Traditional Options Trade for a Highly Volatile Market

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Volatility, as seen through the VIX, is back above 30. And when the VIX kicks above 30, option premium is inflated by historical standards, so it’s typically a great time to sell a little premium.

And one of my favorite ways to take advantage of inflated volatility is to sell premium using a variety of credit spreads. Bear call spreads, bull put spreads and iron condors allow me the freedom to make money in any type of market environment while keeping my risk defined. More importantly, I can be completely wrong in my directional assumption (if I even have one) and still make a return.

The reason is simple: If you take a high-probability approach you are inherently giving yourself a large margin of error. But when volatility is high, you can increase your margin of error while maintaining your typical return. Of course, you can also maintain your typical margin of error and have the opportunity to make a greater than typical return. That’s the beauty of options—you always have the ability to choose your own level of risk and reward with every trade you place.

One security that continues to offer plenty of opportunities to sell premium is the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, one of the most highly-liquid ETFs in existence. The S&P 500, along with many of the stocks that reside in the ETF, have fallen from grace in 2022. As a result, heightened levels of options premium currently exist in the proxy ETF.

And the strategy I would like to implement over the next month to take advantage of the inflated premium in SPY is an iron condor.

Iron condors, among other credit spreads (bear call, bull put, etc.) using highly liquid ETFs, are one of my favorite defined-risk, non-directional options strategies in a high implied volatility environment.

The strategy consists of a short call vertical spread (bear call spread) and short put vertical spread (bull put spread).

Sample Trade: Iron Condor (SPY)

The IV rank and IV percentile in SPY are no doubt inflated. As you can see below, the IV rank in SPY is 90.48, so now is the perfect time to start selling some premium in the ETF.

Let’s say we decide to place a trade in the highly liquid SPY going out roughly 52 days until expiration.

The expected move, also known as the expected range, is from roughly 380 to 450 for the June 17, 2022, expiration cycle.

In most cases, my goal is to place the short strikes of my iron condor outside of the expected move. Moreover, I prefer to have my probability OTM, or probability of success, around 75%, if not higher, on both the call and put side.

Choosing Expiration Cycle and Strike Prices

Since I know the expected range for the June 17, 2022, expiration cycle is from 380 to 450, I can then begin the process of choosing my strike prices.

Put Side of the Iron Condor:

The low side of the range is, again, 380 for the June 17, 2022, expiration cycle, so I want to sell my short put strike just below the 380 strike, possibly lower.

As you can see above, the 330 strike, with a 90.71% probability of success, fits the bill. In fact, it is a very conservative approach to the trade, which is almost always my preference.

Now, once I’ve chosen my short put strike, in this case the 330 put strike, I then begin the process of choosing my long put strike. Remember, buying the long put strike defines my risk on the downside. For this example, I am going with a 5-strike-wide iron condor, so I’m going to buy the 325 strike.

Again, it’s all about the probabilities when using options selling strategies. The higher the probability of success, the less premium you should expect to bring in. But as long as I can bring in a reasonable amount of premium, I always side with the higher probability of success, as opposed to taking on more risk for a greater return.

So, with SPY trading for 416.10, the underlying ETF can move lower by roughly 20.7% over the next 52 days before the trade is in jeopardy of taking a loss.

Call Side of the Iron Condor:

The high side of the expected range is, again, 450 for the June 17, 2022, expiration cycle, so I want to sell the short call strike just above the 450 strike, possibly higher.

As you can see above, the 455 strike, with a 90.45% probability of success, fits the bill. Once I’ve chosen my short call strike, I then begin the process of choosing my long call strike. Remember, buying the long strike defines my risk on the upside of my iron condor. For this example, I am going with a 5-strike-wide iron condor, so I’m going to buy the 460 strike.

As a result, I am going to sell the 455/460 bear call spread for the upside portion of my iron condor.

So, with a range of $125 (330-455) and SPY trading for roughly 416, the underlying ETF can move higher by 9.4% or lower by 20.7% over the next 52 days before the trade is in jeopardy of taking a loss.

Here is the theoretical trade:

Simultaneously…

  • Sell to open SPY June 17, 2022, 455 calls
  • Buy to open SPY June 17, 2022, 460 calls
  • Sell to open SPY June 17, 2022, 330 puts
  • Buy to open SPY June 17, 2022, 325 puts

We can sell this SPY iron condor for roughly $0.75. This means our max potential profit sits at 17.6%.

Again, I wanted to choose an iron condor that was outside of the expected move and has a high probability of success. This is why I sold the 455 calls and the 330 puts.

Remember, when approaching the market from a purely quantitative approach, it’s all about the probabilities. The higher the probability of success on the trade, the less premium I’m able to bring in, but the tradeoff is a higher win rate. And when I use a consistent and disciplined high-probability approach on each and every trade I place, I allow the law of large numbers to take over. Ultimately, that is the true path to long-term success. I’m not trying to hit home runs.

Managing the Trade

I typically close out my trade for a profit when I can lock in 50% to 75% of the original premium sold. So, if I sold an iron condor for $0.75, I would look to buy it back when the spread reaches roughly $0.35 to $0.15. However, I might ride the trade out until it expires worthless, thereby reaping a full profit. As always, the market will dictate my actions.

If the underlying moves against my position I typically adjust the untested side. Most roll the tested side, but all research states that rolling the untested side higher/lower allows me to bring in more premium and thereby decrease my overall risk on the trade. Moreover, I look to get out of the trade when it reaches 2 to 3 times my original premium. So, in our case, when the iron condor hits $1.50 to $2.25.

Ultimately, position size is the best way to truly manage a trade. We know prior to placing a trade what we stand to make and lose on the trade, and therefore we can adjust our position size to fit our own personal guidelines. Iron condors are risk-defined, so it’s important to take advantage of their risk-defined nature by staying consistent with your position size for each and every trade you place. Remember, it’s all about the law of large numbers.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email me or post a question in the comments section below. And don’t forget to sign up for my Free Weekly Newsletter for weekly education, research and trade ideas.