulfill the option, potentially resulting in significant losses.
Example: The Amazon.com dilemma
Let’s illustrate the risks of a naked call with a real-world example. Imagine an investor who believed that the strong bull run for Amazon.com was over when the stock leveled out in March 2017 at around $852 per share. The investor decided to write a call option with a strike price of $865 and an expiration in May 2017, expecting the stock to remain below this
However, the stock surprised everyone by resuming its rally, reaching $966 by mid-May, well above the strike price. This situation posed a potential liability for the options seller, as they were obligated to deliver shares at $865, even though the market price was much higher.
The seller incurred a loss of $101 per share (the difference between the exercise price and the market price) minus the premium received at the start. While the premium offset some of the losses, the potential loss in this scenario was substantial.
Pros and cons of naked calls
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider:
- Premium income without significant capital investment
- Potential profit if the underlying security’s price stays below the strike
- Unlimited loss potential if the underlying security’s price rises significantly
- High margin requirements due to the open-ended risk
Implementing stop-loss orders
One way to mitigate the potential for catastrophic losses in naked call writing is by using stop-loss orders. A stop-loss order sets a predetermined price level at which the investor will automatically buy back the call options to limit further losses. This can be a crucial tool for preventing unlimited losses if the underlying security’s price surges unexpectedly. However, it’s essential to carefully choose the stop-loss level to strike a balance between risk management and avoiding premature exits.
The impact of implied volatility
Implied volatility plays a significant role in the profitability of naked call strategies. When implied volatility increases, it often raises the likelihood of options being exercised, which is unfavorable for the call seller. Understanding how changes in implied volatility can affect the strategy is essential. Investors may need to adjust their positions or hedge against adverse movements in implied volatility to safeguard their interests.
Naked calls vs. other options strategies
Comparing naked calls to other options strategies can provide investors with a broader perspective on their risk-reward profile. In this section, we’ll examine how naked calls differ from covered calls, protective puts, and other options strategies.
Naked calls vs. covered calls
While naked calls involve selling call options without owning the underlying security, covered calls take the opposite approach. In a covered call strategy, the investor owns the underlying security and sells call options against it. This strategy offers limited profit potential but also provides downside protection, making it less risky than naked calls. We’ll explore the key differences and when each strategy might be more appropriate.
Naked calls vs. protective puts
Protective puts are another options strategy that contrasts with naked calls. With protective puts, investors buy put options to protect their long positions in the underlying security. This strategy acts as a form of insurance against price declines, offering a predefined level of protection. Comparing naked calls to protective puts can help investors determine which approach aligns better with their risk tolerance and market outlook.
Frequently asked questions
What is a naked call?
A naked call is an options strategy where an investor sells call options on the open market without owning the underlying security. It’s also known as an uncovered call or unhedged short call.
How does a naked call differ from a covered call?
Unlike a naked call, a covered call involves owning the underlying security and selling call options against it. This provides downside protection but limits profit potential.
What is the breakeven point for a naked call?
The breakeven point for a naked call is calculated by adding the premium received from selling the call options to the strike price of the call. It’s the point at which the seller neither gains nor loses money if the underlying security’s price rises to that level.
What are the risks associated with naked calls?
Naked calls carry significant risks, primarily the potential for unlimited losses if the underlying security’s price rises significantly above the strike price of the call options. This strategy is not recommended for inexperienced investors.
How can investors manage risk when using naked calls?
Investors can manage risk in naked call writing by implementing stop-loss orders. These orders automatically buy back the call options at a predetermined price level, limiting further losses. Understanding and monitoring implied volatility is also crucial for risk management.
Are there alternatives to naked calls for generating income?
Yes, there are alternatives such as covered calls and selling put options. Covered calls involve owning the underlying security and selling call options, while selling put options can generate income with a different risk profile.
Can naked calls be part of a diversified options trading strategy?
Naked calls can be part of a diversified options trading strategy, but they should only be used by experienced investors who understand the associated risks. Diversification with other options strategies and underlying assets can help manage risk.
Is there a minimum level of options trading experience required for using naked calls?
Yes, it’s advisable for individuals to have a significant level of options trading experience before attempting naked calls. Understanding options, implied volatility, and risk management is crucial to use this strategy effectively.
- A naked call involves selling call options without owning the underlying security.
- The strategy aims to generate premium income but carries significant risks.
- The breakeven point is the strike price plus the premium received.
- Naked calls have unlimited loss potential if the underlying security’s price rises significantly.
- Only experienced investors should consider using this strategy, and it often requires high margin requirements.
View article sources
- Practices Related to Naked Short Selling Complaints and … – Sec.gov
- What Is a Covered Call in Options Trading? – NedWallet
- Naked Call Sellers VS. Covered Call Writers – The Blue Collar Investor