Google: Stuck In A Range Can Still Be Profitable

| About: Alphabet Inc. (GOOG)

As I've mentioned in numerous articles, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has had a hard time lately getting out of its own way. Just look at the chart below. Since that rally in the fall of 2010, Google shares have done absolutely nothing. The $450 to $650 range has mostly held, except for a short period of time here or there. The stock is still moving, but buy and hold has not really worked. There are still plenty of ways to make money off this name, and I'm here to discuss a few of them.

I'm going to discuss a variety of options strategies. Options trading carries a serious amount of risk, and many of the strategies I recommend may require a substantial amount of margin. Before executing any options trade, always know the parameters of the trade, and check with your broker on the margin required to execute a particular trade. For the purposes of this article, all option prices are as of Tuesday's close.

(Click to enlarge)Click to enlarge

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

So what could you do? Well, if you don't think Google is going to move much, you could just sell some out of the money calls or puts and receive a small premium. Depending on what expiration you choose, you get more of a premium as you go further into the future, but you also have an increased risk of the stock going above (your call) or below (your put) strike. That could force you to either buy or sell a ton of stock, and you better have the capital required to do so.

So let's say you think Google will stay below $620 before the next expiration, which occurs two weeks from this Friday. If you sell the $620 call, you would receive $4. That doesn't seem like much, but if you received $4 every 2.5 weeks, you'd make quite a bit over a few months or a year, assuming of course the options always expired worthless, which is not 100% certain.

Likewise, you could sell a $570 put for the same expiration and receive about $6. Should Google shares fall, you would be forced to buy the name at $570, but with the premium received, you would only be paying $564. Given that the average analyst price target is about $750 now, $564 would seem like a steal to many. I'm not personally recommending a long or short view of the stock, not today anyway.

But if you really think Google is going nowhere, the best way to play it is to sell an equal number of at the money calls and puts. Based on Tuesday's close of $594.34, the $595 strike is the closest. I've compiled a table below showing you the prices of calls and puts, if you were to sell them today. Like I said, the further you go out, the more premium you receive. The percent column is the percentage move the stock would have to move, at the least, for you to start losing money on this trade.

Expiration Call Put Total Percent
6/15/2012 $13.40 $14.10 $27.50 4.63%
7/20/2012 $28.30 $28.80 $57.10 9.61%
9/21/2012 $39.50 $39.40 $78.90 13.28%
12/21/2012 $53.20 $52.80 $106.00 17.83%
1/18/2013 $57.40 $57.20 $114.60 19.28%
1/17/2014* $94.90 $93.50 $188.40 31.70%
Click to enlarge

*Could not get accurate pricing on a $595 strike for this expiration. For simplicity of this argument, I took the average price of the $590 and $600 strikes.

So let's look at the September expiration for now. If you don't think Google is going to move more than $79 in either direction, selling both makes sense. As long as Google stays in the $516 to $674 range, you make money. Right now, that seems somewhat likely, but remember, you will need to post a lot of margin for this trade. It may not be suitable for all investors. Your profit will be determined on how close Google stays to that $595 level.

Now, this isn't a one stock specific strategy. I've recommended this in the past with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). However Apple hasn't been stuck in a range in recent years, so the strategy might not work as well with that name. However, because Apple has moved more, you are going to get a higher premium for the added risk you are taking.

The other consideration is dividends. When looking at some of the big name tech stocks, for instance Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), you must factor in the dividends. Why? Well, if you don't own the stock, you are not going to receive the dividend. Apple will also be paying a dividend soon, so you'll need to consider this issue with Apple as well. Microsoft's dividend is close to 3% annually, and Intel's is over 3% currently. If you want to receive that chunk of change, you can't just sell calls and puts. You need to hold the stock. That might sound rather simple, but in terms of say Intel, if you hold $10,000 of stock, you would miss out on $345 worth of dividends per year.

Will Google continue to be stuck in this range? Most investors that are long the name certainly hope not. Google hasn't gone anywhere lately, even with analyst price targets at $700 or higher for the past two plus years. We still have not gotten there. However, you can still make money through options, but remember there is a serious amount of risk involved in these trades.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.