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How Does A Bull Call Spread Work? Our Expert Explains

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This technical trading guide teaches traders about what a Bull Call Spread is and what it can be used for when trading and analyzing charts.

We begin by discussing the two call option strike prices involved in a Bull Call Spread, the risk-defined aspects of the technique, and how profits and losses are calculated.

The guide concludes with a head-to-head comparison of Bull Call Spreads versus Call Options, and some further reading on other technical analysis tools.

What Is A Bull Call Spread?

A Bull Call Spread, also known as a call debit spread, is a bullish strategy involving two call option strike prices:

A trader would use a Bull Call Spread in the following hypothetical situation:

  1. A trader is very bullish on a particular stock trading at $50.
  2. The trader is either risk-averse, wanting to know beforehand their maximum loss, or wants greater leverage than simply owning a stock.
  3. The trader expects the stock to move above $52.92 but not higher than $55.00 in the next 30 days.
Bull Call Spread buy one call sell one call

How Does Buy One Call, Sell One Call Work?

Given the expectations in the hypothetical scenario, the trader selects the $52.50 call option strike price to buy which is trading for $0.60.

For this example, the trader will buy only 1 option contract (Note: 1 contract is for 100 shares) so the total cost will be $60 ($0.60 x 100 shares/contract).

Also, the trader will sell the further out-of-the money call strike price at $55.00. By selling this call, the trader will receive $18 ($0.18 x 100 shares/contract).

The net effect of this transaction is that the trader has paid out $42 ($60 paid – $18 received).

In this situation, the trader is bullish: for example, the price chart shows very bullish action (stock is moving upwards); the trader might have used other technical or fundamental reasons for being bullish on the stock.

Risk Defined & Profit Defined

When a Bull Call Spread is purchased, the trader instantly knows the maximum amount of money they can possibly lose and the maximum amount of money they can make.

The max loss is always the premium paid to own the option contract minus the premium received from the off-setting call option sold; in this example, $42 ($60 – $18).

Whether the stock falls to $5 or $50 a share, the call option holder will only lose the amount they paid for the option spread ($42).

This is the risk-defined benefit often discussed as a reason to trade options. Similarly, the Bull Call Spread is profit-defined as well.

The max the trader can make from this trade is $208. How this max profit is calculated is given in detail on the Bull Call Spread profit and loss graph on the next page.

Why Do Bull Call Spreads Need Predictions?

The important part about selecting an option strategy and option strike prices, is the trader’s exact expectations for the future.

If the trader expects the stock to move higher, but only $1 higher, then buying the $52.50/$55.00 Bull Call Spread would be foolish.

This is because at expiration, if the stock price is anywhere below $52.50, whether it be $20 or $52.49, the spread strategy will expire worthless.

Therefore, if a trader was correct in their prediction that the stock would move higher by $1, they would still have lost.

When Might A Trader Buy Another Call?

Moreover, if the trader is exceptionally bullish and thinks the stock will move up to $60, then the trader should just buy a call rather than purchase a Bull Call Spread.

In this example, the trader would not gain any more profit once the stock moved past $55.

Bull Call Spread Profit, Loss, & Breakeven

The following is the profit/loss graph at expiration for the Bull Call Spread in the example given on the previous page.

Bull Call Spread profit and loss graph

Calculating The Break-Even Point

The breakeven point for the bull call spread is given next:

Breakeven Stock Price = Purchased Call Option Strike Price + Net Premium Paid (Premium Paid – Premium Sold).

To illustrate, the trader purchased the $52.50 strike price call option for $0.60, but also sold the $55.00 strike price for $0.18, for a net premium paid of $0.42. The strike price paid was $52.50.

Therefore, $52.50 + $0.42 = $52.92. The trader will breakeven, excluding commissions/slippage, if the stock reaches $52.92 by expiration.

How To Calculate The Max Profit

The max profit for a bull call spread is as follows:

Bull Call Spread Max Profit = Difference between call option strike price sold and call option strike price purchased – Premium Paid for a bull call spread.

To illustrate, the call option strike price sold is $55.00 and the call option strike price purchased is $52.50; therefore, the difference is $250 [($55.00 – $52.50) x 100 shares/contract].

The net premium paid for the bull call spread is $42. Consequently, the max profit is $208 ($250 – $42).

As a side note, this max profit occurs when the stock price is at $55.00 (the upper call strike price) or higher at expiration.

How To Calculate Partial Profit

Partial profit is calculated via the following, assuming the stock price is greater than the breakeven price:

Bull Call Spread Partial Profit = Stock price – Breakeven price

For instance, the stock closed at $54.00 at expiration. Hence, the stock price at expiration ($54.00) minus the breakeven stock price ($52.92) would mean the trader profited $108 [($54 – $52.92) x 100 shares/contract]

How To Calculate Partial And Complete Loss

A partial loss occurs between the lower purchased call strike price and the breakeven stock price. The calculation is given next:

Bull Call Spread Partial Loss = Breakeven price – Stock price

For example, a closing stock price at expiration of $52.75 is between the lower strike price of $52.00 and the breakeven of $52.92 and is therefore going to be a partial loss.

When calculated, the loss is $17 [($52.92 – $52.75) x 100 shares/contract]

How To Calculate Complete Loss

A complete loss occurs anywhere below the lower purchased call strike price ($52.50) which amounts to the entire premium paid of $42.

Bull Call Spread vs. Call Option Compared

The Bull Call Spread is liked by many traders more than simply buying a call option for two main reasons:

  1. Reduces the capital spent/lower breakeven price.
  2. Is a strategy that incorporates reality.

Is The Bull Call Spread Cheaper?

Because a bull call spread involves the selling of an option, the money required for the strategy is less than buying a call option outright.

Moreover, the breakeven price is lowered when implementing a bull call spread.

To illustrate the cash outlay and breakeven prices for a bull call spread and just a call option are given next:

  • Bull Call Spread: cost $42; breakeven price $52.92
  • Call Option: cost $60; breakeven price $53.10

In percentage terms, the bull call spread is 30% cheaper than purchasing only the call option.

Bull Call Spreads Consider Realistic Expectations

The second advantage/disadvantage of a bull call spread is that this strategy considers the reality and probabilities of a potential move. Theoretically, buying a call strategy has unlimited profit potential.

However, successful option traders generally focus on probabilities and take into consideration reality.

A stock move from $50 to $55 is a 10% move. This has to occur in the time before expiration, in the example 30 days.

When Might An Options Trader Only Buy A Call?

In order for a rational options trader to buy just a call, the option trader has to expect a stock move greater than 10% within 30 days.

In conclusion, the bull call spread is a great alternative to simply buying a call outright: the bull call spread reduces the breakeven price and decreases the capital required to be bullish on a stock, it also is a strategy that takes into consideration realistic expectations.

Where Can I Practice Bull Call Spread Analysis?

If you are interested in trading using technical analysis, have a look at our reviews of these regulated brokers available in to learn which charting tools they offer:

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CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. Between 74%-89% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs. You should consider whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Further Reading

Learn more about technical analysis charting concepts and strategies including Typical Price Moving Average,  and Average Directional Movement, and Triangular Moving Average.

Also, see our guide to understanding the basics of reading candlestick charts and option trading strategies.

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