In times of a declining market and rising volatility, it can be hard to dish out the higher costs of put option premiums. One way to do this more cost effectively is to purchase something called a butterfly put spread. The good is that these spreads will cost you much less (especially in times of rising volatility) than purchasing just put options. However, the bad is that these limit the potential gains (or protection) AND if the market or equity drops too much in value you could still lose your premium paid just as if the the market or equity didn't drop enough for the spread to pay off. I will give you an example in this article using a major index ETF.
Hedging an entire portfolio with out of the money butterfly put spreads:
The market is up over 15% since late August, so it may be worth looking at buying some protection. First I will have to develop targets: How much I am willing to lose before my protection kicks in, how much I want to hedge, and the time period I want to hedge for. The more and longer that I choose to hedge, the greater the cost.
Let's say I can stomach losing 5% from the current market levels and I think the market is due for a 15% pullback from current levels over the next 2 months. I would then use these targets to develop my option strategy.
Step 1: Using the very popular, very liquid S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) I would purchase the January $114 put options. Note how I got the $114 strike put option. I stated I can withstand declines of 5% from current market levels (at the time of this writing SPY is at $120.29), so a 5% decline from here would put the SPY at roughly $114.
Step 2: I would then sell TWO contracts for every ONE purchased of the SPY January $102 put options. Note how I got the $102 strike put options. I stated I expect a total decline of 15% from the current levels near $120 on the SPY which comes out to $102.
Step 3: I would then purchase the January $90 put options. Note how I got the $90 strike put options. This is just the difference of the contracts in step one and two subtracted from contract in step two. In this case the difference is 12 so we take 12 and subtract it from 102 which gives us $90.
As of current market data, each spread can be purchased for $108. If I were to just purchase put options it would cost $173. If the market in fact sells off this would give me protection from roughly 1,140 down to 1,020 on the S&P 500. The maximum profit from this spread would occur if the SPY closed at $102 per share on January options expiration. This would return $1200 per spread or a return of 1,111%. The most that can be lost from this spread is the premium paid of $108, and would result if the SPY closed at or above $114 per share or at or below $90 per share on January options expiration. The two break even points would be the SPY at $112.92 and $91.08 on January options expiration. Commissions were not factored in the calculations above.
This completes the butterfly put spread. Note for safety and saving on transaction costs it should not be done as shown above in three different steps. Most brokerages today have a butterfly put spread order entry form. If they do not I suggest using a two part put spread approach which every brokerage should certainly have. Using put spreads I would first get long the $114/$102 put spread, and then get short the $102/$90 put spread. This is the exact same spread and should only be entered if brokerages do not offer butterfly put spreads.
If one has a more tech heavy portfolio it may be a better idea to structure a butterfly put spread using the PowerShares QQQ ETF (QQQQ). If small cap stocks are a holding in the portfolio one should also consider opening butterfly put spreads on the iShares Russell 2000 Index ETF (IWM).
These are just examples and are not recommendations to buy or sell any security; if you're more bullish/bearish, you’ll want to adjust the strike price and expiration accordingly.
The reason option volumes have surged in the last five years is because they are a great way to hedge your portfolio as well as create income off of your shares (see chart here). Keep in mind when using this strategy it is essential that broker commissions are low enough to profit from the position.
Disclosure: Disclosure: Long SPY December $115 Put Options
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purpose only I am not recommending buying or selling anything mentioned.