beginners corner

Comparing Covered Call Writing And Put Selling In Bull Markets

Covered call writing or put-selling? In-the-money or out-of-the-money strikes? When we view an options chain there are some basic principles we must factor into our final covered call writing or put-selling decisions. First, which of these two strategies is most appropriate? Unfortunately, there is no one answer that is right for every investor. I prefer covered call writing but that is a product of the success I’ve enjoyed using that strategy over the past two decades. Others, favor selling cash-secured puts. When I do use put-selling, it is because I have a bearish market outlook and slightly favor put-selling in those environments. Both are great strategies that can be tailored to meet our overall market assessment and personal risk tolerances.

Once a strategy is selected, we must next choose a  strike price. In both strategies, this choice is based on the following factors:

  • Overall market assessment
  • Chart technicals
  • Personal risk tolerance

In other words, are we bullish or bearish about the market in general and the stock in particular? In a future article I will discuss a bear market scenario. In today’s blog I will use a bull market situation and highlight the options chain for Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (NYSE: KORS). In this example, I will show potential trade selections for both strategies. Finally, I will show the calculations for these trades which will demonstrate to us if these results meet our monthly goals. Please note that we are showing 6-week returns, so to annualize we multiply by 8.5.

NNote:Note: Article taken from my new book, Selling Cash-Secured Puts.


Options chain for KORS Holdings Ltd. as of May, 4, 2014:

Comparing covered call writing and selling cash-secured puts

Call and put option chain for KORS

In the pink-highlighted row I show strikes we may consider in bear markets. In this article, we will focus in on the yellow -highlighted rows which are appropriate for bull market environments.

Bull market trade and calculations for covered call writing 

We favor out-of-the-money strikes which will generate time value returns that meet our goals along with upside potential from share appreciation moving from the purchase price up to the strike price. The deeper out-of-the-money we go, the greater our upside potential but the lower the initial time value profit. With KORS trading @ $93.90, we will view the $97.50 OTM strike:

  • Call premium = $3.20
  • Upside potential from $93.90 to $97.50 is $3.60
  • Time value of the premium = $3.60 (ATM and OTM calls are all time value) (should read $3.20 as per Jeff’s comment below…thanks Jeff)
  • Initial profit = $320/$9390 per contract = 3.4%
  • Annualized return = 29%
  • Upside potential = $3.60/$93.90 = 3.8%
  • Maximum 6-week return = 3.4% + 3.8% = 7.2% or 61% annualized
  • Breakeven = $93.90 – $3.20 = $90.70


Bull market trade and calculations for selling cash-secured puts 

We favor slightly out-of-the-money strikes as well as at-the-money and slightly in-the-money strikes which will generate higher initial returns than deeper out-of-the-money strikes. We do this to take advantage of the bull market environment to generate the highest possible returns while still having capital preservation in mind. With KORS trading @ $93.90, we will view the $95.00 slightly ITM strike:

•           Put premium = $5.30

•           Initial profit = $530/$9500 per contract = 5.6%

•           Annualized return = 47.4%

•           Breakeven = $95.00 – $5.30 = $89.70


Note: This information was taken from my new book: Selling Cash-Secured Puts. For more information on both options strategies, visit our Blue Collar store.


By incorporating overall market assessment, chart technicals, personal risk tolerance and calculation results we can make informed, non-emotional decisions as to which strategy and strike price will be most appropriate for our portfolios.

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Phoenix, Arizona area

January 9, 2015: Tempe, AZ: 7:00 – 9:00 PM

January 10, 2015: Scottsdale, AZ: 9 AM – 12PM and 1:15 PM to 2:30 PM

Details and registration links to follow.

