Puts, or put options, are contracts between a buyer – known as the holder of an option – and a seller – known as the writer of an option – that gives the buyer the right to sell an asset, like a stock or exchange-traded fund (ETF), at a specific price within a specified time period. The seller of the put option is obligated to buy the asset at the strike price if the buyer exercises their option to sell.
Writing a put option is also known as selling a put option. When you sell a put option, you agree to buy the underlying asset at a specified price if the option buyer, also known as the option holder, exercises their right to sell the asset. The premium you receive for writing the put option is your maximum possible profit.
Generally, traders who buy put options have a bearish view of a security, meaning they expect the underlying asset’s price to decline. In contrast, the put option writer has a neutral to bullish outlook of a security. The put writer should be willing to take the risk of having to buy the asset if it falls below the strike price in exchange for the premium paid by the put option holder.
Writing put options is just one of numerous trading strategies investors use to build wealth, speculate, or hedge positions. While there is potential to generate income by writing put options, it can also be a risky way to enhance a portfolio’s return. Only investors with the knowledge of how to write put options and risk tolerance to take on this strategy should do so.
Writing Put Options
When writing a put option contract, the seller will initiate a trade order known as sell to open.
As mentioned above, the put option writer is selling a contract that gives the holder the right to sell a security at a strike price within a specified time frame. The put option writer will receive a premium from the holder for selling this option. If the price of the security falls below the strike price before the expiration date, the writer may be obligated to buy the security from the holder at the strike price.
There are two main reasons to write a put option contract: to earn income from the premium or to hedge a position.
A naked, or “uncovered,” put option is an option that is issued and sold without the writer setting aside any cash to meet the obligation of the option when it reaches expiration. This increases the writer’s risk.
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The most a put option writer can profit from selling the option is the premium received at the start of the trade. Many traders take advantage of this profit as a way to generate regular income by writing put options for assets that they expect will not fall below the strike price.
However, this strategy can be risky because there can be significant losses if the asset’s price falls below the strike price. For example, if a stock’s price plummets because a company announces bankruptcy, the put option writer may be obligated to buy the stock when it’s trading near $0. The maximum loss will be equal to the strike price minus the premium.
The breakeven point for a put option writer can be calculated by subtracting the premium from the strike price. The breakeven point is the market price where the option writer comes away even, not making a profit or experiencing a loss (not including trading commissions and fees).
Writing Puts for Income
There are many options trading strategies. As noted above, many traders will write put options to generate income when they have a neutral to bullish outlook on a specific security. Because the writer of a put option receives a premium for opening the contract, they will benefit from that guaranteed payment if the put expires unexercised or if the writer closes out their position by buying back the same put option.
For example, if you believe an asset’s price will stay above a put option’s strike price, you can write a put option to take advantage of steady to rising prices on the underlying security. By keeping the option premium, you effectively add a stream of income into your trading account, as long as the underlying asset’s price moves in your favor.
However, with this strategy, you face the risk of having to buy the underlying asset from the option holder if the price falls below the strike price before the expiration date.
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Put Writing Example
Let’s say you are neutral to bullish on shares of XYZ stock, which trade at $70 per share. You execute a sell to open order on a put option expiring in three months at a strike price of $60. The premium for this put option is $5; since each option contract is for 100 shares, you collect $500 in income.
If you wrote the put option contract for income, you’re hoping the price of XYZ stock will stay above $60 through the expiration date in three months, so the option holder does not exercise the option and requires you to buy XYZ. In this ideal scenario, your maximum profit will be the $500 premium you received for selling the put option.
At the very least, you hope the stock does not fall below $55, or the breakeven point ($60 strike price minus the $5 premium). At $55, you may be obligated to buy 100 shares at the $60 strike price:
$5,500 market value – $6,000 price paid + $500 premium earned = $0 return
If XYZ stock falls to $50, the put option holder will likely exercise the option to sell the stock. In this scenario, you will be obligated to buy the stock XYZ at the $60 strike price and incur a $500 loss in this trade:
$5,000 market value – $6,000 price paid + $500 premium earned = -$500 return
However, the further the price of XYZ falls, your potential loss risk increases. In the worst-case scenario where the stock falls to $0, your maximum loss would be $5,500:
$0 market value – $6,000 price paid + $500 premium earned = -$5,500 return
Put Option Exit Strategy
In the example above, it is assumed that the option is exercised or expires worthless. However, a put option writer can also exit a trade in order to profit or mitigate losses prior to the contract’s expiration.
A put writer can exit their position anytime using a trade order known as buy to close. In this scenario, the writer of the initial put option will buy back a put option to close out a position, either to lock in a profit or prevent further losses.
Using the example above, say that after two months, shares of XYZ have increased from $70 to $85. The value put contract you sold, which still has one more month until expiration and a $60 strike price, has collapsed to $1 because of a share price rise and perhaps a drop in expected volatility. Rather than wait for expiration, you decide to buy to close your put position, buying back the put contract at $1 premium, for a total of $100 ($1 premium x 100 shares). You are no longer obligated to buy shares of XYZ in the event the stock drops below $60 during the next month, and you lock in a profit of $400:
$500 premium earned to sell to open – $100 premium paid to buy to close = $400 return
A buy to close strategy can also be used to mitigate substantial losses. For example, if stock XYZ’s price starts dropping, the value of puts with a $60 strike price and a similar expiration date will rise. Rather than wait for expiration and be obligated to buy shares of a stock you don’t want, potentially losing up to $5,500, you may exit the position at any time. If option premiums for this trade are now $8, you can pay $800 ($8 premium x 100 shares) to buy to close the trade. This will result in a loss of $300, a potentially more manageable loss than the worst-case scenario:
$500 premium earned to sell to open – $800 premium paid to buy to close = -$300 return
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Writing a put option is an options strategy in which you are neutral to bullish on the underlying asset. Potential profit is limited to the premium collected at the start of the trade. The maximum loss can be substantial, however. Finally, there is the risk that you will be liable to buy the stock at the option strike price if the holder exercises the option. Because of all these moving parts, writing put options should be left to experienced traders with the tolerance to take on the risk.
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What happens when you sell a put option?
Selling a put option is the same thing as writing a put option. You profit by collecting a premium for selling the option or when the put options decline in value, which usually happens when the underlying asset price rises. A significant risk of writing a put option is that you might be required to buy shares of the underlying asset at the strike price.
How would you write a put option?
You write a put option by first executing a sell to open order. You collect a premium at the onset of the trade without owning shares of the underlying asset. This strategy can be risky, so it generally requires high-level options trading knowledge.
When would you write a put option?
If a trader believes an asset’s price will stay flat or increase over a period of time, they may choose to write a put option. If the underlying asset’s price increases, the put option’s value will decline as it nears expiration. A profitable outcome occurs when the value of the put option is zero by expiration, or if the put writer buys to close the position before expiration. The put writer will profit by keeping the premium received at the initiation of the trade.
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