What is the stock replacement strategy

What is the stock replacement strategy? The stock replacement strategy involves taking long positions in deep-in-the-money call options in stock that you would otherwise own.

It works best with stocks that you want to hold for the intermediate to long-term, in a general bull market with stocks that are performing well, on a general price uptrend in strong sectors that are leading the bull market.

What is the stock replacement strategy

Downsides of holding stock

If you’ve been investing in stocks for some years, you will notice what happens during up-markets and during down-markets. By that, I don’t mean the obvious, in up-markets your shares go up and in down-markets, your shares go down.

What I am referring to is how you react.

I know there is nothing I like better than to log onto my brokerage account and get that happy dopamine rush when I see my positions creeping up. Not necessarily all of them at the same time, but as long as the portfolio as a whole is on an upward march, all is well with the world.

The other experience is when you see all your positions heading down. That isn’t so great.

Depending on what kind of investor you are will determine to a large extent how you deal with these two psychological and emotional reactions.

Long-term position building

If our approach to investing is to build long-term positions, then seeing their value drop in down-markets is going to come as part of the package.

But, we could ask, are there other ways to deal with this rather than just passive acceptance?

Certainly, we could hedge. But then you have to decide when do you hedge, what would trigger a decision to hedge, and by how much would you hedge? And hedging costs money and the more you hedge the more it costs.

Enter the stock replacement strategy

The stock replacement strategy does just that.

By taking long positions in deep-in-the-money call options that have six to three months to expiration, we can ensure leveraged exposure to potential upside movement while reducing our exposure to potential downside price movement.

Possibly even better, well at least this is the part that I like the best, if our investments perform well for a period, we will be able to take profit and reduce our risk exposure. We need to carefully select the stocks that we replicate in this way using options. We will then be able to reduce our risk to the extent that we withdraw all of our original investment and still stay in the option position.

The system

Because our intention is to operate a strategy on a long-term basis, we need a system. Our system will need to do these things

  • Rules for selecting stocks or ETFs that are suitable for the stock replacement strategy
  • Rules for when to exit a position
  • Rules for selecting options in the underlying stock or ETF, by expiration date, strike price, and other factors
  • Rules for position sizing
  • Rules for when and how we roll our options forward
  • Rules for how many stock replacement positions we should have in our portfolio

That is a lot of rules. So let’s take them one by one.

Selecting suitable stocks or ETFs

I guess the important point here is that we are using a system to replicate what is basically a long-term buy and hold strategy. Long-term buy and hold really works best in a general bull market. Fortunately for us, bull markets tend to last longer than bear markets.

The best long-term positions to take in a long-term bull market are in the strongest sectors that are outperforming the market. This article explains how to identify strong sectors. If we compare the performance of the major sectors against the Standard and Poor’s 500 index, since the November 2020 election, this is what we see.

S and P 500 Sectors since US election

Source: Stockcharts

What we see is a fairly consistent picture. In other words, the sectors that are now strong are the same ones that have been strong since the first day of trading after the US election results were known. That was Monday 9 November 2020. Just to test this point, here is what that chart looks like if we push back the start of the timeline to July 2020.

S and P 500 sectors Jul 2020 to Mar 2021

Source: Stockcharts

The change is most noticeable with the energy sector. Up until November 2020, the energy sector ETF, XLE is heading steadily down indicating that the energy sector is underperforming the market. But then on 9 November, XLE suddenly makes a turnaround and heads up, outperforming the market and the other sectors.

Right now at the end of March 2021, the strongest sectors are energy, consumer discretionary, and financials. That can change of course and you always have to be cognizant whether we are talking long-term strength or intermediate or short-term strength.

For our purposes, we are interested in identifying those sectors that are showing long-term strength.

So now that we’ve sorted out the strongest sectors we can either pick one or more Exchange-Traded Funds, or ETFs that cover the top 25 percent of sectors or we could look for the strongest stocks in those sectors or we could do a bit of both.

