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Bull Call Spreads: An Alternative to Purchasing Calls

Options are a great way to get involved with the futures markets.  One of the most popular ways to trade with options is to buy calls. This provides traders a way to trade the futures markets with a defined risk and unlimited profit potential. One of the downfalls of purchasing calls is that they can be expensive if you purchase them at-the-money (If you need a refresher on purchasing options, see the previous article here: Options on Futures: An Introduction to Buying Options. One way to reduce the price of an option is to use spreads.  This article will teach you how to implement bull call spreads into your trading strategy.

What is a Bull Call Spread?

A bull call spread is a position that involves purchasing a call option on an underlying futures contract, while simultaneously writing a call option on the same underlying futures contract with the same expiration month, at a higher strike price. As the name of the strategy hints, this is a position that is appropriate for a bullish market sentiment.

Why not just purchase a call?

This is one of the most common questions posed when a trader is first learning about bull call spreads.  Bull call spreads allow a trader to pay less premium to get involved in a position than simply purchasing a call.  If a trader has a smaller account, it will also allow them the opportunity to get involved with a call that is closer to at-the-money.

How it works

As noted above, a bull call spread deals with the simultaneous purchase and sale of options on the same underlying futures contract in the same expiration month at different strike prices.  Why is this done? The trader obviously pays for the purchase of the call, but they also receive premium for selling a call as well. For a bull call spread, a trader would typically purchase an at-the-money call and sell an out-of-the-money call to initiate a bull call spread. The selling of the out-of-the-money call helps the trader finance the purchase of the at-the-money call. The maximum profit would be the difference between the strike prices of the options minus the amount paid for the spread.

Example

Any trades are educational examples only. They do not include commissions and fees.

Larry has a bullish sentiment on the gold market and believes it will continue in its bullish ways. He decides the most cost-effective way to get involved in the market is to enter a bull call spread. Larry decides to get involved in July gold as it provides a reasonable time frame for the move he thinks will occur. July gold futures are currently trading at 1512.5. Larry decides to enter a 1510/1550 bull call spread.  See below for the specifics on the options:

Purchase One July 1510 Gold Call Option for $3,700 (Pay)
Sell One July 1550 Gold Call Option for $2,100 (Collect)
Total Premium Paid for Position = $1,600 (3700 – 2100)

Larry’s maximum profit on the trade is the difference in the strike prices minus the total premium paid.

$4,000 Difference in futures price (40*100)
-1,600 Premium paid for call spread
$2,400 Maximum profit potential

Larry’s maximum risk is the $1,600 he paid to enter the spread.

This spread will realize maximum profit at expiration if the July gold futures market is trading at over 1550.0. The options will be exercised, offsetting each other at the strike prices assigned to each option.  See below for how this would work at expiration:

  • July 1510 Gold call expires on June 27th, the option is exercised and Larry’s account is long a gold futures contract from 1510.
  • July 1550 Gold call expires on June 27th, assigning Larry’s account a short gold futures contract from 1550.
  • The long 1510 July Gold futures is immediately offset by the 1550 July Gold futures contract, allowing Larry to show a futures gain of $4,000 (40 * 100).
  • Larry’s realized profit is the gain in the spread offsetting by the cost of the spread, or $2,400.

Any trades are educational examples only. They do not include commissions and fees.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are opportunities in the options market using the bull call scenario above. It offers a great way to get involved in options at a desirable strike price with a limited risk. You don’t have to wait until expiration to exit the spread. You can exit any time you’d like to limit losses or collect profits before expiration.

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