Unbalanced Condor Option Spread

  by Edward Laporte

Question: How can you profit from a potentially strong bull move while protecting yourself from a second bear wave?

Answer: A ratio (unbalanced condor)

Can anyone think of a good reason to throw caution to the wind and go long equities? Listening to the “experts” can leave you feeling fear and trepidation, even when the market is advancing. The only ones making serious money (without losing sleep) in recessions are psychiatrists prescribing Xanax.

The media is constantly comparing this recession to the Great Depression; however, this recession is not that far from the mean of other recessions when measured by unemployment, duration and GDP. For example, unemployment was higher (10.8%) in the 1981-82 recession. If you combined that with the shorter 1980 recession, it was longer in duration, too (see “The Great Depression and after,” below). There are plenty of reasons to be bullish:

  • The markets are up an average of 8.9% on a normal year, but are up an average of over 27% during a post mid-term year.
  • Historically, the best market advance was 44% (280.90 to 404.39). This happened in 1954 when we were in a recession.
  • The worst part of our current recession involving banking, foreclosures and unemployment appears to be behind us.

Even an optimist can find it emotionally difficult to be long a market under these circumstances. And to be fair, the depth of the economic downturn must be measured against the extraordinary interventions undertaken (TARP, quantitative easing, extended zero rate policy, etc.) to prevent an all out depression. The bottom line is there are many very smart people who believe the worst is yet to come even though this is historically a good time to get long. The answer to that dilemma may be the ratio condor, which allows you to profit from your bullish bias and sleep at night.

Iron condor options spread strategy

In this strategy, we sell a vertical call spread to receive a premium that we can use to purchase a wider vertical call spread with extra units to provide maximum profit potential. With the ratio condor, we trade the wide range of loss potential with a tighter range of loss. In this example, the position only loses money if the index does not move outside of a tight range after two months.

Using options on the Dow Jones Index (DJX) for simplicity, we can sell a slightly in-the-money vertical to pay for the purchase of a slightly out-of-the-money vertical, which is wider and has more units. With the DJX at 110.63 ( the Dow being at 11,063), we can use the following 60-day option chain to do two things:

  • Part A — Sell 10 contracts of the DJX December 111-113 call spread at $0.96, and
  • Part B — Buy 12 contracts of the DJX December 114-117 call spread for $0.82.

This trade will be done for a net 24¢ debit, or a total dollar debit of $24 before commissions (see “Putting on the trade,” below). You will notice from “Home on the profit range” (below) that the PNL graph shows this is an excellent solution. You can be long a market that you believe will go higher, while remaining very protected on the downside. We win the battle of mind over emotions while setting ourselves up to make a decent profit.

A “ratio condor” (aka unbalanced condor) is a strategy designed to profit from the upside potential you are expecting while protecting your downside. It will allow you to sleep at night, even with fears of the floor dropping out at any time.

It can be initiated with a bearish stance simply by reversing the process and utilizing put options instead of call options.


Iron condor strategies

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  1. Brian on December 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    if move slide down to the MAX loss range, i.e 111-113, we loss 1.2k. If we believe market will move instead of stay, why not just buy straddle(when vol low) or short calendar(when vix high) ?

  2. Brian on December 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Also, the total money locked by this position is 10*200+1000~=3000

    • Genius on December 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

      That’s because it is an unbalanced position. The margin rules on unbalanced trades changed recently. The brokers are now holding more money for the trade than the max loss. It’s weird but something we have to deal with. The same thing happens in Broken Wing Butterflies

  3. jim obrien on December 20, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    lets give it a try. i am willing.

  4. biggs on December 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Looks promising on the DJX after plugging in the numbers on TOS software. Not so good on the RUT tho, I’m not sure why there is such a big difference unless I entered some numbers wrong.

  5. Dean on December 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    This reminds me of another unbalanced condor, the
    “Put Condor, With A Twist” that occurred back in January
    this year:


    13,600 contracts …. yikes!

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