You can earn income or lock in a purchase price with a put.

While writing puts can sometimes be a risky transaction, there may be room for the strategy in more conservative portfolios.

By writing puts on stocks you’d like to own, you can lock in a purchase price for a set number of shares. But if the stock price increases, you may still profit from the premium you receive.

Put writing risks

Writing options is generally considered riskier than holding options.

  • With any put writing transaction, your maximum profit is limited to the amount of premium you receive.
  • If you decide to close out your position before expiration, you might have to buy back your option at a higher price than what you received for selling it.
  • At exercise, the potential loss you face is substantial if the price of the underlying instrument falls below the strike price of the put. Due to the risks involved, and the complications of margin requirements, writing puts is an options strategy that may be most appropriate for experienced investors.

Investor objectives

Investors who choose to write puts are often seeking additional income. If you have a neutral to bullish prediction for a certain stock or stock index, you can sell a put on that underlying instrument, and you’ll be paid a premium. If the underlying instrument doesn’t drop in price below the strike price, the option will most likely expire unexercised. The premium is your profit on the transaction.

Put Writing

For example, say you think that the stock of XYZ, currently trading at $52, won’t drop below $50 in the next few months. You could write one XYZ put with a strike price of $45, set to expire in six months, and sell it for $200. If the price of XYZ rises, stays the same, or even drops to $46, your option remains out-of-the-money. You’ll keep the $200. A more conservative use of put writing combines the options strategy with stock ownership. If you have a target price for a particular stock you’d like to own, you could write put options at an acceptable strike price. You’d receive the premium at the opening of the transaction, and if the option is exercised before expiration, you’ll have to buy the shares. The premium you received, however, will reduce your net price paid on those shares.

For example, if the price of XYZ stock drops to $42, your short put with a strike of $45 is in-the-money. If you are assigned, you’ll have to purchase the stock for $4,500. That amount is partially offset by the $200 premium, so your total outlay is $4,300. You would pay a net price of $43 for each share of XYZ stock. If its price rises in the future, you could realize significant gains. Or, you could close out your position prior to assignment by purchasing the same put. Since the option is now in-the-money, however, its premium may cost you more than you collected when you sold the put.

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Calculating return

If you write a put and it expires unexercised, your return may seem simple to calculate: Subtract any fees and commissions from the premium you received. But writing puts usually requires a margin account with your brokerage firm, so you should include in your calculations any investing capital that was held in that account, since it could perhaps have been profitably invested elsewhere during the life of the option.

For example, if you write the XYZ 45 put, you’d receive $200. But your brokerage firm would require that premium, along with a percentage of the $4,500 needed to purchase the shares, to be held on reserve in your margin account. The capital is still yours, but it is tied up until the put expires or you close out your position. If you write a put that is exercised, the premium you receive when you open the position reduces the amount that you pay for the shares when you meet your obligation to buy.

In the case of the XYZ 45 put, the $200 premium reduces what you pay for the stock from $4,500 to $4,300. If you plan to hold the shares you purchase in your portfolio, then your cost basis is $43 per share plus commissions. If you don’t want to hold those shares, you can sell them in the stock market. But if you sell them for less than $43 per share, you’ll have a loss.

Cash-secured puts

Cash-secured puts may help protect against the risk you face in writing put options. At the time you write a put option contract, you place the cash needed to fulfill your obligation to buy in reserve in your brokerage account or in a short-term, low-risk investment such as Treasury bills. That way, if the option is exercised, you expect to have enough money to purchase the shares. Securing your put with cash also prevents you from writing more contracts than you can afford, since you’ll commit all the capital you’ll need upfront.

Understanding Writing Put Options by Inna Rosputnia

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