Articles Tagged with Iron Condors

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An options trading program marketed as a “Yield Enhancement” strategy to brokerage customers of UBS, reportedly including risk averse investors with substantial bond portfolios, has suffered a hard landing in November and December as the so-called “Iron Condor” index options spread-based scheme has reportedly delivered losses in excess of 20% of the capital committed.

Iron Condor Basics
UBS’s Yield Enhancement Strategy (“YES”) reportedly has over $5 billion under management and over 1,200 investors.  Investors in YES must agree to commit capital to the program, a so-called “mandate,” which may take the form of securities or cash.  The committed capital provides collateral for options spread trading in each investor’s account.  Although marketed to bond investors, the bonds held by each investor have nothing to do with the YES strategy other than serving as collateral for the options trades.  Some investors pledge other securities or cash as collateral for the YES program.

The YES strategy entails generating option premium income through the strategic sale and purchase of SPX (S&P 500) index option spreads.  This strategy, which is also sometimes referred to as an “Iron Condor” spread, involves writing two vertical options spreads – a bear call spread and a bull put spread.  Thus, this strategy entails four different options contracts, each with the same expiration date and differing exercise prices.  The “Iron Condor” strategy involves writing both a short put and a short call against the SPX, with these naked, or uncovered, options are designed to generate income for the investor via the receipt of premium.  Further, the “Iron Condor” strategy involves writing both a long put and long call against the SPX, with these trades, or options legs, designed to mitigate the risk associated with the uncovered options positions.

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money whirlpoolIn response to the low interest rate environment that has prevailed for a decade, many brokerage firms — including well-known wirehouses such as Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and UBS — have reportedly recommended various options strategies to their customers as supposedly safe and efficient mechanisms to enhance income.  However, when stock markets turn volatile, these strategies can quickly spiral into unexpected investment losses for retail investors — as recently occurred during a spike in stock market volatility that peaked on February 5, 2018.

Despite the risks embedded in options, particularly naked options, brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS have reportedly presented some retail investors with opportunities to engage in sophisticated, highly complex options strategies, often fraught with risk.  One such options strategy, marketed in some instances as a yield enhancement strategy (or “YES”), involves writing so-called iron condors through S&P 500 derived options.  In some instances, investors are steered into such strategies seeking the option premium income, without actually understanding the risks associated with options trading strategies.

When it comes to yield enhancement options strategies, perhaps the most commonly used financial instrument is the extremely well-known S&P 500 Index (“SPX”), a stock index based on the 500 largest companies whose stock is listed for trading on the NYSE or NASDAQ.  The Chicago Board Options Exchange (“CBOE”) is the exclusive provider of SPX options.  In this regard, CBOE provides a range of SPX options with varying settlement ranges and dates, including A.M. and P.M. settlement, weekly options and end-of-month options.  Significantly, because SPX is a theoretical index, an investor who engages in options trading using SPX will necessarily be engaging in uncovered, or naked, options trading.