Alert

Looking for even more trade ideas? Sign up for Alpha Boost, a FREE email from quiet foundation!

Strike Selection in Covered Calls

May 22, 2017

By: Sage Anderson

One of the most prevalent options trading strategies is the covered call.

A covered call means that a trader is short calls, but owns enough stock against them to "cover" any assignment requiring the trader to sell stock to the owner of the calls.

The risk profile of a covered call is therefore quite different than that of a naked call seller, who theoretically is exposed to unlimited risk. Selling naked calls is effectively like getting naked short stock, which means there's significant upside exposure.

In order to be short a covered call, a trader needs to own at least as much stock as they've put at risk in their short calls. For example, a trader selling 1 call contract would need to own at least 100 shares of the underlying.

However, investors that own large concentrated positions may, of course, sell fewer calls than the amount that would equate to their entire equity holding. If for example, an investor owned 10,000 shares of stock XYZ, they might choose to sell only 10 XYZ covered calls (which would require at minimum 1,000 long shares).

Aside from the number of contracts to sell, traders also need to decide what strike might be most appropriate.

While the ultimate choice of strike may depend on your unique strategy and risk profile, a recent episode of Options Jive highlights research conducted by tastytrade on this subject that may be helpful.

In terms of risk, a covered call strategy performs well when the underlying stock sits still and does not break through the upside strike. In this case, the trader collects all of the premium and retains their entire stock position.

If the underlying stock goes down, a covered call also performs well, because the trader will collect the premium against their losses in the stock position. Without the covered call, the trader would have simply experienced the loss on their stock (with no gain from the short premium).

In the case where the underlying stock goes up, the performance of the covered call will ultimately depend on the specific strike selected and the price of the stock.

In order to better understand how the covered call strategy has performed over time, tastytrade designed and conducted a study that segmented the results by call delta.

Delta is, of course, the Greek that tells us how much an option's price will change for every $1 move in the underlying. So at-the-money options, which are more sensitive to underlying price movement, have higher deltas, while out-of-the-money (OTM) options have lower deltas.

In terms of strike selection, that means that traders selling ATM covered calls would be selling approximately 50 delta calls. From there, going higher on the strike ladder (further out-of-the-money), reduces the delta.

In the study, tastytrade analyzed 50 delta, 30 delta, 16 delta, and 5 delta covered calls to provide a snapshot of the relative performance of covered calls across the delta spectrum. The study used data from 2005 to present and evaluated options with an average duration of 45 days-to-expiration.

The graphic below highlights the results of this study:

As you can see from the above, the data indicates several important trends.

First, the ATM covered call strategy does not produce as high returns as the other delta levels (on average). Additionally, the 50 delta strategy also missed out on profits the highest percentage of the time (43.96%).

On the other hand, the 16 delta strategy returned the highest average P/L, while missing out on profits only 14.88% of the time.

The results above obviously take into account a broad range of market conditions. Therefore, traders with no opinion on the direction of the markets may lean toward selling lower delta covered calls, such as the 16 delta category illustrated in the graphic above.

However, it's certainly possible that traders may also align their covered call strategy with their view on market direction, which may call for a different choice in strike selection. Obviously, in bear markets, the relative performance of higher delta covered calls will improve.

We hope you'll take the time to review the entire episode of Options Jive focusing on strike selection in covered calls when your schedule allows.

Also, don't hesitate to reach out at support@tastytrade.com with any comments or questions.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Sage Anderson has an extensive background trading equity derivatives and managing volatility-based portfolios. He has traded hundreds of thousands of contracts across the spectrum of industries in the single-stock universe.


Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before deciding to invest in options.

Related Posts

tastytrade content is provided solely by tastytrade, Inc. (“tastytrade”) and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, trading or investment advice or a recommendation that any security, futures contract, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any person. Trading securities can involve high risk and the loss of any funds invested. tastytrade, through its content, financial programming or otherwise, does not provide investment or financial advice or make investment recommendations. Investment information provided may not be appropriate for all investors, and is provided without respect to individual investor financial sophistication, financial situation, investing time horizon or risk tolerance. tastytrade is not in the business of transacting securities trades, nor does it direct client commodity accounts or give commodity trading advice tailored to any particular client’s situation or investment objectives. Supporting documentation for any claims (including claims made on behalf of options programs), comparison, statistics, or other technical data, if applicable, will be supplied upon request. tastytrade is not a licensed financial advisor, registered investment advisor, or a registered broker-dealer. Options, futures and futures options are not suitable for all investors. Prior to trading securities products, please read the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options and the Risk Disclosure for Futures and Options found on tastyworks.com.

tastyworks, Inc. ("tastyworks") is a registered broker-dealer and member of FINRA, NFA and SIPC. tastyworks offers self-directed brokerage accounts to its customers. tastyworks does not give financial or trading advice nor does it make investment recommendations. You alone are responsible for making your investment and trading decisions and for evaluating the merits and risks associated with the use of tastyworks’ systems, services or products. tastyworks is a wholly owned subsidiary of tastytrade, Inc (“tastytrade”). tastytrade is a trademark/servicemark owned by tastytrade.

Quiet Foundation, Inc. (“Quiet Foundation”) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of tastytrade The information on quietfoundation.com is intended for U.S. residents only. All investing involves the risk of loss. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Quiet Foundation does not make suitability determinations, nor does it make investment recommendations. You alone are responsible for making your investment and trading decisions and for evaluating the merits and risks associated with the use of Quiet Foundation’s systems, services or products.

Small Exchange, Inc. is a Designated Contract Market registered with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The information on this site should be considered general information and not in any case as a recommendation or advice concerning investment decisions. The reader itself is responsible for the risks associated with an investment decision based on the information stated in this material in light of his or her specific circumstances. The information on this website is for informational purposes only, and does not contend to address the financial objectives, situation, or specific needs of any individual investor. Trading in derivatives and other financial instruments involves risk, please read the Risk Disclosure Statement for Futures and Options. tastytrade is an investor in Small Exchange, Inc.

© copyright 2013 – 2021 tastytrade. All Rights Reserved. Applicable portions of the Terms of use on tastytrade.com apply. Reproduction, adaptation, distribution, public display, exhibition for profit, or storage in any electronic storage media in whole or in part is prohibited under penalty of law, provided that you may download tastytrade’s podcasts as necessary to view for personal use.