Market tone

 Our economy continues to outpace those of most other developed countries in the global economy:

  • According to the Commerce Department, the US gross domestic product (GDP) expanded to 3.9% in the 3rd quarter on an annualized basis. This is an increase from the 3.5% estimate reported a month ago
  • After a weather-impacted GDP contraction in the 1st quarter, the next 6 months saw the GDP grow at a 4.25% rate, the best since the 2nd half of 2003
  • The Fed is expected to keep monetary policy where it is until sustainability is confirmed
  • Personal spending rose by 0.2% in October and the September figure was revised upward from 0.0% to 0.2%
  • New home sales in October increased to an annualized 458,000. the 3rd consecutive monthly increase
  • New home sales were up 1.8% year-over-year
  • Durable goods orders rose by 0.4% in October, much better than expected
  • The Conference Board’s Index of Consumer Confidence fell to 88.7 in November after reaching a 7-year high in October
  • Initial jobless claims for the week ending November 22nd, came in at 313,000, more than the 288,000 anticipated

For the shortened week, the S&P 500 rose by 0.2%, for a year-to-date return of 14%, including dividends.


IBD: Confirmed uptrend

GMI:6/6- Buy signal since market close of October 27, 2014

BCI: Moderately bullish favoring out-of-the-money strikes 2-to-1

Wishing you the best in investing,

Alan ([email protected])


About Alan Ellman

Alan Ellman loves options trading so much he has written four top selling books on the topic of selling covered calls, one about put-selling and a sixth book about long-term investing. Alan is a national speaker for The Money Show, The Stock Traders Expo and the American Association of Individual Investors. He also writes financial columns for both US and International publications along with his own award-winning blog.. He is a retired dentist, a personal fitness trainer, successful real estate investor, but he is known mostly for his practical and successful stock option strategies.

30 Responses to “Comparing Covered Call Writing And Put Selling In Bull Markets”

  1. Barry B November 29, 2014 7:46 pm

    Premium Members,

    This week’s Weekly Stock Screen And Watch List has been uploaded to The Blue Collar Investor premium member site and is available for download in the “Reports” section. Look for the report dated 11/28/14.

    Also, be sure to check out the latest BCI Training Videos and “Ask Alan” segments. You can view them at The Blue Collar YouTube Channel. For your convenience, the link to the BCI YouTube Channel is:

    Barry and The BCI Team

  2. Charles November 30, 2014 4:25 pm

    Hi Alan

    Seasons Greetings!

    Supposing a person who holds stocks for long term investment and sells covered OTM calls and at the time close to expiration, the calls sold becomes in-the-money , would it be better for him:

    (a) to let the stock be called away or
    (b) to buy back the calls sold at higher price and thus making a loss on the calls sold ?

    For (a) , the advantage is that profits will be realised in cash and he can wait for the stocks to drop and re-purchase the stocks and sell covered calls again.

    For (b), the stock will be retained and there is an unrealised profits in the account which may disappear or reduce when the stock drops subsequently.

    Would appreciate if you could comment on which is the best approach to take to maximize gains.

    thanks and best regards


    • Alan Ellman November 30, 2014 4:36 pm


      They key to giving the best response to your VERY IMPORTANT question (s) is to first identify your goals. For example, many investors who use covered call writing in a long-term buy-and-hold portfolio may own those shares at a low cost basis in a non-sheltered account. If that’s the case and there may be tax consequences we are trying to avoid, buying back and possibly rolling the option is the way to go.

      Perhaps these shares are generating dividends that want to continue receiving. Here, we would write the call after the ex-date or write a 2-month option the month prior to the ex-date.

      Now, if neither tax issues or dividends are part of our goals, the decision whether buy back the option or “allow assignment” is based on where our money is best placed to generate the highest returns…in that stock or another.

      The main point here is that our goals must be clarified initially before making management decisions after trades are entered.


      • charles November 30, 2014 6:37 pm

        thanks for your advice,Allan. Appreciate it!


  3. Walter November 30, 2014 4:27 pm

    Hi Alan,

    How can we order your new book on puts?

    In time for holidays?


    • Alan Ellman November 30, 2014 4:44 pm


      The book is being printed as we speak and shipping will begin in 1-2 weeks. Unfortunately, my webmaster is ill with the flu and hasn’t been able to put the book up on the site but I expect it will be there in a day or two as she recovers.

      The book will also be available on (at a slightly higher price point) after our members have had the first opportunity to purchase. Kindle versions will follow shortly thereafter.

      Thanks for your interest.


