Tag Archives | straddles

Selling Strangles Prior to Earnings

Hi Mark,

What is your opinion on a short strangle vs a short straddle?

I understand the same unlimited risk will be there because you are trading naked options. I found that one strategy I have had some success with in paper trading is using short strangles around earnings to take advantage of large drops in volatility. I was taught that one of the assumptions used in this strategy is that for the most part, the market has all ready priced the option correctly for the upcoming news so by allowing for some price movement within your strangle, this is more of a volatility play than a price play.

Steve B


Hi Steve B,

1) To me they are the same, with the straddle being a subset of the strangle  In other words, a straddle is merely a strangle when the strikes and expiration dates are the same.

I prefer the strangle because it allows the trader to choose call and put strike prices independently, rather than being 'forced' to choose the same strike.  I prefer to sell OTM calls and puts – and that's not possible with a straddle.

As far as unlimited risk is concerned, that's a decision for each trader.  I prefer the smaller reward and increased safety of selling credit spreads (an iron condor position), but that is not relevant to today's post.

2) A clarification.  In is not 'volatility' that incurs a large decrease after the news is released.  Instead it is the implied volatility of the options.  I'm fairly certain that is what you meant to say.

3) Your earnings plays are far riskier than you currently believe them to be. These are not horrible trades, but neither are they as simple as you make them out to be.

4) I must disagree with whomever it was who told you that "the market has priced the option correctly for the upcoming news."  The market has made an estimate of how much the stock price is likely to move.  Note that this move may be either higher or lower ad that this difference is ignored when the size of the move is estimated.

There is no formal prediction of move size.  There is nothing that says the stock will move 6.35 points.  What happens is the implied volatility rises as longs as more and more buyers send orders to purchase options.  And it makes no difference if they are calls or puts [See last year's post: puts are calls; calls are puts].  At some point option prices stabilize (or the market closes for the day) and a 'final' implied volatility can be measured. 

From the IV, the 'anticipated move' for the underlying is determined.  AsI said, it's not as is everyone agreed on how much the stock will move.

I hope you understand that when the news is released, there is very little chance that the predicted move is the correct move.  Many times the move is far less than expected.  That's the reason why selling options prior to earnings can be very profitable.  The IV collapses because another substantial price change is NOT expected and there is no reason to pay a high IV to buy either calls or puts.

However, if you chose to sell an option that was not very far out of the money (OTM), and if the stock moves far enough, then the IV decrease doesn't do a whole lot of good.  Sure you gain as IV plunges, but you can easily incur a substantial loss when the short option has moved significantly into the money.

Also remember that part of the time thet stock price gaps by far more than expected.  In that scenario, a higher quantity of formerly OTM options are now ITM.  Thus, large losses are not only possible, but they are more frequent that you realize.  Apparently your trades have worked out well (so far).

Think about this:  If those option buyers did not profit often enough to encourage them to pay 'high' prices for the options they buy, they would have stopped buying them long ago.  The truth is that these option buyers collect often enough to keep them coming back for more. 

5) That means you must be selective in which options you sell into earnings news.  This is especially true when you elect to sell naked options.  You cannot options on every stock, hoping that any random play will work.  This is a high risk/high reward game.  It's okay to participate, but please be aware of what you are doing and the risk involved.


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Selling Straddles: Too Risky or the Best Income Generator?

Thanks for the blog Mark. It's just great.

I wonder if you can give some advice?

I sell straddles, usually 30-45 days prior to expiration on the SPX index at the current market price. What do you think is the best option strategy to offset large moves up/ down?

Say I sell an SPX Dec 1185 straddle on Monday Nov 1, collecting 60 points in premium. I feel that a large downside move may occur that could take prices 10% down from 1185. Would buying a straight put (or a put spread) be best? It's an expensive route to take and just wondering if you have another solution?




Thanks.  Glad you find this blog to be useful.

The truth is that selling straddles is a strategy that seeks a high profit and it must come with significant risk

Zoe, when you are naked short options, loss is theoretically unlimited – and there's nothing to be done about that.  Sure, we know there will not be a 50% one-day rally, nor will there be a one-day 75% decline.  But they are theoretically possible and that makes it impossible to estimate the maximum loss for the straddle. 

If willing to live with the risk of a gigantic loss, then you may be comfortable selling straddles. However, because you are asking about risk reduction, I assume that unlimited loss is something you prefer to avoid.

Iron Condor vs. Straddle

The best (in my opinion) protection is to buy a put that is farther OTM than your short put.  In other words, I am willing to pay that very high price for the put because it provides complete protection against a huge gap opening – or any significant move.  By 'complete protection' I mean it establishes a maximum possible loss.  When you have the ability to set that loss potential, you are in position to trade more effectively.


Money management

For example, when you recognize the worst possible result, you are better able to size the trade properly.  Translation:  You can make a very good judgement about how many contracts to trade.  When selling straddles, there is no good method to allow effective money management. 

