Apple: Dirt-Cheap Options Play

This column originally appeared on Real Money at 12:30 p.m. ET on March 15.

Today's market environment provides an excellent backdrop for taking on an options trade that, in many cases, results in an almost zero cost to put on the trade. Yes, that means that the net cost of buying the option can sometimes be zilch or, in some cases, you are getting paid to hold the options.

The trade is actually quite simple in construct -- but, as with anything I advocate, it needs to be intelligently executed. The two-legged trade simply involves buying a call option at one exercise price and selling a put with the same expiration date at a lower exercise price. What makes this particular trade so appealing today is that U.S. equities appear to be in an uptrend -- and, as long as the economy continues to show sprouting signs of improvement, any pullback could provide an opportunity to buy an attractive business at a good price. This trade accomplishes both.

Let's look at the world's most successful and admired company today: Apple ( AAPL). Waiting for shares to post a quick pullback for a buy entry has been a painful exercise. I don't follow the stock much, but I do check it once a week or so purely for amusement's sake, marveling at how high the shares have been able to go. It seemed just last week they were trading for $500. By the end of this week, if not today, they could pass the $600 milestone. If the new iPad sales continue to surge -- and the company has already sold out of the first batch -- the stock price will likely follow suit.

Those interested in betting on Apple can put on the following trade. Rather than buy the shares, you could purchase the January 2013 $700 calls for $31. At the same time, you can sell the January 2013 $495 put for about $31, for a net cost of zero (plus applicable commissions, of course). If Apple shares breach $700 between now and expiration, you'll be making a profit.

Even if shares sit at $710 in January, you'll have made a profit, because your put sale will expire worthless. That would net you $31 per contract while your call option will have an intrinsic value of $10, or a loss of $21 on the call. The gain from the put, less the loss from the call, nets out to a gain of $10. If you'd merely bought the call, shares would have had to trade above $731 in order for the options to have been profitable. Of course, the put exposure does obligate you to take ownership of Apple at $500 a share, so you'd have to be comfortable owning shares at that price.

This type of play is most attractive when upside potential is above average. In other words, this is a great trade to put on temporally depressed business in beaten-down industries. Enter the financial space and Goldman Sachs ( GS) I realize Wednesday's blistering New York Times op-ed from a former Goldman employee has sent the company scrambling to protect an already shattered image.

The reality is that all financials have become the red-headed stepchildren today. Such a perception doesn't go away quickly, but it will over time. What the market will respond to is profits and cash flows, and Goldman's fortunes here stand to improve over time. If anything, this publicity will only serve to benefit shareholders.

You can bet on Goldman's turnaround by purchasing the January 2014 $150 call for $9.60 and selling the January 2014 $85 put for around $9, giving you a net cost of $0.60. If the economy continues to improve, along with the banking sector, Goldman shares are set to rally hard from the current valuation of 87% of book value. Earnings per share could be as high as $16 in 2013, and shares could easily be trading for $160 to $175.

You'll have paid a net $0.60 cents for the option trade, and the $150 calls would be trading for $10 to $25 -- a very tidy payoff. The downside is you'll own Goldman at $85, plus the $0.60 net option cost, a very cheap price at which to own this stock.

This particular trade could also be appealing for names like Chipotle ( CMG), Bank of America ( BAC) and, for the more speculative investors, housing-related investments.

All options-related trades have a speculative element. But the above call/put combination offers an alternative way to establish a position with little to no cost as well as upside potential. Of course, that's only if you are willing to assume ownership of the underlying shares.

At the time of publication, Gad was long BAC.
Sham Gad is the managing partner of Gad Capital Management, a value-focused investment firm based in Athens, Ga. Gad has written extensively for The Motley Fool and was a securities analyst for UAS Asset Management, a small value investment fund in New York City, in 2007. From 2002-2005, Gad managed assets for the Gad Investment Group.

Additionally, Gad has just released a new book, The Business of Value Investing: Six Essential Elements to Buying Companies Like Warren Buffett. He earned his BBA and MBA at the University of Georgia. Gad appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.