  4. Gary K. December 1, 2014 9:26 am

    Help me understand the logic of an ITM cash secured Put? Are you providing this example in terms of a bullish trade only…this seems risky if your intent is not to be assigned shares?

    • Alan Ellman December 1, 2014 10:25 am


      Yes. This article focuses in on bull market environments only. Next week, I will write an article highlighting bear market environments.

      In a bull market, a slightly ITM put strike has a good opportunity to become an OTM strike as share price rises with the market. As a result, we will have a greater chance to capture higher returns.

      As in ALL trades, we always have our exit strategy arsenal to mitigate trades that turn against us.


  5. Rodrigo December 2, 2014 1:05 am


    I’m trying to understand the 20%/10% guideline,

    In simple words where do I see that on the option chain?

    Is that a 20% loss you are talking about it ?

    Would the rule work also for weekly covered calls ?

    Sorry for the questions, I’m new with it and im trying to understand everything now. Super excited on learning.

    Kind regards


    • Alan Ellman December 2, 2014 7:27 am


      Glad to help and welcome to the BCI community.

      The 20%/10% guidelines apply to stocks declining in value causing the option premium to also decline in value. Since we are in 2 positions (long stock, short option), the first action (if any) taken is closing the short options position. This guideline will assist us in determining when to do so.

      For example, if the original option is sold for $2, we would buy back the option for $0.40 or less in the first half of the contract (20%) or $0.20 or less (10%) in the 2nd half of the contract. Specific weeks are detailed in my books and DVDs. Once the option is bought back (closing the short options position) several actions are available to us to mitigate losses, turn losses into gains or enhance gains. Chapter 10 in the Complete Encyclopedia…details these and all other exit strategy opportunities. More examples are also found in our DVD Program.

      The 20%/10% guidelines do not work as well for weeklys because the time frame is limited for exit strategy execution. Although selling weeklys is a viable alternative to traditional cc writing, limited time for exit strategy execution is one of the reasons I prefer monthlys.

      Each strategy approach has its pros and cons.


  6. Adrian December 2, 2014 2:56 am

    Hi, I know from what you have told me to compare the price performance of market to the stock, for whether it is a good idea to keep the stock or not. I guess in a way you probably wouldn’t need to take out put protection, as I asked you a week ago, if when seeing the performance suddenly drop you just sell instead.
    I had told you that the “RS line” is what I will use as I just can’t really understand the price performance line without trendlines.
    So I have 3 questions that now revolve around that.

    1. First should I need to use the ‘RS’ line for picking the stocks to trade or to only use after a stock is bought, – so as to see how price performance is going?
    2. For the above question, if I should use the ‘RS line’ for buying stocks (so to compare price performances of stocks), then I am wondering if this RS line should always be uptrending? (or can it be going sideways too?)
    3. And if the price of a stock has gone down and it has broken the ‘RS support line’ so shows underperforming, then is it still a good idea to close the position and sell if I were to see that the
    roll-down calculations are better?

    I do have one more RS question to ask but it is alot longer so will have to next time. Thanks for you time.

    • Alan Ellman December 3, 2014 12:28 pm


      This is a tough one to respond to because it appears that you are basing your trade decisions on one technical parameter and, as you know, in the BCI methodology we use many more than that to enter and manage trades (I apologize if I am misunderstanding your premise). So to respond to your questions I will make the following assumptions:

      1- All other factors not changing (never happens!) and

      2- You are referring to the IBD RS line.

      Your 3 questions:

      1- Every stock you choose should be uptrending or at least consolidating sideways (beating or meeting the market). If the latter, consider ITM strikes.

      2- Consolidation does not frighten me, especially after an uptrend…just avoid under-performers.

      3- Breaking of support decisions should be based on the degree of the break…like a stock moving under its 20-d EMA briefly does not necessarily mean a sell signal. I use the 20%/10% guidelines, and if executed, the time in a contract (early, mid, end) will dictate exit strategy choice along with performance compared to the S&P 500.

      I think the RS line is a solid technical indicator. If I did use it, I would use it in conjunction with other technical indicators, not by itself.


  7. Jeff December 2, 2014 7:30 am

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for your commitment to education regarding covered calls.

