For those who are moderately bullish on the SPX index over the near- or long-term, and who require a known, limited downside risk, buying an SPX bull call spread might be an appropriate strategy to use. An SPX bull call spread requires a smaller initial cash investment than the purchase of only the long call because of the premium an investor receives by selling a higher-strike call. As a trade-off, the investor’s upside profit potential is limited. On the downside, the bull call spread buyer’s maximum loss is known in advance and is limited entirely to the total debit initially paid for the spread.
Selling vs. Exercising Expiring SPX Options
Remember that SPX options have European-style exercise and A.M settlement characteristics. An investor with a long call or put position may sell that position, if it has market value, on any day up to and including the business day (usually a Thursday) preceding the day on which the exercise settlement value is calculated. However, the option contract(s) may be exercised only on the day the SPX exercise settlement value is calculated and disseminated, or the last business day (usually a Friday) before the expiration date.
In other words, an investor with an expiring long SPX call may observe current market prices during its last trading day (Thursday) and have the opportunity to sell it before the market closes. If on that day the investor considers exercising the call instead, he will be exposed to a degree of overnight market risk. This is because the cash settlement amount received upon exercise will not be known until the following morning (Friday) when the market opens (possibly up or down significantly) and the exercise settlement value is calculated. As well, an option that is in-the-money (or out-of-the-money) at the close of the last trading day may or may not be so the next morning when compared to the calculated settlement value.
Option Premium and Exercise Style
Investors may observe that European-style options trade at lower relative value than American-style options with similar contract size. This is because investors may pay more for American-style contracts in exchange for the right of early exercise (before expiration). And because European-style options may be exercised only on a given day before expiration, during their lifetime some in-the-money contracts (notably puts) may commonly be priced and trade below parity, or below their intrinsic value.