The Options Playbook

Featuring 40 options strategies for bulls, bears, rookies, all-stars and everyone in between TradeKing

Long Butterfly Spread w/Calls

Long Call Butterfly Spread

The Strategy

A long call butterfly spread is a combination of a long call spread and a short call spread, with the spreads converging at strike price B.

Ideally, you want the calls with strikes B and C to expire worthless while capturing the intrinsic value of the in-the-money call with strike A.

Because you’re selling the two options with strike B, butterflies are a relatively low-cost strategy. So the risk vs. reward can be tempting. However, the odds of hitting the sweet spot are fairly low.

Constructing your butterfly spread with strike B slightly in-the-money or slightly out-of-the-money may make it a bit less expensive to run. This will put a directional bias on the trade. If strike B is higher than the stock price, this would be considered a bullish trade. If strike B is below the stock price, it would be a bearish trade. (But for simplicity’s sake, if bearish, puts would usually be used to construct the spread.)

Options Guy's Tip

Some investors may wish to run this strategy using index options rather than options on individual stocks. That’s because historically, indexes have not been as volatile as individual stocks. Fluctuations in an index’s component stock prices tend to cancel one another out, lessening the volatility of the index as a whole.

The Setup

  • Buy a call, strike price A
  • Sell two calls, strike price B
  • Buy a call, strike price C
  • Generally, the stock will be at strike B

NOTE: Strike prices are equidistant, and all options have the same expiration month.

Who Should Run It

Seasoned Veterans and higher

NOTE: Due to the narrow sweet spot and the fact you’re trading three different options in one strategy, butterfly spreads may be better suited for more advanced option traders.

When to Run It

Neutral Typically, investors will use butterfly spreads when anticipating minimal movement on the stock within a specific time frame.

Break-even at Expiration

There are two break-even points for this play:

  • Strike A plus the net debit paid.
  • Strike C minus the net debit paid.

The Sweet Spot

You want the stock price to be exactly at strike B at expiration.

Maximum Potential Profit

Potential profit is limited to strike B minus strike A minus the net debit paid.

Maximum Potential Loss

Risk is limited to the net debit paid.

TradeKing Margin Requirement

After the trade is paid for, no additional margin is required.

As Time Goes By

For this strategy, time decay is your friend. Ideally, you want all options except the call with strike A to expire worthless with the stock precisely at strike B.

Implied Volatility

After the strategy is established, the effect of implied volatility depends on where the stock is relative to your strike prices.

If your forecast was correct and the stock price is at or around strike B, you want volatility to decrease. Your main concern is the two options you sold at strike B. A decrease in implied volatility will cause those near-the-money options to decrease in value, thereby increasing the overall value of the butterfly. In addition, you want the stock price to remain stable around strike B, and a decrease in implied volatility suggests that may be the case.

If your forecast was incorrect and the stock price is approaching or outside of strike A or C, in general you want volatility to increase, especially as expiration approaches. An increase in volatility will increase the value of the option you own at the near-the-money strike, while having less effect on the short options at strike B, thereby increasing the overall value of the butterfly.

Check your strategy with TradeKing tools

  • Use the Profit + Loss Calculator to establish break-even points, evaluate how your strategy might change as expiration approaches, and analyze the Option Greeks.

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