    One nitpick: In your KORS out-of-the-money covered calls example, the time value should be $3.20 (not $3.60).

    Best wishes,

    • Alan Ellman December 2, 2014 8:16 am

      Thanks Jeff…good catch…all calculations are correct.


  8. Paul December 4, 2014 2:35 am


    Is there any reason why the option exit Guide Lines outlined in your most helpful book on the subject for 1 month options using a 4 week cycle cannot (or should not) be applied to weekly options by simply considering the expiration date week as week 4 & week 1 as 3 weeks prior to that?

    • Alan Ellman December 4, 2014 7:50 am


      With the “expanded weeklys program”, weeklys are now available several weeks prior to expiration for many securities so you can apply the exit strategies in the case that we are selling weeklys 1-month in advance of expiration.

      If we sell a weekly 1 week prior to expiration (standard weekly), you can definitely consider it week 4 or 5 of a monthly. As a matter of fact, the week before monthlys expire, there are no additional weeklys available…the monthly is the weekly that week.

      Now here’s the tricky part. A weekly sold one week prior to expiration (let’s say) in the 2nd week of a monthly contract is NOT the same as the 2nd week of a monthly. The reason has to do with the logarithmic nature of time value erosion (theta) so there will be more opportunity for exit strategy execution with the monthly than a weekly sold in the same week.

      To make a weekly the same as a monthly, there needs to be a similar amount of time to expiration. The reason some members like weeklys (1-week expirations) is that a shorter term option may realize higher annualized returns. Less exit strategy opportunities and quadruple the commissions are disadvantages to consider.


  9. Dan December 4, 2014 2:49 am


    Just a quick question off the top of my head….for Covered calls we are hoping the price goes up and in Cash secured puts, it is beneficial if the price drops (or stays the same…you just keep the premium if it is unassigned). I’m not understanding how the same list can work for both (as they seem to move in contrary directions).

    Is there a quick answer to that question?

    P.S. I’m always intrigued by new strategies. I think that is what makes us grow as investors!

    • Alan Ellman December 4, 2014 3:15 pm


      When we sell a cash-secured put for purposes of generating cash flow (as opposed to purchasing a stock “at a discount”) we do not want share price to depreciate. We want the price to remain above the strike price or the option will be exercised. The option BUYER will not exercise and sell shares to us at a lower price than it is trading for at market. That’s why the lists for each strategy are identical.


      • Dan December 4, 2014 6:24 pm

        Now it is totally clear, the stronger the stock the less likely that the put will be exercised. Got it…makes perfect sense. I WILL buy your book and read more about the strategy.

        As far as safety…which would you rate as less risky, cash secured puts or covered calls? Another question, is there an advantage to mixing a little of both into our monthly picks?

        • Gary K. December 4, 2014 7:54 pm

          One thing to keep in mind with selling puts (which I currently do) is that you want to sell puts on stocks you wouldn’t mind owning, in case you get assigned. If that happens, you then immediately sell covered calls on the stock. So it is a good way to actually combine the 2 strategies.

        • Alan Ellman December 6, 2014 6:11 am


          Gary makes an excellent point and as a matter of fact I have a chapter devoted to a strategy with both cc writing and put-selling intermingled into one strategy: I call it the PCP strategy or Put-Call-Put strategy.

          In my view put-selling is a slightly more bearish strategy but both are considered conservative option strategies.


  10. Steve December 4, 2014 3:01 am


    I have question for you today. This one comes from a webinar posted on YouTube featuring a star options trader who is promoting a very expensive advisory service. The example suggests that you can achieve high monthly returns by writing CCs on conservative low volatility REITs. I am skeptical so I decided to check it out using “thinkBack” on the Think or Swim platform.

    Here is the setup:

    Buy Realty Income (symbol O) @ 45.97
    Sell O 45 N22 ’14 Calls @ 2.50

    From the transaction history these trades occurred on two different dates:

    10/31 for the long stock
    11/04 for the short call

    The Net Profit Potential for this covered call is calculated as 3.5% or 61.2% annualized.

