Using Options to Profit from Takeovers

04/29/2011 8:00 am EST

Focus: OPTIONS

Dan Passarelli

Founder, Market Taker Mentoring, LLC

This case study shows how a trader could construct a bull call spread to capitalize on takeover rumors while still taking steps to manage risk.

Say you hear a takeover rumor: A $50 stock is rumored to be taken out at $55. Looks like a nice trade to pick up a few dollars per share. So you go to the option chain to look for some calls to buy, but wow, the options seem to have gotten very expensive and the implied volatility is totally out of whack.

Sometimes implied volatility can make options so expensive that even if the trade goes your way, the profit is just not there…but the risk is. So, what’s a trader to do?

One solution can be to buy a bull call spread instead of instead the outright call. The rationale there? It’s called hedging…hedging volatility premium.

Whenever you buy options, you’re getting long implied volatility. If implied volatility is expensive, the options are expensive, too. And if implied volatility subsequently falls after you make the trade, those options drop in value as well.

So, what if you both buy and sell an option to create a spread? Let’s look at the two legs of a bull call spread:

Bull Call Spread – Long Leg

A bull call spread is when a trader buys one call and sells another call that has a higher strike price. Look at it as two trades: The long call would be the one you might buy if you were to speculate on the takeover stock. In the case of a takeover, this call likely has high implied volatility as the market scrambles to buy up calls, making it pricey.

Bull Call Spread – Short Leg

Because there is a target price in which the takeover target is expected to be bought, you only need exposure up to a certain point: the takeover price. Why not sell a call at or above the expected takeover price? You’re not giving up upside, but you are taking in (expensive) premium to hedge the (expensive) premium you’re buying with the long call leg. It’s a perfect spread.

Example

Let’s look at this in terms of absolute risk. A stock currently trading for $50 is rumored for takeover at $55. News is expected within a couple of weeks. The trade:

Buy one December 50 call at $4
Sell one December 55 call at $2
Net debit: $2

Max loss = $2 (That’s better than just buying the 50 calls outright)
Max gain = $3 (That’s the $5 spread minus the $2 premium)
Breakeven = $52 (That’s $50 strike plus $2 spread premium)

Here, the max loss/max gain ratio of the spread is 2:3. The max loss/max gain ratio of the outright call would be 4:1 (Remember, you expect the stock only to rise to $55). The spread looks better so far.

Let’s look at the breakevens: The spread breakeven is $52, while the outright call’s breakeven is $54, so better still.

Wrap Up

With all option strategies, there are opportune times when they offer an advantage over an alternative strategy. Bull call spreads and takeover candidates are a natural fit. Traders always need to look for ways to construct the smartest position in terms of risk/reward.

By Dan Passarelli of MarketTaker.com

See related video: Using Options to Trade Takeover Talk

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