Personally, I like to do a bit of both but that is just me.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that we wanted to take long positions in one broad sector ETF and one major stock from each of those sectors as follows

  • XLF – The Financial Sector SPDR ETF
  • XLE – The Energy Sector SPDR ETF
  • XLY – The Consumer Discretionary Sector SPDR ETF
  • GS – Goldman Sachs
  • XOM – Exon Mobil
  • F – Ford Motor Company

Strongest stocks in strongest sectors rule

When to pull out of funds and stocks

The point here is, we will want to periodically review the long-term relative strength of our funds and stocks. When there is major sector rotation and yesterday’s darlings become today’s dogs, we will want to exit the underperformers and move into the new leading stars.

We want to achieve a steady and manageable approach and avoid jumping in and out of positions. Our system, therefore, needs to be undertaking this review at least every quarter.

When we review, we check that the sectors we hold positions in are still among the strongest, at least the top half of all sectors by long-term relative strength. We also check that our individual stocks are in the top half of their respective sectors by long-term relative strength.

Sectors and stocks in top half rule

Selecting Options

One of the advantages of selecting major sector ETFs and strong stocks in those sectors is that these are going to be very heavily-traded and liquid stocks. This will typically mean that the options boards for these stocks are well-populated, that the bid-ask spreads are reasonable and the options are liquid.

This is important because we want to be able to get into and out of these positions whenever we need to and with minimal slippage.

The delta

The delta of an option is particularly relevant to the stock replacement strategy because when we take a long position in an option we want to know the relationship of the option price to the price of the underlying stock or ETF.

In effect, when we own an option it is like owning or controlling a certain number of shares. It is the delta of the option that tells us how many shares we effectively own.

This article explains how delta varies as the price of the underlying stock or ETF moves nearer to or further from the strike price and as the option comes closer to expiration.

There is one important feature of the stock replacement strategy. That we seek to enter and stay in options whose delta optimizes our exposure to price movements of the underlying stock or ETF.

One side of this balancing act is that we have increasing exposure to increases in the price of the underlying stock or ETF.

The other side of the coin is that our exposure to declines in the price of the underlying stock of ETF increasingly diminishes.

This is easier to see with some simple numbers.

If we have a position with a delta of 0.70 and the price of the underlying increases by $10 our option might increase in value by $8. But if from the same starting point with a delta of 0.70 the price of the underlying decreases by $10 the value of our option might decrease by $5.50

In summary, we get more upside, but less downside. This is important in the overall picture. The target Delta we will choose for our options will be 0.70.

Time to expiration

We have to remember that with options we pay for time in the form of the option’s extrinsic value. This extrinsic value component decays to zero as the expiration date approaches. However, the extrinsic value decays more rapidly in the last months to expiration.

For in-the-money options, which we will be selecting for the stock replacement strategy, the decay in the extrinsic value can be visualized by the diagram below.

Option price decay to expiration

There are a number of factors to consider as regards time to expiration.

  • We want to have options that have long enough to go before expiration so we don’t have to trade in and out all the time.
  • Also, we don’t want to be paying too much for time that we don’t need.
  • And the last point is that we want to exit or roll our options before the extrinsic value starts to decay significantly.

Putting these points together, the sweet spot is to enter options with between 6 and 7 months to expiration and roll or exit the position when the option has 3 months before expiration.

Options with 6 to 7 months and 0.70 Delta rule

Position sizing

To determine our approach to position sizing we should consider how we will run our portfolio.

Since we will be rolling out of or exiting options that have 3 months to expiration, it makes sense for us to conduct a monthly review on the third Thursday of the month. With this kind of system, we will not have stop-loss orders. Instead, we rely on taking a long-term view and if we like the long-term relative strength of a sector or a stock, then we will ride out any short-term pullbacks.

All this points to adopting a single position size to manage our risk. To do this by the book, as it were, the position size that we adopt should match in deltas the amount of stock we would otherwise hold if we held an entire position of the underlying stock. This is easiest to see if we put together our entire portfolio. But first here is our rule.

Position size by Delta exposure rule

Our portfolio

Going back to our list of ETFs and stocks that we said we were going to replace using options, let’s imagine that our portfolio is valued at $100,000. Let’s imagine that we are going to have a total of ten positions in our portfolio and we want them all to be the same size. So each position will be $10,000. Let’s imagine that for our four other positions we choose.

