How can you combine the power of dividends and the power of covered calls?

09 April 2018 by
Woman making thumbs up sign

Did you ever wonder how you can generate yield and at the same time reduce your risk? This might sound too good to be true but this is achievable with discipline and knowledge.

For starters, many judicious investors purchase dividend paying stocks or exchange traded funds (ETF). The company pays out a dividend, usually on a quarterly or monthly basis. This dividend is the extra income earned and can also be used as a buffer in case the share price declines. In many cases, dividend-paying stocks tend to be mature and well-established companies. For this reason, investors have the luxury to enjoy the combination of consistent dividend payments with an opportunity of price appreciation (through the price increase of the stock).

TIP: To be eligible to receive the dividends, you need to purchase the stock or ETF before the ex-dividend date*. If you purchase the stock on or after the ex-dividend date, you will not receive the upcoming dividend. To find out when the ex-dividend dates are, refer to financial websites (or your online broker’s trading platform). You can also visit or download the TMX Money Dividends app from the App Store.

Now, let’s take this concept to another level. Can you obtain higher returns than just collecting the dividends and price appreciation? Yes, this is possible. The investor needs to combine the stock position and write a call option on it. This strategy is called a covered call. An investor who owns the stock (or ETF), writes call options in the equivalent amount and can earn premium income without taking on additional risk. The premium received adds to the investor’s bottom line regardless of outcome. This strategy even offers a small downside “cushion” in the event the stock slides downward and can boost returns on the upside. That being said, this benefit comes at a cost. For as long as the short call position is open, the investor forfeits the stock’s profit potential and will be capped to the strike price** of the call option. If the stock price rallies above the call option’s strike price, the stock is increasingly likely to be called away. Since the possibility of assignment is central to this strategy, it makes more sense for investors who view assignment as a positive outcome.

TIP: For the written call option position to be considered covered, the investor must hold 100 shares of the underlying stock per call option written.

For example, during the time of the writing of this article, ZEB (BMO Equal Weight Banks Index ETF) pays a monthly distribution of $0.074 per share, yielding a dividend yield of 3.06%. This dividend yield is calculated using the total dividend distributions in a year divided by the stock price. Let’s compare two hypothetical investors: Mike buys ZEB for $26 and Julie also buys the same ETF for $26 and wrote a 90-day $27 call on ZEB for $0.30 per share. The $0.30 per share is the call premium that Julie receives when she writes the call option. This call premium is equivalent to an extra $0.10 per share ($0.30 ÷ 3 months) on top of what ZEB distributes on a monthly basis of $0.074 per share. Ultimately, both Mike and Julie will receive the dividends if they are shareholders on record date. Let’s reflect on what Julie is doing here. The call option on ZEB that she wrote gives her an edge because of the option premium that she collects. But if Julie gets assigned on her call option, she has to deliver her ETF units for $27 (the strike price of the call that she wrote). When Julie wrote the call option, she was ready to sell her ZEB units for $27 (the call option’s strike price).

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios:

1) If ZEB remains stable during the course of the 90 days (or three months), the main source of return will be coming from the dividend distributions of $0.222 per share (3 x $0.074). However, Julie earned an additional $0.30 from the covered call premium. Her return increased to $0.522 (135% higher than Mike’s income from the distributions).

2) If ZEB rallies up to $27.30 from $26 (up 5%) during the 90 day period, Mike could take his profit and earn a 5% return plus the dividends received. Julie’s call options will be assigned because the stock price ($27.30) exceeded the strike price ($27). She can still profit from a 3.85% gain from $26 (entry price) to $27 (strike price). However, Julie could not profit all the way up to $27.30 because of the $27 call option she wrote. Nonetheless, Julie will also receive the dividend payments (if she is the shareholder on record date) plus the call option premium $0.30 that she received from the covered call strategy. Therefore, Julie’s total profit is $1.522 ($1.00 + $0.222 + $0.30). This results in the same profit per share as Mike’s ($1.30 + $0.222).

3) If ZEB drops by 5% to $24.70, Mike will incur an unrealized loss of $1.30 ($26 – $24.70) but Julie’s loss will be 23% less than Mike’s loss (excluding the dividend received). Her loss is reduced because of the $0.30 per share premium she received from the covered call strategy. Therefore, Julie’s loss will only be $1.00 vs. Mike’s $1.30 per share loss. Since Mike’s acquisition price is $26 and Julie’s is $25.70 ($26 – $0.30), Julie’s risk is lower than Mike’s. This is one of the many reasons why knowledgeable investors use covered calls.

To summarize, properly selecting dividend paying stocks or ETFs is a sound approach. Many investors, including investment advisors, support this strategy as it provides a steady stream of income from the dividends. Not only that this strategy generates income for the investor, the investor could also benefit from a price increase if the stock price increases. To further enhance the stream of income from the dividends, investors should consider a covered call strategy to amplify the yield from holding the stock position. Until the next article, here’s some food for thought: If you have a stock that does not pay dividends, you can write covered calls on a quarterly basis to simulate a stream of dividend payments.

Until next time, to learn more about covered calls, please visit

*Ex-dividend date: If you purchase a stock or ETF on the ex-dividend date or after, you will not receive the next dividend payment. If you purchase before the ex-dividend date, you get the dividend.

**Strike price: The agreed price that the call writer will be paid for the delivery of the underlying stock or ETF.

This article is from Bourse de Montréal Inc. and is being posted with its permission. Opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily represent the views of Bourse de Montréal Inc.

This document is made available for general information purposes only. The information provided in this document, including financial and economic data, quotes and any analysis or interpretation thereof, is provided solely for information purposes and shall not be construed in any jurisdiction as providing any advice or recommendation with respect to the purchase or sale of any derivative instrument, underlying security or any other financial instrument or as providing legal, accounting, tax, financial or investment advice. Bourse de Montréal Inc. recommends that you consult your own advisors in accordance with your needs before making decision to take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situation and individual needs.

Although care has been taken in the preparation of this document, Bourse de Montréal Inc. and/or its affiliates do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this document and reserve the right to amend or review, at any time and without prior notice, the content of this document.

Neither Bourse de Montréal Inc. nor any of its affiliates, directors, officers, employees or agents shall be liable for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of any errors or omissions in this document or of the use of or reliance upon any information appearing in this document.

Legal disclaimer

The articles and information on this website are protected by the copyright laws in effect in Canada or other countries, as applicable. The copyrights on the articles and information may belong to the National Bank of Canada, its subsidiaries or other persons. Any reproduction, redistribution, communication by telecommunication, including indirectly via a hyperlink, or any other use thereof that is not explicitly authorized, of all or part of these articles and information, is prohibited without the prior written consent of the copyright owner.

The content of this Web site is provided for general information purposes and should not be interpreted, considered or used as if it were financial, legal, fiscal, or other advice in any way. In addition, the information presented on this Web site, whether financial, fiscal or regulatory, may not be valid outside the province of Quebec.

This article is provided by National Bank Direct Brokerage (NBDB) for information purposes only. It creates no legal or contractual obligation for NBDB and the details of this service offering and the conditions herein are subject to change.

The hyperlinks in this article may redirect to external websites not administered by NBDB. NBDB cannot be held liable for the content of external websites.

Views expressed in this article are those of the person being interviewed. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBDB.