Options strategies

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Option strategies are the simultaneous, and often mixed, buying or selling of one or more options that differ in one or more of the options' variables. Call options give the buyer a right to buy that particular stock at that option's strike price. Put options give the buyer the right to sell a particular stock at the strike price. This is often done to gain exposure to a specific type of opportunity or risk while eliminating other risks as part of a trading strategy. A very straight forward strategy might simply be the buying or selling of a single option, however option strategies often refer to a combination of simultaneous buying and or selling of options.

Options strategies allow to profit from movements in the underlying that are bullish, bearish or neutral. In the case of neutral strategies, they can be further classified into those that are bullish on volatility and those that are bearish on volatility. Traders can also profit off time decay when the stock market have low volatility as well usually measured by the Greek called Theta. The option positions used can be long and/or short positions in calls and puts.

Bullish strategies[edit]

Bullish options strategies are employed when the options trader expects the underlying stock price to move upwards. They can also use Theta (time decay) with a bullish/Bearish combo called a Calendar Spread and not even rely on stock movement. The trader can also just assess how high the stock price can go and the time frame in which the rally will occur in order to select the optimum trading strategy for just buying a bullish option.

The most bullish of options trading strategies is the simply buying a call option used by most options traders.

The stock market is always moving somewhere or some how, it's up to the stock trader to figure what strategy fits the Markets for that time period. Moderately bullish options traders usually set a target price for the bull run and utilize bull spreads to reduce cost or eliminate risk all together. There is limited risk when trading options when using the appropriate strategy. While maximum profit is capped for some of these strategies, they usually cost less to employ for a given nominal amount of exposure. There are options that have unlimited potential to the up or down side with limited risk if done correctly. The bull call spread and the bull put spread are common examples of moderately bullish strategies.

Mildly bullish trading strategies are options that make money as long as the underlying stock price does not go down by the option's expiration date. These strategies may provide downside protection as well. Writing out-of-the-money covered calls is a good example of such a strategy. However, Covered Calls usually require the trader to buy actual stock in the end which needs to be taken into account for margin. This is why it's called a covered call. The trader is buying an option to cover the stock you have already purchased. This is how traders hedge a stock that they own when it has gone against them for a period of time. The stock market is much more than ups and downs, buying, selling, calls, and puts. Options give the trader flexibility to really make a change and career out of what some call dangerous or rigid market or profession.

Think of Options as the building blocks of strategies for the market. Options have been around since the market started, they just did not have their own spotlight until recently.

Bearish strategies[edit]

Bearish options strategies are employed when the options trader expects the underlying stock price to move downwards. It is necessary to assess how low the stock price can go and the time frame in which the decline will happen in order to select the optimum trading strategy. Selling a Bearish option is also another type of strategy that gives the trader a "credit". This does require a margin account.

The most bearish of options trading strategies is the simple put buying or selling strategy utilized by most options traders.

Stock can make steep downward moves. Moderately bearish options traders usually set a target price for the expected decline and utilize bear spreads to reduce cost. This strategy can have unlimited amount of profit and limited risk when down correctly. The bear call spread and the bear put spread are common examples of moderately bearish strategies.

Mildly bearish trading strategies are options strategies that make money as long as the underlying stock price does not go up by the options expiration date. However, you can add more options to the current position and move to a more advance position that relies on Time Decay "Theta". These strategies may provide a small upside protection as well. In general, bearish strategies yield profit with less risk of loss.

Neutral or non-directional strategies[edit]

Neutral strategies in options trading are employed when the options trader does not know whether the underlying stock price will rise or fall. Also known as non-directional strategies, they are so named because the potential to profit does not depend on whether the underlying stock price will go upwards. Rather, the correct neutral strategy to employ depends on the expected volatility of the underlying stock price.

Examples of neutral strategies are:

  • Guts - sell ITM (in the money) put and call
  • Butterfly - buy ITM (in the money) and OTM (out of the money) call, sell two at the money calls, or vice versa
  • Straddle - holding a position in both a call and put with the same strike price and expiration. If the options have been bought, the holder has a long straddle. If the options were sold, the holder has a short straddle. The long straddle is profitable if the underlying stock changes value in a significant way, either higher or lower. The short straddle is profitable when there is no such significant move.
  • Strangle - the simultaneous buying or selling of out-of-the-money put and an out-of-the-money call, with the same expiration. Similar to the straddle, but with different strike prices.
  • Risk reversal - simulates the motion of an underlying so sometimes these are referred as synthetic long or synthetic short positions depending on which position you are shorting.
  • Collar - buy the underlying and then simultaneous buying of a put option below current price (floor) and selling a call option above the current price (cap).
  • Fence - buy the underlying then simultaneous buying of options either side of the price to limit the range of possible returns.
  • Iron butterfly - sell two overlapping credit vertical spreads but one of the verticals is on the call side and one is on the put side.
  • Iron condor - the simultaneous buying of a put spread and a call spread with the same expiration and four different strikes. An iron condor can be thought of as selling a strangle instead of buying and also limiting your risk on both the call side and put side by building a bull put vertical spread and a bear call vertical spread.
  • Jade Lizard - a bull vertical spread created using call options, with the addition of a put option sold at a strike price lower than the strike prices of the call spread in the same expiration cycle.
  • Calendar spread - Buying simultaneously a put and call option on either a bearish, bullish, or neutral trade. These can be "rolled" into several months, and even combined up to 3 Calendar spreads in one stock for one position. This can be called a type of hedging strategy. Traders never sell Calendars for a credit unless it's to take the position off and collect a debit (profit). Looks similar to a Condor.

Bullish on volatility[edit]

Neutral trading strategies that are bullish on volatility profit when the underlying stock price experiences big moves upwards or downwards. They include the long straddle, long strangle, short condor (Iron Condor), short butterfly, and long Calendar.

Bearish on volatility[edit]

Neutral trading strategies that are bearish on volatility profit when the underlying stock price experiences little or no movement. Such strategies include the short straddle, short strangle, ratio spreads, long condor,long butterfly, and long Calendar or Double Calendar.

Option Strategy Profit / Loss Chart[edit]

A typical option strategy involves the purchase / selling of at least 2-3 different options (with different strikes and / or time to expiry), and the value of such portfolio may change in a very complex way.

One very useful way to analyze and understand the behavior of a certain option strategy is by drawing its Profit / Loss graph.

An option strategy profit / loss graph shows the dependence of the profit / loss on an option strategy at different base asset price levels and at different moments in time.

Example: P/L graph of a Long Condor[edit]

A good example of a fairly complex option strategy that is hard to analyze without a Profit / Loss chart is a Long Condor – an option strategy consisting of options with 4 different strikes.

A Long Condor has a complex Profit / Loss chart, especially before expiry.

Here you can see the Profit / Loss graph of a Long Condor at expiry (orange line) and 35 days before expiry:

Long Condor Options Strategy Profit-Loss Graph

Profit charts[edit]

These are examples of charts that show the profit of the strategy as the price of the underlying varies.

Straddle
Short straddle
Butterfly (options strategy)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • McMillan, Lawrence G. (2002). Options as a Strategic Investment (4th ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-7352-0197-8.