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Options Theory: When to Buy Stock vs. Calls

November 20, 2020

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When first venturing into the wide world of options I learned that long calls could be used as a substitute to stock. They offer a much cheaper, more limited risk avenue to bullish exposure. Given the advantages, you might be wondering why you would bother with buying stock at all?

That, dear readers, is a great question. And it’s the tantalizing question in focus for this week’s Options Theory blog.

When it comes to trading, there are very few absolutes. This is particularly true when we’re talking about strategies. One is not automatically better than the other. Instead, it’s a matter of tradeoffs, pros and cons.

Let’s walk through my top reasons for why I would buy long stock.

Long Stock

To start building my case, I’m going to first send you to a recent Stock Report where the one and only Coach Noah crafted some mighty compelling arguments for stock trading.

I personally favor buying stock over straight calls in a variety of situations.

Situation One: The Big Account

The high capital cost of stock doesn’t matter as much when you have a larger account size versus a smaller one. Tying up $10k in a stock trade is a big deal when that’s your entire account size! But when it’s $50k, $100k, $150k, and beyond, cost reduction really isn’t all that necessary.

In fact, I suspect traders harnessing that much capital struggle with knowing where to put it all! Do you know how many cheap call trades you would have to do before making a dent in such a big pile of cash? Dozens upon dozens. So many that if you actually deployed them all you would be way, way, overleveraged.

If you’re smart enough to avoid dumping all your dough into leveraged derivatives plays then you’re left with two choices. One: Get comfortable with seeing a large percentage of your account sitting in cash. Two: Buy some stock with all those Benjamins for growth & covered calls.

Situation Two: Long Time Frame

Suppose I want to build some legacy positions for my portfolio. You ever hear stories of how some lucky person received a grand inheritance from their grandma because she invested her money every month in the stock market for fifty years?

I have.

I want to be that grandma.

So, I have some of my money earmarked for incremental investments into stocks. Long calls wouldn’t work for what I’m trying to accomplish because they have an expiration date. Now, if there was such a thing as a long call without an expiration date, then perhaps I’d be interested.

Oh, wait! There is.

It’s called stock.

Buying equities is like buying an expensive call without an expiration date.

Situation Three: Give me Simplicity

The final situation or reason for using stock over options is when I want a straightforward, liquid delta play. If I buy 100 shares of stock, I get 100 deltas using an instrument with a one penny bid-ask spread. No time decay to raid my premium. No implied volatility nonsense to worry about. Just pure, simple delta.

Long Calls

Now, let’s give long calls a fair shake.

Situation One: I’m a Poor Boy

Let’s not kid ourselves. The overarching reason why long calls are so darn sexy is that they’re cheap and boast leverage. The low-cost is particularly attractive for traders arriving on Wall Street with small accounts in tow. As mentioned before, if you’re account is below 10k or so, then I guarantee buying a call for $500 is far more tempting than socking $5,000 into a single stock.

Situation Two: I’m Speculating, Not Investing

It’s hard to spin how you can use long calls as an investment vehicle. Were I to try, I’d probably pitch it as someone buying long-term deep ITM calls with little extrinsic value. That way you’re getting a high delta with little theta or vega exposure.

If I want a cheap speculative bet, then yeah, long calls are nice. Make no mistake though, they’ll rip your face off in a heartbeat if you’re wrong. Minimizing loss is really hard.

Ultimately it comes down to your skillset. Long calls require a high win rate for success. I haven’t met many traders that can make them work – myself included.

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One Reply to “Options Theory: When to Buy Stock vs. Calls”

  1. Avatar ROBERTMCKEE says:

    Thanks! When I started out, I preferred long calls but now I’d rather have the stock, probably a pretty common trend I suspect, and no commissions make stocks even more appealing since you don’t feel the need to buy them in lots of 100s.

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