Note the difference: You can manage risk by adjusting positions as needed – assuming that there is no large market gap.  However, there is no way to practice sound money management money when you don't have a good  estimate of how much is at risk.

Yes, this is very expensive, reduces potential profits significantly and converts the straddle into an iron condor (assuming you do this on both the put and call sides).  However, it does allow you to have a better handle on money management and risk management.

Alternative: Strangle

If you fear, or anticipate a market decline, you can take out partial insurance right now – when initiating the position.  There is nothing magical about selling straddles, and you can trade a strangle instead.  In this scenario, you would sell the 1185 call, as planned, but could choose a lower strike put.  Perhaps the 1165 or the 1150 put?  The point is that you build in your market bias by making a small (not 100 points) adjustment in the strike prices of the options sold.



I've been trading options since 1975 and have come to one major risk management rule that suits my comfort zone.  I no longer sell any naked options (unless I want to buy stock and elect to sell a naked put in an attempt to buy stock at a lower price).  I have incurred too many large losses from being short far too many naked options – both calls and puts.  I am NOT telling you to adopt that same limitation.  What I am doing is asking you to consider the risk of selling straddles and decide if it works for you.  It may be a perfect (high risk) strategy for your trading style.

a) Buying debit spreads (puts in your example) is far less costly and provides far less protection than buying single options.  And that protection is limited. But if there is no huge gap, this is a very useful method to reduce risk. 

I'd prefer not to constantly use the phrase 'if there is no gap,' but the truth is, that's the big, ugly enemy for the naked call or put seller.  That gap eliminates the opportunity to make a timely adjustment before disaster occurs.

b) Another risk management method to consider is to reduce the time that you own the short straddle position.  True, the most rapid time decay comes near expiration, but if you take the extra risk associated with selling naked options, you can counter some of that risk by not holding into expiration.  Consider owning the position for only two or three weeks, taking the profit, and waiting patiently until it's time to open a new straddle.  Being out of the market is one sure method for reducing risk.

c) Other solutions exist, but buying single options or debit spreads represent the most simple and effective choices.

Another example is an OTM put backspread.  But please be warned:  The risk graph may look very good today and you may feel adequately protected today, but the passage of time turns these into situations in which you may incur a big loss from the original straddle plus another from the back spread.


Buy some SPX Dec 1120 puts and sell fewer SPX Dec 1130 puts.  Because you own extra options, the gigantic downside move will not hurt.  However, if SPX declines and moves near 1120 as expiration arrives, this backspread can lose big money.

This is not the appropriate time to go into a further description of the backspread, but some of the problems are mentioned in this post.



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Is Owning Straddles Overnight Viable?


I think the kite spread is a good idea, but a big gap, like the one I
highlighted, is still very damaging despite having the kite spread.

course trading smaller size will help, but that will result in smaller
profit too.

I have another idea, not sure about its feasibility, but maybe you can
share some insights. How about buying a straddle at the end of the
session, then sell it back next day when market opens. Transaction fee
may be an issue here if I do this everyday, but let’s assume I only do
this when I think something big might happen, like earnings report.




1) Smaller size:  The primary purpose of trading smaller size is to reduce risk.  And it’s the easiest, most convenient risk management tool.  too bad it’s used so infrequently.

In my opinion, ‘size’ is a crucial, risk-related decision that must be made for each trade.  Of course, we already ‘know’ our preferred size, so unless some change is being considered, this decision is already known at the time the trade is initiated.

2) A ‘big gap’ is usually very profitable when you are the owner of naked long options.  The only reason you may have a problem with it is that you are using one kite per 10 call spreads.  That’s not really enough to provide a gap profit. 

But is that your true goal?  A profit from an unexpected, unlikely event?  Wouldn’t it be more prudent to own a single kite as partial insurance?

These two figures show a 10-lot of call spreads protected by one, and then two kite spreads.



Two kite spreads yields a profit on a 10% gap.  That is so unlikely that I cannot see how it’s worth the cost of buying two kites.

3) There are multiple problems with this play:

a) Daily commissions

b) Daily time decay:  Yes, holding a trade overnight results in time decay for the options.  See Adam Warner’s post for more on this.

c) Slippage.  You may not have to pay offers and sell bids, but every time you trade, you give up some value to the mid-point of the bid/ask spreads.

d) If you think you have any idea when ‘something big’ will happen, then all you have to do is quit trading, take advantage of your ability to predict such an occurrence, and position yourself for an occasional windfall.  That’s much easier than trading every day.

Earnings report?  Are you kidding me?  That’s when all the amateurs pay inflated prices for options.  That’s the time you don’t want to be buying options. See this post.

e) If you don’t do it every day, you will surely miss the terrorist attack, or the assassination, or the massive earthquake and tsunami that has a huge economic effect.  You will miss the out-of-the-blue discovery of a cancer cure.  In short, you know you cannot time the market, and more than that, the gap producing events are unexpected.  By definition you have no clue when one may occur.


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