The Options Playbook

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

Christmas Tree Butterfly w/Calls

Christmas Tree Butterfly Call

The Strategy

You can think of this strategy as simultaneously buying one long call spread with strikes A and C and selling two short call spreads with strikes C and D. Because the long call spread skips over strike B, the distance between its strikes will be twice as wide as the strikes in the short call spread. In other words, if the width from strike A to strike C is 5.00, the width from strike C to strike D will be 2.50.

Whereas a traditional long call butterfly is often used as a neutral strategy, this strategy is usually run with a slightly bullish directional bias. To reach the sweet spot, the stock price needs to increase a bit.

Selling two short call spreads with half the width of the long call spread usually makes this strategy less expensive to run than a traditional butterfly with calls. The tradeoff is that you’re taking on more risk than you would with a traditional butterfly. If the stock continues to rise above strike C, your profit will decline at an accelerated rate and the trade could become a loser fairly quickly. That’s because you’re short two call spreads, and there’s half as much distance between strike C and strike D (short spreads) as there is between strike A and strike C (long spread).

Ideally, you want the options at strike C and D to expire worthless, while retaining maximum value for the long call at strike A.

Options Guy's Tips

The lower the stock price is below strike price A when you initiate the strategy, the more bullish this strategy becomes. The benefit is that it will cost less to establish, which means your maximum potential loss will be lower. However, the stock will need to make a bigger move to hit the sweet spot.

Because of the bullish bias on this strategy, it may be an affordable alternative to long calls when calls are prohibitively expensive because of high implied volatility. This is especially the case if you’re anticipating a decrease in volatility after a bullish move. Whereas a long call owner wants implied volatility to increase, you’ll want to see a decrease in implied volatility after this strategy is established.

The Setup

  • Buy a call, strike price A
  • Skip over strike price B
  • Sell three calls, strike price C
  • Buy two calls, strike price D
  • Generally, the stock will be at or around strike A

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

Who Should Run It

Seasoned Veterans and higher

When to Run It

Bullish You’re slightly bullish. You want the stock to rise to strike C and then stop.

Break-even at Expiration

There are two break-even points for this strategy:

  • Strike A plus the net debit paid
  • Strike D minus one-half of the net debit paid

The Sweet Spot

You want the stock to be exactly at strike C at expiration.

Maximum Potential Profit

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

Maximum Potential Loss

Risk is limited to the net debit paid.

Ally Invest 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 of the options except the call with strike A to expire worthless.

Implied Volatility

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

If the stock is at or near strike C, you want volatility to decrease. Your main concern is the three options you sold. 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 C, and a decrease in implied volatility suggests that may be the case.

If the stock price is approaching or outside strike A or D, in general you want volatility to increase. 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 C.

Check your strategy with Ally Invest tools

  • Use Ally Invest’s Profit + Loss Calculator to establish break-even points, evaluate how your strategy might change as expiration approaches, and analyze the Option Greeks.
  • Use the Technical Analysis Tool to look for bullish indicators.

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