One of the benefits of options trading is the ability to tailor your strategy to any market environment.
We’ll explain why these strategies are ideal for range-bound markets, how you can profit from each, and discuss the differences you may want to consider when selecting which strategy to trade in your account.
What iron butterflies and iron condors have in common
Iron butterfly and iron condor options strategies benefit from minimal price movement in an underlying security.
Both strategies profit when the stock trades in a narrow range and realized volatility is flat or declining. The implicit bet for both strategies is that the underlying will move less than the market implies.
Both strategies use four option legs: two put options and two call options. Each strategy is short a put and a call, and long a put and a call.
Both are credit strategies, meaning they take in a premium when entering the position. The initial credit received is the maximum profit available, and a profit is realized when the position’s cost decreases.
Both are risk-defined strategies. The maximum loss is known when you enter the trade.
The Greeks for both strategies are delta neutral, long theta, short vega, and short gamma.
Now that we’ve established the similarities, we will provide an overview of each strategy and explain the key differences you should know.
Iron butterflies have two short options and two long options. All of the options have the same expiration.
The two long legs consist of a long call and a long put, both purchased out-of-the-money. The long option legs define the position’s risk.
The position’s max risk is calculated by subtracting the spread width between the short and long options from the credit received.
For example, if a stock is trading at $100, a call option and put option could be sold at the $100 strike price, with a long call purchased at the $110 strike price and a long put purchased at the $90 strike price. This would create a $10 wide iron butterfly.
If the credit received to enter the trade is $5.00, the max profit would be $500 and the max loss would be -$500 ($500-$1000).
As previously mentioned, option legs that are ATM or near the stock price are more expensive than OTM legs. Therefore, when selling the four legs as a single position, the position receives a net credit.
This iron butterfly reaches maximum profit if at expiration the underlying is trading at $100.
It reaches maximum loss if the underlying is above the long call strike ($110) or below the long put strike ($90).
Like the iron butterfly, iron condors have two short options and two long options. All options have the same expiration.
However, the two short legs – a call and a put – are sold out-of-the-money. The short call is sold above the stock’s price and the short put is sold below the stock’s price.
Again, the two long legs are purchased further out-of-the-money for protection (above the short call and below the short put).
You can also think of the position as two credit spreads sold above and below the current stock price. Like the iron butterfly, you receive a credit to initiate the trade.
For example, if a stock is trading at $100, a bull put spread could be opened by selling a put at the $95 strike price and buying a put at the $90 strike price. A bear call spread could be opened by selling a call at the $105 strike price and buying a call at the $110 strike price.
This creates a $5 wide iron condor centered at $100.
The iron condor realizes maximum profit if at expiration the underlying is between the short strikes, and the max loss occurs if the stock is above the long call or below the long put.
How an iron butterfly is different from an iron condor
The difference between the iron condor and iron butterfly amounts to structure and risk.
As you can see from the payoff diagrams above, iron condors have a wider profit zone than the iron butterfly. However, the iron butterfly has a higher profit potential than the iron condor.
Because the iron butterfly sells ATM options, it has higher vega exposure than the iron condor.
What strategy is better?
Neither strategy is necessarily better than the other. Which strategy a trader chooses depends on their outlook for volatility, directional bias, liquidity preference, and risk tolerance.
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