  • SPY – the SPDR ETF that tracks the Standard and Poor’s 500 index
  • IWM – the iShares ETF that tracks the Russel 2000
  • XSVM – the Invesco ETF that tracks the Standard and Poor’s value with momentum
  • EDV – the Vanguard Extended Duration Treasury Fund

We would then hold $10,000 positions in each of those four funds. This is how our whole portfolio would be composed.

Stock replacement portfolio

Source: Price data: E*Trade,  options calculations: Basic Options Calculator – Powered by IVolatility.com, all charts, and calculations by Bad Investment Advice

Disclaimer: nothing written here should be taken as a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. Always consult a professional financial advisor before making any investment decisions and be sure they are right for you.

This is rather interesting. We set out to create a portfolio with ten positions each having exposure of $10,000 to an underlying stock. For simplicity, I have only shown whole numbers of stocks and ETFs but if we really wanted to be exact we could use fractional shares to get those positions to exactly $10,000 each.

We can only buy and sell options in whole numbers so the exposure we get from each position doesn’t come to exactly $10,000 either but nearly.

Let’s walk through a couple of these to see how the options positions work.

In XLF we have four September $32 strike calls which cost $3.40 and have a delta of 0.7041 while the price of the underlying stock is $34.37.

This costs us 4 x 100 x $3.40 = $1,360.00

This gives us 4 x 100 x 0.7041 x $34.37 = $9,679.97 in equivalent exposure to the stock. Which is as near as we can get to $10,000 using whole numbers of options.

In the case of Goldman Sachs, since the option is expensive at $45.86 we can only hold one option and have to accept that this gives us more exposure to the underlying than we would prefer. If we weren’t comfortable with this we could opt to drop this stock and pick another one from the financial sector with a lower stock price and a lower option price.

So for a total commitment of $54,681.24 we have managed to gain exposure to a portfolio of stocks and ETF with a value of $118,924.27. This begs the question, what do we do with the $45,318.76 cash left over?

Well, if our intention is only to have a portfolio that has an exposure to $118,924.27 worth of stock positions, then we should put the $45,318.76 into cash or a mixture of cash and some risk-free store of value such as short-term savings bonds, certificates of deposit or money market funds.

The point is, we need to preserve the value of this cash position. We may need to draw on some of it if any of our option positions incur a temporary setback before we have been able to extract risk from that position. We will see how this works shortly.

When to roll forward

So this is how we manage our portfolio going forward.

Let’s assume that we set up our portfolio around the third week of March. Here is what we do.

On the third Thursday of every month, we review each position in our portfolio. I am picking Thursday so we have time to evaluate and make trades. You can do it all on Friday if you prefer.

If the sector and the stock are still in the top half for long-term relative strength then we keep the position and consider the delta and the expiration date of the option.

If the sector or the stock is in the lower half for long-term relative strength then we replace it with either the top sector or the top stock that we don’t already have. As before we would look for a call option that has 6 to 7 months to expiration with a delta near 0.70.

For those positions that we want to keep if there are four or more months to expiration, then we check the delta. If the delta is less than 0.80 then we do nothing, we keep the position as is. If the delta is greater than 0.80, then we roll diagonally to an option that has 6 to 7 months before expiration and has a delta of 0.70.

For those positions that we want to keep if there are three months to expiration, we roll the option forward to a call option with 6 to 7 months to expiration and a delta of 0.70.

Rinse and repeat.

Here is what that looks like as a flow chart. Here is a PDF of the stock replacement strategy flowchart for download.

Stock replacement strategy flowchart

And for the sake of completeness, here is our rule.

Stock replacement position review rule

How many positions

The way we have set up our portfolio, we have six stock replacement positions made up of three broad sector ETFs of the strongest sectors and three of the strongest stocks, one in each of those strongest sectors. I think we can reasonably assume that as long as the market is still on a long-term uptrend we will be able to keep this same number of positions.

If we had set up our portfolio in a less rigid and systematic manner, then we would have to consider how many positions we would want to maintain. But right now, let’s leave that as a hypothetical question for another time.

A month later

Let’s imagine what things might look like a month from now.

