Considerations for Exercising Call Options Prior to Expiration

INTRODUCTION

Exercising an equity call option prior to expiration ordinarily provides no economic benefit as:

  • It results in a forfeiture of any remaining option time value;
  • Requires a greater commitment of capital for the payment or financing of the stock delivery; and
  • May expose the option holder to greater risk of loss on the stock relative to the option premium.

Nonetheless, for account holders who have the capacity to meet an increased capital or borrowing requirement and potentially greater downside market risk, it can be economically beneficial to request early exercise of an American Style call option in order to capture an upcoming dividend.

BACKGROUND

As background, the owner of a call option is not entitled to receive a dividend on the underlying stock as this dividend only accrues to the holders of stock as of its dividend Record Date. All other things being equal, the price of the stock should decline by an amount equal to the dividend on the Ex-Dividend date. While option pricing theory suggests that the call price will reflect the discounted value of expected dividends paid throughout its duration, it may decline as well on the Ex-Dividend date.  The conditions which make this scenario most likely and the early exercise decision favorable are as follows:

1. The option is deep-in-the-money and has a delta of 100;

2. The option has little or no time value;

3. The dividend is relatively high and its Ex-Date precedes the option expiration date. 

EXAMPLES

To illustrate the impact of these conditions upon the early exercise decision, consider an account maintaining a long cash balance of $9,000 and a long call position in hypothetical stock “ABC” having a strike price of $90.00 and time to expiration of 10 days. ABC, currently trading at $100.00, has declared a dividend of $2.00 per share with tomorrow being the Ex-Dividend date. Also assume that the option price and stock price behave similarly and decline by the dividend amount on the Ex-Date.

Here, we will review the exercise decision with the intent of maintaining the 100 share delta position and maximizing total equity using two option price assumptions, one in which the option is selling at parity and another above parity.

SCENARIO 1: Option Price At Parity - $10.00
In the case of an option trading at parity, early exercise will serve to maintain the position delta and avoid the loss of value in long option when the stock trades ex-dividend, to preserve equity. Here the cash proceeds are applied in their entirety to buy the stock at the strike, the option premium is forfeited and the stock (net of dividend) and dividend receivable are credited to the account.  If you aim for the same end result by selling the option prior to the Ex-Dividend date and purchasing the stock, remember to factor in commissions/spreads:

SCENARIO 1

Account

Components

Beginning

Balance

Early

Exercise

No

Action

Sell Option &

Buy Stock

Cash $9,000 $0 $9,000 $0
Option $1,000 $0 $800 $0
Stock $0 $9,800 $0 $9,800
Dividend Receivable $0 $200 $0 $200
Total Equity $10,000 $10,000 $9,800 $10,000 less commissions/spreads

 

SCENARIO 2: Option Price Above Parity - $11.00
In the case of an option trading above parity, early exercise to capture the dividend may not be economically beneficial. In this scenario, early exercise would result in a loss of $100 in option time value, while selling the option and buying the stock, after commissions, may be less beneficial than taking no action. In this scenario, the preferable action would be No Action.

SCENARIO 2

Account

Components

Beginning

Balance

Early

Exercise

No

Action

Sell Option &

Buy Stock

Cash $9,000 $0 $9,000 $100
Option $1,100 $0 $1,100 $0
Stock $0 $9,800 $0 $9,800
Dividend Receivable $0 $200 $0 $200
Total Equity $10,100 $10,000 $10,100 $10,100 less commissions/spreads

  

NOTE: Account holders holding a long call position as part of a spread should pay particular attention to the risks of not exercising the long leg given the likelihood of being assigned on the short leg.  Note that the assignment of a short call results in a short stock position and holders of short stock positions as of a dividend Record Date are obligated to pay the dividend to the lender of the shares. In addition, the clearinghouse processing cycle for exercise notices does not accommodate submission of exercise notices in response to assignment.

As example, consider a credit call (bear) spread on the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) consisting of 100 short contracts in the March '13 $146 strike and 100 long contracts in the March '13 $147 strike.  On 3/14/13, with the SPY Trust declared a dividend of $0.69372 per share, payable 4/30/13 to shareholders of record as of 3/19/13. Given the 3 business day settlement time frame for U.S. stocks, one would have had to buy the stock or exercise the call no later than 3/14/13 in order receive the dividend, as the next day the stock began trading Ex-Dividend. 

On 3/14/13, with one trading day left prior to expiration, the two option contracts traded at parity, suggesting maximum risk of $100 per contract or $10,000 on the 100 contract position. However, the failure to exercise the long contract in order to capture the dividend and protect against the likely assignment on the short contracts by others seeking the dividend created an additional risk of $67.372 per contract or $6,737.20 on the position representing the dividend obligation were all short calls assigned.  As reflected on the table below, had the short option leg not been assigned, the maximum risk when the final contract settlement prices were determined on 3/15/13 would have remained at $100 per contract.

Date SPY Close March '13 $146 Call March '13 $147 Call
March 14, 2013 $156.73 $10.73 $9.83
March 15, 2013 $155.83   $9.73 $8.83

Please note that if your account is subject to tax withholding requirements of the US Treasure rule 871(m), it may be beneficial to close a long option position before the ex-dividend date and re-open the position after ex-dividend.

For information regarding how to submit an early exercise notice please click here

The above article is provided for information purposes only as is not intended as a recommendation, trading advice nor does it constitute a conclusion that early exercise will be successful or appropriate for all customers or trades. Account holders should consult with a tax specialist to determine what, if any, tax consequences may result from early exercise and should pay particular attention to the potential risks of substituting a long option position with a long stock position.

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