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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

LEAPS - Long-term Stock Options

Stock LEAPS - Long-term Stock Options
Stock LEAPS are one of the greatest secrets in the investment world. Hardly anyone knows much about them. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times do not even report stock LEAP prices or trading activity, although sales are made every business day. Once a week, Barron's almost begrudgingly includes a single column where they report trading activity for a few strike prices for about 50 companies. Yet stock LEAPS are available for over 400 companies and at a great variety of strike prices (click here for a complete list).
LEAPS, Simply Defined
Stock LEAPS are long-term stock options. The term is an acronym for Long-term Equity AnticiPation Securities. They can be either a put or a call. LEAPS typically become available for trading in July, and at first, they have a 2.5-year lifespan.
As time passes, and there are only six months or so remaining on the LEAP term, the option is no longer called a LEAP, but merely an option. To make the distinction clear, the symbol of the LEAP is changed so that the first three letters are the same as the company's other short-term options.
LEAPS Are Tax-Friendly
All LEAPS expire on the third Friday of January. This is a neat feature because if you sell a LEAP when it expires, and you have a profit, your tax is not due for another 15 months. You can avoid the tax altogether by exercising your option. For example, for a call option, you purchase the stock at the strike price of the option you own.
Owning Call LEAPS Is Much Like Owning Stock
Call LEAPS give you all the rights of stock ownership except voting on company issues and collecting dividends. Most importantly, they are a means to leverage your stock position without the hassles and interest expense of buying on margin. You will never get a margin call on your LEAP if the stock should fall precipitously. You can never lose more than the cost of the LEAP - even if the stock falls by a greater amount.
Of course, LEAPS are priced to reflect the inputted interest that you avoid, and the lower risk due to a limited downside possibility. Just like in everything else, there's no free lunch

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