    (I believe that he is using net cost basis, stock debit minus option credit, as the denominator for calculating the percentage return. )

    Using thinkBack with EOD prices, I see the following:

    10/31 O Last price is 46.03 (very near the example 45.97)
    10/31 O N22 ’14 $45 Call Last price is 1.22

    The option sale in the example occurred on a later date, but assuming that it would have been done as a buy write on the same date 10/31, the Ellman Calculator shows the following:
    ROO is 0.6% with 2.1% downside protection.

    The option sale actually occurred two trading days later, so here is what I see on that date:

    11/4 O Last Price is 47.63 (up 3.6% from the purchase price)
    11/4 O N22 ’14 $45 Call Last price is 2.6 (close to the example 2.5)

    Plugging these numbers into the Ellman Calculator:
    ROO is -0.1% with 5.5% downside protection.

    Neither of these ROO results is even close to the example 3.5%.
    Is the example 3.5% CC profit potential deceptive or am I looking at it wrong?

    According to the transaction history, the guy really did take the trades. The question is why?

    Why would anyone sell a call option with a ROO of -0.1%? Was it done to insure the 3.6% return generated by stock price appreciation? Why not just sell the stock and avoid paying the 0.1% insurance premium?

    O pays out a monthly dividend so I was thinking maybe that was a reason not to sell the stock, but in this case the ex-dividend date occurred after expiration on 11/26.

    Best Regards,

    • Alan Ellman December 4, 2014 7:13 pm


      Interesting example a great for learning how to really evaluate a strategy. First, let me congratulate you for researching and not simply accepting a premise.

      There are 3 trades here:

      1- Returns 3.4%
      2- Returns 0.4%
      3- Returns (-) 0.1%

      These are slightly different but similar to the returns you highlighted in your questions.

      The only one appealing here is the first. If the trade was initiated with both legs on the same day the returns would not meet our monthly goals. So the success of the strategy hinges on buying the security, having it go up in value, thereby driving up the price of the option and then selling the option. That’s how you get an annualized return of over 60% with a slightly-above-average volatility security (That’s what O is…not low volatility…about 6% higher than the S&P 500 on an annualized basis). Do we want to hang our hats on a strategy that depends on the security going up in value immediately after its purchase?

      In a strong bull market, this will probably work more often than not. In normal market conditions, it is quite risky because a security can also go down in value or stay the same…who knows. My preference is to enter a trade with a known initial return that meets our monthly goal and manage from there.

      There are many ways to make money with stock options. My way isn’t the only way and its certainly interesting to hear other points of view.


      The premise, as you describe it, is to take a low volatility security and generate an annualized return > 60% You didn’t let greed set in…you examined.

  11. Adrian December 4, 2014 3:44 am

    Alan, thanks for the replies for how what you think of about consolidation periods.
    Just to ask a few things here:- I definitely still would use the other indicators like MACD, volume, etc but just wondered if it is alright to also include this ‘RS line’ indicator to the bottom of my chart to analyse how positive any particular stock appears to be?
    – Because couldn’t a stock still be uptrending but maybe underperforming the S&P500?
    – And if that was so then would it still be a wise decision to think of buying it?(but keep holding it if already bought.)?
    – Also from what I know of using this RS line indicator, if say the market is going s/ways and the stock is too, then because the trend is identical the RS line should also go s/ways.
    What I am getting at here is if both the RS line and stock price then equally break the support level around the same time (and MACD, etc have or already are turning negative), – then wouldn’t this be a reasonable time to think of doing the DMCP strategy, because you had quoted “that if the technicals are a cause for concern for the price to drop a lot then close your entire position immediately” ?(that was my longer question I did promise)?

    I have uploaded 2 charts of ‘TRN’ that shows where I did a DMCP on a recent papertrade.
    So that is why I wouldn’t mind using this indicator with the other ones, as it may show something that they haven’t.

    Hope to hear what you think of me using the RS line too, and of if my charts show a good place to sell. Thanks

    • Alan Ellman December 6, 2014 7:48 am


      Making the assumption that we entered a 1-month position with a very strong security both technically and fundamentally, closing the entire position would occur with a dramatic drop in share price. This should be a rare occurrence. The 20%/10% guidelines will automatically take us out of the short options position (always buy back the option when those stats are reached (hopefully few and far between!). At this point we must decide which next step to take. The RS line can be a useful tool but I also factor in time to expiration, news and overall market conditions. I have found over the decades that the 4 parameters I share in my books and DVDs along with those factors have worked well for me.

      I also encourage our members to add or delete technical indicators to meet our own comfort levels. I share with our BCI community what has worked for me. If you get 100 chartists in a room you will have a myriad of views as to which parameters to use. One important point: There is no one indicator or combination of indicators that will be 100% accurate. Using a combination of trend-identifying, momentum-identifying indicators with volume confirmation will, however, throw the odds dramatically in our favor.

      Now will I use a stock that is trending up but under-performing the S&P 500? If it meets our system criteria, YES. A lot depends on the time frame we are viewing. Perhaps the S&P 500 is up 8% in the past 6 months and stock BCI is up 6%. Do we reject it automatically? What if BCI was flat for the first 3 months and actually out-performing the S&P more recently? Now it looks like a winner. Bottom lines:

      RS line is another valuable technical indicator which provides meaningful information.

      If a stock meets the BCI system criteria for stock screening but under-performing the market, it should still be considered as long as recent performance is stellar.


  12. Adrian December 4, 2014 3:44 am

    And see my other chart showing RS line, etc

  13. Alan Ellman December 4, 2014 7:56 pm


    For an early-order discount go to the Blue Collar store and enter promo code PUT5 for a $5 discount at checkout:

    Thanks for your interest and support with this project.


    • Jackie December 5, 2014 12:32 pm

      I’d like to buy your new book – but I also need advice on which of your many other books to buy as well, since I am still learning about covered calls. I have read your Student’s Guide (bought it from you at your Alexandria talk last summer, my introduction to you and your website), have watched all of the beginner videos, and placed my first buy-write call the other day, successfully, and confidently, thanks to you. (*)
      If it helps, I did learn more from your talk and watching your videos than I have in years and years of trying to read up on options, so I would probably prefer an option with DVDs, though I do like having books as references.
      p.s. My first buy-write has already paid for my purchases, so thanks for that as well. 🙂

  14. Alan Ellman December 5, 2014 4:34 pm


    Thanks so much for your generous comments…you made my day.

    You are describing our most comprehensive and popular educational package:

    Respectfully, you may ant to go through this material before placing a significant number of trades because there is so much more information in this program than in the Beginners Corner.

    If you need more information please write me directly:

    [email protected]

    Nice job on your first trade!


  15. Adrian December 9, 2014 3:41 am

    Alan, For about the use of ‘RS line’ again I still think I will consider using it, because like I said I was initially only going to use it to give me an idea if selling is best for a stock held, but will now also for buying too. And so far it seems to have kept me out of bad papertrades, or having trades get worse, when compared to almost a year ago when I first started without using the RS line, I must say back then my results were pretty bad!

    – Something I first wonder when looking the charts is if when you when you want to do a CDMP(or rolldown) on any of your stocks try have a trade filter for this. eg. sell (or rolldown) only if once price has dropped below the “lowest price low” at a recent support level, etc? (like below the $46 level on recent uploaded chart of mine I showed you?)

    The next 3 questions I have are all to do with being at the end of the contract period, you have had a negative months return on a stock, and are deciding to use again or else sell.
    1. So first you said that if you had a negative return on a stock for the month, that you will use this same stock again if it is Outperforming the S&P500. But will you still use it if the technical indicators are mixed too?

    2. Will you use same stock again if stock price is below one or both EMA’s, yet is Outperforming the S&P500? (and even if all confirming indicators MACD,etc are also negative too?)

    3. And would you still use it again if it is Outperforming the S&P500, it has given you negative months return, but there is also an ER for this stock this next contract month? (Barry said I could buy put options,- I had thought this a good idea for if the stock is still performing a bit better than the S&P500,- otherwise selling the stock may result in a large percentage loss?)

    As you can tell I am trying to dig down as to what your thinking when undergoing all your chart analysis, so I am sorry if I am sometimes getting too persistent, but by asking lots of questions it’s really the only way I know I will learn properly. Thank you.