I think there are still questions. I haven’t seen an studies yet, but I would posit that using low-risk options definitely works to boost returns (I do it myself regularly depending on various conditions) for a year, or two years, or 5 years, or even 10 years. BUT, I am not that certain with regards to very long term periods like 30, 40, or 50 years, in other words over a person’s investing career. The reason I say that is because at least once every 20, 30 (40 or 50) years, there is a “large event” that could turn those low-risk options into utter disasters. In my case, I was lucky because my “large event” occurred in 1987, relatively early in my investing life. In the mid-80s, I regularly traded NYA options (NYA was a very common index at the time, now SPY is the more common one) and was making some nice extra money each month to supplement my salary at the time. But come October 1987, I was literally wiped out, my entire option portfolio was worth exactly zero by the end of Black Monday. After that event, I took a breather, but eventually started trading options again. Now I approach it (options trading) differently for various reasons (one big one is that trading is far easier and far less costly today than in was in the 80s). Today I have a core portfolio that I rarely trade, but I do trade options “on the side” mostly for fun, and for some added income most of the time. And I also do my options trading with a tiny portion of my overall portfolio, when you are retired, you don’t take large risks with the bulk of your portfolio.
For the last few years, I mostly do option spreads. Using a spread, you can select ANY level of risk (and therefore potential return) you choose. And it has the added advantage of protecting you somewhat against time decay (because you bought one option and sold another). But most recently, my favorite options trades involve selling puts on stocks that I wouldn’t mind owning (and 99% of the time I already own some shares of that stock) at the put strike price. There are three outcomes:
- The stock drops below the strike price, it gets assigned to me, and I get to buy shares at that price (minus the option premium that was originally paid to me).
- The stock remains above the strike price and the option expires worthless. I keep the option premium that was originally paid to me.
- Even if I choose to buy (to close) the option at some point before expiration, and I do this only very rarely and primarily for tax timing, the time decay accrues to me because I sold it.
I especially like this type of trade because it essentially has only one decision point and thereafter is self-liquidating. In most cases, the only decision point is initially to sell (write) the option. After that, I can do nothing, and it will self-liquidate no later than the expiration date.
Now with all that said, it is not really a good trade at all over the long-term, and that’s because if you want to own a stock it is almost always better to simply buy it and hold it rather than to play around with options like this. The reason for this is because stocks usually tend to go up over long periods, so by playing with options and only actually getting to buy the stock if it goes down, you end up missing out on all the gains of the stock going up (which it does most of the time over long-term) and only get the very small gains of the option premium that was paid to you. So I only do this for fun, and to “remain in the game”, because otherwise I might only place a trade once or twice a year. So basically I do it for my own entertainment.