Firstly let’s assume that our three sectors are still among the top 50 percent of sectors by long-term relative strength and our three stocks are similarly strong. Let’s imagine a few marginal movements in price of our funds and stock but Ford has jumped to $15. Not at all impossible. Let’s see how that would look

Stock replacement strategy portfolio

Source: Price data: E*Trade,  options calculations: Basic Options Calculator – Powered by IVolatility.com, all charts, and calculations by Bad Investment Advice

All of our positions still have four or more months to expiration, so no need to change anything for that reason. But our Ford option has gone up from $1.91 to $4.11 and the delta is now 0.9325. What we would do is roll that option diagonally to an October call with a $13 strike price. That would cost $2.69. So when we roll our option position we would receive a net credit of $1.42 or a total of $1,562 cash into our account.

The important point is that our Ford position originally cost $1.91. We just pulled $1.42 out of the position leaving only $0.49 at risk. If a few months down the line we are able to pull more cash out of the position, we will have taken all our original money at risk out.

Of course, things might not go as we hope. Our options positions can lose value and we can be obliged to put more money in when we roll forward once they have less than four months to expiration. That is why we keep a reserve of cash available.

What if we had held the stock?

What if we had held Ford stock instead of the option?

We would have started with 813 shares of Ford at $12.30 each for a total value of $9,999.90. After a month our position would be worth $12,195 so an increase of 22%.

With our option position though we pulled $1,562 cash out of the position. That is a gain of 74% on the $2,101 that we initially put at risk into the position.

You could argue that the 74% gain is misleading as we still held a cash reserve. However, in a general bull market, for my money the stock replacement strategy is a more attractive way to invest, than just straight holding stocks and ETFs.

Here is another article that gives an overview of option strategies.

Questions and answers

Q. How do you know if a stock has options?

A. That depends on your brokerage platform. On most platforms when you select a stock or an ETF, there should be a tab labeled – options. If you click on that tab and nothing is there, then the stock or ETF doesn’t have exchange-traded options. Before you trade the options of a stock or ETF though, you want to be certain that the options are reasonably priced, with acceptable bid/ask spreads and there is enough trading volume. Otherwise, you may have a hard time entering and exiting positions and keeping any profit.

Q. Should you buy deep-in-the-money call options?

A. The stock replacement strategy works best when you buy deep-in-the-money call options.

Q. What is the best stock option strategy?

A. The one that you understand the best, and when best to use, and that you are comfortable with.

Single-page summary

Here is a single-page PDF summary of the stock replacement strategy.

What is the stock replacement strategy summary

I hope you found this article interesting and useful. Do leave me a comment, a question, an opinion, or a suggestion and I will reply soonest. And if you are inclined to do me a favor, scroll down a bit and click on one of the social media buttons, and share it with your friends. They may just thank you for it.

You can also subscribe to email notifications. We will send you a short email when a new post is published.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial professional. All the information on this website and in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as personalized investment advice, good or bad. You should check with your financial advisor before making any investment decisions to ensure they are suitable for you.

Affiliate Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and buy something, I may receive a commission. You will pay no more so please go ahead and feel free to make a purchase. Thank you

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  1. thank you for this very indepth article on trading stocks and ETF’s. I personally do not do trading because I don’t quite understand how it works, I wish I did. However I do know people that trade and also some that are just learning how to trade. They have shared with me that it can be confusing and you really have to know what you are doing. I admire people that understand trading  and the stock market. Thank you so much for building a website platform and helping people how trading works and how to avoid Bad investments!

  2. Hi Andy,

    Thank you for sharing such an informative article. I love the way you’ve comprehensively explained the stock replacement strategy. It really helps hedge an investment from risks and potential downside price movement of stock shares. Considering this is a long-term targeted investment, one should consider how to minimize any loss. 

    I will definitely share this with my friends.



    • Hi Sergej, thank you for your positive feedback. I wish you all success with your investing. Best regards, Andy

  3. This has been a very indepth post. I had never gotten interested in this topic until recently that we were all quarantined at home. It has always been a bit intimidating to me, and I must admit I felt that way when I began reading your post, but you can’t imagine the thrill when I realized that I could actually understand what you were explaining. Thank you very much!

