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Earn Instant Income for the Chance to Buy This Retailer at Fire-Sale Prices

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) shares have lost more than half of their value since the beginning of 2012. The sell-off occurred after posting multi-year highs above $43 despite the backdrop of a tough economy. 

With the latest push to the downside, the $20 support base has been violated. In fact, the stock is now trading near extreme lows under $15, which have not been seen since 2009. Its 52-week low sits at $14.20.

JC Penney Stock Chart

If you are comfortable holding on to this stock at fire-sale prices for a potential recovery, then selling put options could allow you to collect income while you wait to get into the stock at a 9% discount. The high volatility and short amount of time until April options expiration make this a high-probability play. 

Cash-Secured Put Selling Strategy

While the typical investor might use a limit order to buy a stock or ETF at a designated price or lower, the options trader can do one better by selling a cash-secured put.

This strategy has the same mathematical risk profile as a covered call. With put selling, there is an obligation to buy the stock at the strike price if it is assigned, allowing you to get into the stock at a discount. In fact, the true entry cost basis is even lower with the subtraction of the premium you earned from selling the puts.

And if the stock is not below the strike price at expiration, then the premium received is all profit. In other words, you're getting paid not to own the stock.

There are two rules traders must follow to be successful at put selling.

Rule One: Only sell puts on stocks you want to own.

The intention of this strategy is to be assigned the stock as a long-term investment (each option contract represents 100 shares). So make sure you have the funds in your account to buy the stock at the options strike price if a sell-off occurs. Paying in full ensures that no additional money is needed to hold the stock for potentially many months or even years until a price recovery.

Rule Two: Sell either of the front two option expiration months to take advantage of time decay.

Collect premium every month on put sales until you are assigned shares at a cost-reduced basis. Every month that you keep the premium is money subtracted from your entry price.

Recommended Trade Setup: Sell to open JCP April 14 Puts at $0.50 or better.

JC Penney Stock Options

This cash-secured put sale would assign long shares at $13.50 ($14 strike minus $0.50 premium), which is about 9% below JCP's current price and below its 52-week low, costing you $1,350 per option sold. Remember: Only sell this put if you want to own JCP stock at a discount to the current price. If you are assigned the shares, a May covered call can be sold against the stock to lower your cost basis even further.

If the stock does not fall below the strike price before expiration, then you keep the premium you collected, essentially getting paid not to buy the stock.