Play the SPY Range With Condors

by Tyler Craig | February 8, 2013 9:54 am

This week ushered in a bout of profit-taking in a broad swath of countries outside the U.S. Two of the hardest-hit country ETFs were China (NYSE:FXI[1]) and Spain (NYSE:EWP[2]), falling 5.5% and 4.6%, respectively. Although the bulk of these foreign-focused ETFs remain firmly entrenched in weekly uptrends, the downturn caused some of them to fall beneath their 50-day moving averages.

For its part, the U.S.-based S&P 500 Index exhibited relative strength this week versus its foreign counterparts. While today might tip the scales one way or the other, the S&P 500 is essentially unchanged on the week. Despite its inability to gain or lose much ground, the large-cap-laden index has at least experienced an uptick in volatility in recent days. Unlike the entire month of January, where the market trudged higher seemingly every single day, February has mixed things up a bit with a few higher-volume down days thrown in for good measure.

Suppose you think the market is going to experience more range-bound behavior going forward — not really rocketing higher like January, but not crashing either. Entering iron condors might be the best way for you to position yourself in the coming month.

The iron condor is a popular four-legged strategy entered by placing a bull put spread and a bear call spread simultaneously. It’s essentially a bet that the market will remain within the short strikes of either vertical spread. If correct, you’re able to pocket the initial credit received at trade entry. If incorrect, your risk is limited to the distance between the strikes of one of the vertical spreads minus the net credit.

Here’s a play for April to consider.:

Sell the April 140-136 bull put spread on the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY[3]) and the April 157-161 call spread for a net credit of 81 cents or better.

Click to Enlarge
Provided SPY remains between $140 and $157, the condor will expire worthless at April expiration allowing you to capture the entire 81-cent premium. To minimize the risk, consider exiting the call spread if SPY rises above $157 or the put spread if SPY falls beneath $140.

Based on the accompanying risk graph, your risk would be contained to about $90 if you exit at either short strike price.

As of this writing, Tyler Craig did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. FXI:
  2. EWP:
  3. SPY:

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