    • Hi Ann and thanks for your comment. I experienced a similar aha moment with this strategy. You get to that point where you can convince yourself that you know enough about the stock replacement strategy to actually implement it. As always with these things, it is good to start small. Maybe with just one position, instead of taking the whole position as stock, take maybe half of it as straight stock and add one or two deep-in-the-money calls with 6 months to expiration and a delta of 0.70. Good luck and thanks for the comment, Andy

  4. I didn’t understand some of this but I’m still kind of new to this. It’s helpful and I’m glad I came across it because it helped redirect me in a direction I need to follow to further my education. I was a little lost and although I wasn’t able to follow, i know what I need to learn and where to go to find the information I need.

  5. Hi Andy. Thank you for another great post. I am big fan of your blog, every article is portion of solid financial knowledge, and every time I’m learning something new. I’m really impressed how you were able to describe complex stock replacement strategy topic in clear and transparent way. I’m into stock market for a while now and definitely I will use your advice in practice.

    • Hi Cogito, thank you for your positive feedback. I am very pleased you find the information useful. Best of luck with your investing journey. Best regards, Andy

  6. Thanks for your informative article as it affirms much of my philosophy over the years regarding stocks and investments. I like your stock replacement strategy. This is an excellent way to reduce risk over the long-term. Having a set of rules of which this system consists increases our probability of long-term success greatly. Selecting the strongest stocks and sectors makes so much sense. Thanks for all your great details and for educating me on this.

    • Thanks for your positive comments, I am glad that you find the article informative and useful. Best regards, Andy

  7. Hi, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m very happy to come across this important information you have provided. Well, I did not know about the stock replacement strategy before. I’m thrilled to know that it works best for the stocks that you want to hold for the intermediate to long-term with a bullish market. This is very crucial information, thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Kokontala, I am glad that you found the article interesting. Best regards, Andy

  8. Hello there! It’s only been recently that I have been involved in the stock market and trading. I definitely do not know a lot of the terminology just yet and the stock replacement strategy is definitely one of them. While reading your article, there were some terms I was not familiar with and it’s still a little hard to understand even after reading. Definitely can tell there is a lot of knowledge on this page so I will be saving this page to read again at a later time when I become more accustomed to trading. Thanks for compiling this.

    • Hi Mike, if you are starting out investing in stocks and once you start looking into using options, the stock replacement strategy is really one of the first and most widely usable. In my opinion, it is well worth getting familiar with this strategy. Thanks for the comment and sorry for all the terminology. Good luck with your investing. Best regards, Andy

  9. Hi Andy,

    I already read about stocks for beginners so I understood what you just discussed.

    Your chosen rules are have winning probabilities.

    I love your rules, the way you are reducing risk and increasing exposure to upward price movements.

    It sounds to me that you are offering services for investors, especially to beginner traders to alleviate their risk of failure and increasing their probability to earn.

    I dream of being part of this stock replacement strategy when I am financially ready. 

    • Hi Rose, thank you for dropping by and leaving this comment. Best regards, Andy

  10. Hello Andy,
    With your knowledge and share with us the way your strategy and rules, you will do good in your future. . .wish you all the best!

  11. Hi Andy
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on stock replacement strategy .Long-term Position building is a very important aspect and you explained it in a very easy manner .The stock replacement strategy helps us in the odd situation by not acting immediately and selecting the strongest sectors by analyzing their relative strength .Your single page summary is the most important part and I always keep a printout of it for ready reference .Thanks for your efforts .
    Warm Regards,
    Gaurav Gaur

    • Hi Gaurav and thanks for your complimentary comment. Well received and much appreciated. I wish you all the very best of luck with your investing and trading. Kind regards, Andy

  12. This is a lot of good information, I dabble in stocks here are there, only with money I am willing to lose. I have saved your website to reread, I pretty much just buy stocks when they are low and I’ve done well so far. I am very inexperienced with options and all the other things that go into it, so this is a useful site. Thanks.

    • Hi and thanks for the comment. I am glad you found the article useful. Best regards, Andy

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