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Condors vs. Iron Variety

Mark: If you will, address an options trading question (maybe a rookie question) to which I’ve never found an answer.

What is the benefit of selling iron condors (bull put spread/bear call spread) over buying condors (bear spread/bull spread – puts or calls, but not both)? The profit/loss graphs of the IC and the condor are identical. Clearly, with the IC the cash remains in your account and is increased by the premium collected rather than paying for the condor and collecting a profit (hopefully) later on, but the interest earned on the funds is, at least presently, negligible. Also, it appears that there might be a slightly greater premium for an IC over a condor, but I don’t have enough of a statistical sample to draw that conclusion.

So, why are iron condors so popular while non-iron condors are rarely mentioned? Thanks, as always, for your wisdom.

Cliff

That’s a very interesting question and the truth is I don’t know.

I believe it’s a trader mindset. I believe that most traders prefer to have the cash in their account (iron condor), rather than pay cash for a position (condor). In this situation, the positions are equivalent and there is no theoretical advantage to trade one over the other.

However, there is a practical consideration. Because the trader anticipates that all options will expire worthless (obviously only when the trade is held though expiration), there is an extra reward for winning: There are no exercise/assignment fees to pay.

When the condor buyer wins, one of the spreads is completely ITM while the other is worthless. That requires payment of one exercise fee and one assignment fee. We know that some brokers do the right thing and provide exercise and assignment at no cost to the customer. However, that is not a common situation. Thus, all things being equal, the iron condor is better by the amount of fees saved.

More on mindset

Covered call writing is very popular among rookie traders. It’s easy to learn and nearly all brokers allow their novice traders to adopt that strategy. Selling cash-secured puts is the equivalent strategy, and adds cash in the trader’s account, but most brokers don’t allow their beginners to make that play. That’s true despite the fact that the trades are 100% equivalent.

Where does trader mindset come into the picture? I can’t be certain, but I feel that most traders who get used to writing covered calls never make the effort to switch to selling puts – even when their broker would give them permission. There is a certain comfort in trading a familiar strategy.

I believe it’s the same with condors. More books are written on iron condors, more bloggers use iron condors as topics, and thus, people who adopt this strategy begin with the iron condor and never make the change.

In the condor case, it’s correct not to make the change, but writing covered calls is not a good idea when the trader understands the equivalence of selling cash-secured puts. What’s the edge? Fewer commission dollars per trade. To me, the other, and more important point is that it’s far easier to exit prior to expiration. when the stock rises above the strike, OTM puts become cheap (eventually) whereas it’s not easy to trade ITM, higher priced call options as a combination with stock.

Exiting not only locks in the profit, but it frees cash for another trade.

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