Why Do Call Buyers Exercise Early Prior to the Ex-Dividend Date?

05/20/2015 8:00 am EST

Focus: OPTIONS

Alan Ellman

President, The Blue Collar Investor Corp.

Alan Ellman, of TheBlueCollarInvestor.com, lays out the choices that option holders have when they are deciding whether or not to exercise an in-the-money call option prior to expiration.

Covered call writers know that early exercise is extremely rare. Call buyers are generally better off selling the option rather than exercising early. In this article we will evaluate why a call buyer may choose to exercise an in-the-money call option prior to expiration by evaluating the choices available to these option holders.

Value of a Call Option

Call value = intrinsic value + implied volatility + interest rate value - dividend value

Interest rate value factors in because of the benefit of spending less money for calls than actual shares and earning interest on the cash not spent. Dividend value factors in as a result of the dividend being received by the share holder and not the option buyer.

The key factors here are that the only potential negative impacting option value is the value of a dividend and the other three can never be less than zero. This means that if a stock does not generate a dividend, the options should never trade less than parity (intrinsic value only) and therefore should not be exercised early.

Hypothetical Example

  • BCI is trading at $50.00
  • The $40.00 call expires in two weeks
  • The stock goes ex-dividend  tomorrow
  • The dividend to be distributed is $1.00
  • The theoretical value of the $40.00 call is $10.00 (trading at parity, all intrinsic value with no time value component)
  • The call has a delta of 100 (1- same characteristics as the stock)

Available Choices for the Option Holder

  1. Hold the option

Assuming no other changes in investor demand for the security, the stock will lose $1.00 of value on the ex-date and open at $49.00. Since the option is trading at parity with a delta of 1, its value will be $9.00. In this instance, we are guaranteed a loss of $1.00 in this trade.

  1. Exercising the option

If the holder exercises the option, shares will be purchased at $40.00 and the option holder then becomes a share owner. Because of the loss of the $10.00 option value, the shares are purchased, in reality, for $50.00 ($40.00 + $10.00 option premium). When the stock goes ex-dividend, the shares will drop in value to $49.00 but the former option holder, now share-owner, will capture that dividend. It is apparent that the exercise of the option is a better choice than holding onto the option.

  1. Selling the option and buying the shares

If the option is, in fact, trading at parity ($10.00), this approach is exactly the same as early exercise because the option is replaced by the shares in both cases. However, if the option is trading above parity (has a time value component), say $10.25, this third choice would be the best. We are giving up our right to buy at $40.00, $10.00 below current market value, but receiving $10.25 in return. The loss in share price on the ex-date is compensated for by capturing the dividend.

Discussion

Early exercise of a call option is extremely rare and only makes sense when there is a dividend associated with the underlying security and the ex-dividend date comes prior to contract expiration. A trader may consider early exercise the day prior to the ex-date.

By Alan Ellman of TheBlueCollarInvestor.com

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