Introduction to “Winged” Option Trades

07/18/2011 11:06 am EST

Focus: OPTIONS

Dan Passarelli

Founder, Market Taker Mentoring, LLC

A veteran trader provides a helpful overview of the complex-sounding but classic, popular option spread strategies like butterflies, condors, and their different variations.

Here at MoneyShow.com, we have previously introduced the large and diverse option family of the range-bound structures and visited in some detail two of the less-frequently-discussed trades, the double calendar and the double diagonal option spreads.

Since attracting attention to the lesser-known brethren of the family, the branch representing the wing spreads has made its impatience for the spotlight to be known and is demanding its usual disproportionate quota of attention. So it shall be for my MoneyShow.com readers.

This more visible portion of the clan retains the characteristic defining points of family identity: A variably large range of profitability with regard to price of the underlying and the Theta-positive blood type.

In addition, this branch has additional characteristics of being Vega negative and having the individual option positions selected from a single expiration date. To review, lest they feel slighted by not being introduced once again, the specific names of the individual family members of this branch are the butterfly, iron butterfly, condor, and iron condor.

Butterfly, Iron Butterfly, Condor, and Iron Condor

The nomenclature of the family is more complicated than necessary; the positions are more similar in make up than the individual family members would like to admit. The fundamental defining structure of this group is to be found in the butterfly. It is from this basic structure that the individual members of the wing-spread family of option strategies have evolved.

Butterflies and Iron Butterflies

Butterflies, in their classic form, whether in puts or calls, are constructed with the anatomy of 1/-2/1. The concise description is to “sell the body and buy the wings.” This structure finds its evolution from the combination of a bull and bear vertical spread. It is in the butterfly that this branch of the family generally finds both its most profitable trades based on percentage returns and its narrowest zones of profitability.

The butterfly can be constructed in puts, calls, or both puts and calls. When constructed in both puts in calls, the appellation “iron butterfly” is used. This general organizational structure applies throughout this branch of the family; structures composed of both puts and calls are termed "iron." Put and call butterflies are debit transactions, while the iron butterfly is a credit trade.

The remaining members of this branch of the family can be most easily viewed from an organizational standpoint as butterflies with cosmetic surgery of varying degrees. The first step in the gradual transmogrification is to separate the two short strikes of a classic butterfly from the 1/-2/1 anatomy to the 1/-1/-1/1 framework. This produces the entity of a split-strike butterfly. Some would consider this newly modified entity to be a condor, the result of the next-to-be-described modification in our collection of wing spreads.

As compared with a butterfly structure, the split-strike butterfly has the primary effect of broadening the price range of the underlying over which the position is profitable. As in life in general, increases in yin are irrevocably linked to decreases in yang. Benefits accruing to the trade from this modification and widening of the zone of profitability are accompanied by reduction in the maximum potential extent of profitability.

Condors and Iron Condors

The final step in our structural manipulation of the butterfly is the condor and its most frequently encountered variation, the iron condor. In the shorthand in which we have described the anatomy, the condor could be written as 1/-1/-/-/-/-/-1/1. The iron condor could be designated as 1/-1/-/- (put segment) and -/-/-1/1 (call segment).

Condors vs. Iron Condors

The condor is a debit transaction and the iron condor is a credit trade. This final step in the modification has the major effect of broadening yet again the profitable range of prices over which the underlying can oscillate and remain profitable. The broadening of the profitability range is once again accompanied by reduction in the maximum achievable percentage profit.

Each of the condor family members has certain important characteristics arising from the specific components and the manner in which they are combined within the complete position. The trader must be aware of these specific points of distinction.

There will be more discussion to follow on the specifics in upcoming articles here on MoneyShow.com. Each of these spreads is the subject for extensive and detailed discussion.

By Dan Passarelli of MarketTaker.com

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