Butterfly Spread

The butterfly spread is a neutral strategy that is a combination of a bull spread and a bear spread. It is a limited profit, limited risk options strategy. There are 3 striking prices involved in a butterfly spread and it can be constructed using calls or puts.

Butterfly Spread Construction
Buy 1 ITM Call
Sell 2 ATM Calls
Buy 1 OTM Call

Long Call Butterfly

Long butterfly spreads are entered when the investor thinks that the underlying stock will not rise or fall much by expiration. Using calls, the long butterfly can be constructed by buying one lower striking in-the-money call, writing two at-the-money calls and buying another higher striking out-of-the-money call. A resulting net debit is taken to enter the trade.

Butterfly Spread Payoff Diagram
Graph showing the expected profit or loss for the butterfly spread option strategy in relation to the market price of the underlying security on option expiration date.

Limited Profit

Maximum profit for the long butterfly spread is attained when the underlying stock price remains unchanged at expiration. At this price, only the lower striking call expires in the money.

The formula for calculating maximum profit is given below:

  • Max Profit = Strike Price of Short Call - Strike Price of Lower Strike Long Call - Net Premium Paid - Commissions Paid
  • Max Profit Achieved When Price of Underlying = Strike Price of Short Calls

Limited Risk

Maximum loss for the long butterfly spread is limited to the initial debit taken to enter the trade plus commissions.

The formula for calculating maximum loss is given below:

  • Max Loss = Net Premium Paid + Commissions Paid
  • Max Loss Occurs When Price of Underlying <= Strike Price of Lower Strike Long Call OR Price of Underlying >= Strike Price of Higher Strike Long Call

Breakeven Point(s)

There are 2 break-even points for the butterfly spread position. The breakeven points can be calculated using the following formulae.

  • Upper Breakeven Point = Strike Price of Higher Strike Long Call - Net Premium Paid
  • Lower Breakeven Point = Strike Price of Lower Strike Long Call + Net Premium Paid

Example

Suppose XYZ stock is trading at $40 in June. An options trader executes a long call butterfly by purchasing a JUL 30 call for $1100, writing two JUL 40 calls for $400 each and purchasing another JUL 50 call for $100. The net debit taken to enter the position is $400, which is also his maximum possible loss.

On expiration in July, XYZ stock is still trading at $40. The JUL 40 calls and the JUL 50 call expire worthless while the JUL 30 call still has an intrinsic value of $1000. Subtracting the initial debit of $400, the resulting profit is $600, which is also the maximum profit attainable.

Maximum loss results when the stock is trading below $30 or above $50. At $30, all the options expires worthless. Above $50, any "profit" from the two long calls will be neutralised by the "loss" from the two short calls. In both situations, the butterfly trader suffers maximum loss which is the initial debit taken to enter the trade.

Note: While we have covered the use of this strategy with reference to stock options, the butterfly spread is equally applicable using ETF options, index options as well as options on futures.

Commissions

Commission charges can make a significant impact to overall profit or loss when implementing option spreads strategies. Their effect is even more pronounced for the butterfly spread as there are 4 legs involved in this trade compared to simpler strategies like the vertical spreads which have only 2 legs.

If you make multi-legged options trades frequently, you should check out the brokerage firm OptionsHouse.com where they charge a low fee of only $0.15 per contract (+$4.95 per trade).

Similar Strategies

The following strategies are similar to the butterfly spread in that they are also low volatility strategies that have limited profit potential and limited risk.

Neutral Calendar Spread
Long Put Butterfly
Iron Condors

Short Butterfly

The converse strategy to the long butterfly is the short butterfly. Short butterfly spreads are used when high volatility is expected to push the stock price in either direction.

Long Put Butterfly

The long butterfly trading strategy can also be created using puts instead of calls and is known as a long put butterfly.

Wingspreads

The butterfly spread belongs to a family of spreads called wingspreads whose members are named after a myriad of flying creatures.

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