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Options Trading: Intrinsic Value and the Vertical Spread

Jan 5, 2008
An investor must always keep in mind that vertical spreads have an intrinsic value. This means it is possible to consider them 'in the money.' If a vertical spread has an intrinsic value, it can also have an extrinsic value. Unlike maximum intrinsic values that equal the difference between the strikes at expiration, maximum extrinsic value deviates from spread to spread based on several factors.

During a vertical spread's life, its price will fluctuate between zero and the value of the difference between the two strikes. An investor can determine the price of the spread, at any given time, by the location of the stock and the time until expiration.

At expiration, what remains for the two options is the intrinsic value of each. Therefore, the value of the spread is the difference between each option's intrinsic values at expiration.

Because vertical spreads have an intrinsic value, the term 'moneyness' applies to them. Moneyness refers to whether or not and by how much an option, or a vertical spread, may be in the money or out of the money. This is a term used mostly by floor traders, but is still worth noting here.

Vertical Call Spread and Vertical Put Spread Value
Spreads with intrinsic value are considered in the money. How can you identify the value of a vertical call spread or a vertical put spread? Compare the stock price to the strike prices.

Look at any vertical call spread. If the stock price is above the lower strike of the spread, the spread is in the money. In the Feb. 50 - 55-call spread, if the stock is trading at $52.00, then the spread would be in the money by $2. This is because if the spread expired today, the Feb. 50 calls would finish $2.00 in the money. The Feb. 55 calls would finish worthless because they are out of the money. The spread, however, would be in the money with a value of $2.00.

The rule is similar for determining whether or not a spread is out of the money. If the stock price is lower than the lower strike of the spread, the spread is out of the money. Again, looking at the Feb. 50 - 55 call spread, if the spread expired today and the stock price closed at $48.00, (lower than the lower strike) then the spread would be out of the money, thus the spread will be out of the money. If the stock is trading at the same price as the lower strike price, the spread is considered at the money.

For vertical put spreads, a spread is determined to be in the money if the stock price is lower than the higher of the two strikes of the spread. For example, look at the Sept. 40 - 45 put spread. If the stock closes at $42.00 on expiration day, the Feb. 45 put would end up in the money and worth $3.00. The Feb 40 puts would be out of the money creating a $3.00 intrinsic value for the spread. Since the spread has an intrinsic value, it is in the money.

A vertical put spread is out of the money if the stock price is higher than the higher strike of the spread. So, going back to our Sept. 40 - 45 put spread example, if the stock was to close at a price of $46.00 (higher than the higher strike) then both the Sept. 40 and 45 put will expire worthless. Thus the spread will be worthless and out of the money.

A vertical put spread is considered at-the-money when the stock price is equal to the higher strike price.
About the Author
Ron Ianieri is currently Chief Options Strategist at The Options University, an educational company that teaches investors how to make consistent profits using options while limiting risk. For more information please contact The Options University at http://www.optionsuniversity.com or 866-561-8227
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