Many option traders use butterfly spreads for a neutral outlook on the underlying. The position is structured to profit from time decay but with the added benefit of a “margin of error” around the position depending on what strike prices are chosen. Butterflies can be great market-neutral trades. However, what some traders don’t realize is that butterflies can also be great for trading directionally.
The long butterfly spread involves selling two options at one strike and the purchasing options above and below equidistant from the sold strikes. This is usually implemented with all calls or all puts. The long options are referred to as the wings and the short options are the body; thus called a butterfly.
The trader’s objective for trading the long butterfly is for the stock to be trading at the body (short strikes) at expiration. The goal of the trade is to benefit from time decay as the stock moves closer to the short options strike price at expiration. The short options expire worthless or have lost significant value; and the lower strike call on a long call butterfly or higher strike put for a long put butterfly have intrinsic value. Maximum loss (cost of the spread) is achieved if the stock is trading at or below the lower (long) option strike or at or above the upper (long) option strike.
What may not be obvious to novice traders is that butterfly spreads can be used directionally by moving the body (short options) of the butterfly out-of-the-money (OTM) and maybe using slightly wider strike prices for the wings (long options). This lets the trader make a directional forecast on the stock with a fairly large profit zone depending on the width of the wings.
To implement a directional butterfly, a trader needs to include both price and time in his outlook for the stock. This can be the most difficult part for either a neutral or directional butterfly; picking the time the stock will be trading in the profit zone. Sometimes the stock will reach the area too soon and sometimes not until after expiration. If the trader picks narrow wings (tighter strikes), he can lower the cost of the spread. If the trader desires a bigger profit zone (larger strikes), he can expand the wings of the spread and the breakevens but that also increases the cost of the trade. It’s a trade-off.
One of the biggest advantages of a directional butterfly spread is that it can be a relatively low risk and high reward strategy depending on how the spread is designed. Maybe one of the biggest disadvantages of a directional butterfly spread is that its maximum profit potential is reached close to expiration. But being patient can be very good for a trader…most of the time!
With earnings season just kicking off once again, it might be a good time to talk about a subject that is brought up quite often in MTM Group Coaching and Online Education and is often debated by option traders learning to trade advanced strategies; double calendars vs. double diagonals.
Double Calendars vs. Double Diagonals
Both double calendars and double diagonals have the same fundamental structure; each is short option contracts in nearby expirations and long option contracts in farther out expirations in equal numbers. As implied by the name, this complex spread is comprised of two different spreads. These time spreads (aka known as horizontal spreads and calendar spreads) occur at two different strike prices. Each of the two individual spreads, in both the double calendar and the double diagonal, is constructed entirely of puts or calls. But the either position can be constructed of puts, calls, or both puts and calls. The structure for each of both double calendars or double diagonals thus consists of four different, two long and two short, options. These spreads are commonly traded as “long double calendars” and “long double diagonals” in which the long-term options in the spread (those with greater value) are purchased, and the short-term ones are sold. The profit engine that drives both the long double calendar and the long double diagonal is the differential decay of extrinsic (time) premium between shorter dated and longer dated options. The main difference between double calendars and double diagonals is the placement of the long strikes. In the case of double calendars, the strikes of the short and long contracts are identical. In a double diagonal, the strikes of the long contracts are placed farther out-of-the-money) OTM than the short strikes.
Why should an option trader complicate his or her life with these two similar structures? The reason traders implement double calendars and double diagonals is the position response to changes in IV; in optionspeak, the vega of the position. Both trades are vega positive, theta positive, and delta neutral—presuming the price of the underlying lies between the two middle strike prices—over the range of profitability. However, the double calendar positions, because of placement of the long strikes closer to ATM responds favorably more rapidly to increases in IV while the double diagonal responds more slowly. Conversely, decreases in IV of the long positions impacts negatively double calendars more strongly than it does double diagonals.
In future writings, the selection of strike prices and position management based on the volatility of the stock will be discussed. In addition, other option strategies will be introduced and guidelines will be discussed to help the trader select among these similar strategies when considering trades and alternatives.
For contrarian traders looking to short Thursday’s explosive price move in NFLX, two bearish trades had dramatically different success as the price of the underlying declined into the afternoon. As is often the case, you can learn a lot just by watching and analyzing the sequence of events in autopsies of the trades.
In order to set the stage, NFLX closed on Wednesday at $107 and the implied volatility (IV) of the front month at-the-money puts and calls averaged 57%. Options of NFLX are very liquid and were trading with reasonable BA spreads.
By 10:30 AM, NFLX price had risen dramatically to $117.46. For the trader who wished to take a contrarian view, he could have purchased the out-of-the-money May 115 puts, the then at-the-money strike for $4.95. Importantly, the IV was 84%. Another trader who prefers to sell premium, could have sold the slightly out-of-the-money calls, the May 120 strike, for $5 at an IV of 84%.
At 2:00 PM the stock had sold off to $113.96. How did our two traders fare? The put buyer could have sold his position for $5.60 for a net profit of 65¢ on the initial position. The premium seller would have been able to close his call position for $2.70 for a gain of $2.30. Both positions were closed at an IV of around 71%.
What is the explanation for the disparity in the results? The reason is volatility crush. Both positions were initiated at an IV of 84% and closed at an IV of 71%. However the call sale represented a vega negative trade while the put buy was a vega positive trade. Volatility had exploded upwards with the dramatic and sudden price rise.
Although IV is generally considered to be inversely related to price, it is important to realize that it can also spike with dramatic and rapid price rises. The outcomes of these two different trades emphasize the importance of considering IV as well as price when designing option trades.
Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Option (ODD) which can be obtained from your broker; by calling (888) OPTIONS; or from The Options Clearing Corporation, One North Wacker Drive, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60606. The content on this site is intended to be educational and/or informative in nature. No statement on this site is intended to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any security or to provide trading or investment advice. Traders and investors considering options should consult a professional tax advisor as to how taxes may affect the outcome of contemplated options transactions.