Options Trading

OptionStrategies ↑ Top

Options strategies can favor 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. The option positions used can be long and/or short positions in call options.

Bullish strategies

Bullish options strategies are employed when the options trader expects the underlying stock price to move upwards. It is necessary to 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.

The most bullish of options trading strategies is the simple call buying strategy used by most novice options traders. Stocks seldom go up by leaps and bounds. Moderately bullish options traders usually set a target price for the bull run and utilize bull spreads to reduce cost. (It does not reduce risk because the options can still expire worthless.) While maximum profit is capped for these strategies, they usually cost less to employ for a given nominal amount of exposure. The bull call spread and the bull put spread are common examples of moderately bullish strategies. Mildly bullish trading strategies are options strategies that make money as long as the underlying stock price does not go down by the option’s expiration date. These strategies may provide a small downside protection as well. Writing out-of-the-money covered calls is a good example of such a strategy.

Bearish strategies

Bearish options strategies are the mirror image of bullish strategies. They 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.

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

Stock prices only occasionally make steep downward moves. Moderately bearish options traders usually set a target price for the expected decline and utilize bear spreads to reduce cost. While maximum profit is capped for these strategies, they usually cost less to employ. 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. These strategies may provide a small upside protection as well. In general, bearish strategies yield less profit with less risk of loss.

Neutral or non-directional strategies

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 or downwards. Rather, the correct neutral strategy to employ depends on the expected volatility of the underlying stock price.

Examples of neutral strategies are:

  • Guts – sell in the money put and call
  • Butterfly – buy in the money and 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 expirations. Similar to the straddle, but with different strike prices.
  • Risk Reversal

Bullish on volatility

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 and short butterfly.

Bearish on volatility

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 and long butterfly.

Volatility ↑ Top

In finance, volatility is a measure for variation of price of a financial instrument over time. Historic volatility is derived from time series of past market prices. An implied volatility is derived from the market price of a market traded derivative (in particular an option).

It is common for discussions to talk about the volatility of a security’s price, even while it is the returns’ volatility that is being measured. It is used to quantify the risk of the financial instrument over the specified time period. Volatility is normally expressed in annualized terms, and it may either be an absolute number ($5) or a fraction of the mean (5%).

Volatility terminology

Volatility as described here refers to the actual current volatility of a financial instrument for a specified period (for example 30 days or 90 days). It is the volatility of a financial instrument based on historical prices over the specified period with the last observation the most recent price. This phrase is used particularly when it is wished to distinguish between the actual current volatility of an instrument

  • actual historical volatility which refers to the volatility of a financial instrument over a specified period but with the last observation on a date in the past
  • actual future volatility which refers to the volatility of a financial instrument over a specified period starting at the current time and ending at a future date (normally the expiry date of an option)
  • historical implied volatility which refers to the implied volatility observed from historical prices of the financial instrument (normally options)
  • current implied volatility which refers to the implied volatility observed from current prices of the financial instrument
  • future implied volatility which refers to the implied volatility observed from future prices of the financial instrument

Volatility for investors

Investors care about volatility for five reasons.

  1. The wider the swings in an investment’s price the harder emotionally it is to not worry.
  2. When certain cash flows from selling a security are needed at a specific future date, higher volatility means a greater chance of a shortfall.
  3. Higher volatility of returns while saving for retirement results in a wider distribution of possible final portfolio values.
  4. Higher volatility of return when retired gives withdrawals a larger permanent impact on the portfolio’s value.
  5. Price volatility presents opportunities to buy assets cheaply and sell when overpriced.

In today’s markets, it is also possible to trade volatility directly, through the use of derivative securities such as options and variance swaps.

Volatility versus direction

Volatility does not measure the direction of price changes, merely their dispersion. This is because when calculating standard deviation (or variance), all differences are squared, so that negative and positive differences are combined into one quantity. Two instruments with different volatilities may have the same expected return, but the instrument with higher volatility will have larger swings in values over a given period of time.

For example, a lower volatility stock may have an expected (average) return of 7%, with annual volatility of 5%. This would indicate returns from approximately negative 3% to positive 17% most of the time (19 times out of 20, or 95% via a two standard deviation rule). A higher volatility stock, with the same expected return of 7% but with annual volatility of 20%, would indicate returns from approximately negative 33% to positive 47% most of the time (19 times out of 20, or 95%).

Implied Volatility ↑ Top

In financial mathematics, the implied volatility of an option contract is the volatility of the price of the underlying that is implied by the market price of the option based on an option pricing model. In other words, it is the volatility that, when used in a particular pricing model, yields a theoretical value for the option equal to the current market price of that option. Non-option financial instruments that have embedded optionality, such as an interest rate cap, can also have an implied volatility. Implied volatility, a forward-looking measure, differs from historical volatility because the latter is calculated from known past returns of a security.

Implied volatility as measure of relative value

Often, the implied volatility of an option is a more useful measure of the option’s relative value than its price. The reason is that the price of an option depends most directly on the price of its underlying asset. If an option is held as part of a delta neutral portfolio (that is, a portfolio that is hedged against small moves in the underlying’s price), then the next most important factor in determining the value of the option will be its implied volatility.

Implied volatility is so important that options are often quoted in terms of volatility rather than price, particularly between professional traders.

Example

A call option is trading at $1.50 with the underlying trading at $42.05. The implied volatility of the option is determined to be 18.0%. A short time later, the option is trading at $2.10 with the underlying at $43.34, yielding an implied volatility of 17.2%. Even though the option’s price is higher at the second measurement, it is still considered cheaper based on volatility. The reason is that the underlying needed to hedge the call option can be sold for a higher price.

Implied volatility as a price

Another way to look at implied volatility is to think of it as a price, not as a measure of future stock moves. In this view it simply is a more convenient way to communicate option prices than currency. Prices are different in nature from statistical quantities: one can estimate volatility of future underlying returns using any of a large number of estimation methods, however the number one gets is not a price. A price requires two counterparties, a buyer and a seller. Prices are determined by supply and demand. Statistical estimates depend on the time-series and the mathematical structure of the model used. It is a mistake to confuse a price, which implies a transaction, with the result of a statistical estimation, which is merely what comes out of a calculation. Implied volatilities are prices: they have been derived from actual transactions. Seen in this light, it should not be surprising that implied volatilities might not conform to what a particular statistical model would predict.

Volatility instruments

Volatility instruments are financial instruments that track the value of implied volatility of other derivative securities. For instance, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) is calculated from a weighted average of implied volatilities of various options on the S&P 500 Index. There are also other commonly referenced volatility indices such as the VXN index (Nasdaq 100 index futures volatility measure), the QQV (QQQ volatility measure), IVX – Implied Volatility Index (an expected stock volatility over a future period for any of US securities and exchange traded instruments), as well as options and futures derivatives based directly on these volatility indices themselves.

Option Time Value ↑ Top

Option value (i.e. price) is estimated via a predictive formula such as Black-Scholes or using a numerical method such as the Binomial model. This price incorporates the expected probability of the option finishing “in-the-money”. For an out-of-the-money option, the further in the future the expiration date – i.e. the longer the time to exercise – the higher the chance of this occurring, and thus the higher the option price; for an in-the-money option the chance of being in the money decreases; however the fact that the option cannot have negative value also works in the owner’s favor. The sensitivity of the option value to the amount of time to expiry is known as the option’s theta. The option value will never be lower than its IV.

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