Options Trading - Diagonal Put Spreads

Balancing the trade-offs between risk and reward is front and center even as the markets recover from the depths COVID-19 induced sell-off. Options trading can offer the right balance between risk and reward while providing a margin of downside protection and a statistical edge. Proper portfolio construction and optimal risk management are essential when engaging in options trading as the main driver for portfolio results. One of the main pillars when building an options-based portfolio is maintaining a significant portion of cash-on-hand. This cash position provides the ability to rapidly adapt when faced with extreme market conditions such as COVID-19 and Q4 2018 sell-offs. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of why maintaining liquidity, risk-defining trades, staggering options expiration dates, trading across a wide array of uncorrelated tickers, maximizing the number of trades, appropriate position allocation and selling options to collect premium income are keys to an effective long-term options strategy.

Minimizing Risk and Maximizing Return

Leveraging a minimal amount of capital and maximizing returns with risk-defined trades optimizes the risk-reward profile. Whether you have a small account or a large account, a defined risk (i.e., put spreads and diagonal spreads) strategy enables you to leverage a minimal amount of capital which opens the door to trading virtually any stock on the market regardless of share price such as Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Chipotle (CMG), Facebook (FB), etc. Risk-defined options can easily yield double-digit realized gains over the course of a typical one month contract (Figures 1, 2, and 3).

Figure 1 – Average income per trade of $184, the average return per trade of 7.4% and 95% premium capture over 38 trades in May and June

Options trading
Figure 2 – Options win rate of 100% across 23 unique tickers using put spreads and diagonal spreads with an average length of each trade coming in at 13 days

Options trading
Figure 3 – Average return on investment (ROI) per trade of 8.2% using a risk defined strategy via leveraging a minimal amount of capital to maximize returns

An Effective Long-Term Options Strategy

Risk management is paramount when engaging in options trading. A slew of protective measures should be deployed if options are used as a means to drive portfolio results. When selling options and running an options-based portfolio, the following guidelines are essential (Figures 4 and 5):

      1. Trade across a wide array of uncorrelated tickers
      2. Maximize sector diversity
      3. Spread option contracts over various expiration dates
      4. Sell options in high implied volatility environments
      5. Manage winning trades
      6. Use defined-risk trades
      7. Maintains a ~50% cash level
      8. Maximize the number of trades, so the probabilities play out to the expected outcomes
      9. Continue to trade through all market environments
      10. Appropriate position sizing/trade allocation

Figure 4 – A composite of ~75 tickers that can be used as a means to trade uncorrelated tickers across diverse sectors. This list can be downloaded Options Trading Ticker List

Trade notification service
Figure 5 – Trade notification service example of a trade cluster that expired on a Friday - Trade Notification Service

Diagonal Put Spreads

Options are a leveraged vehicle; thus, minimal amounts of capital can be deployed to generate outsized gains with predictable outcomes. A diagonal put credit spread strategy is an ideal way to balance risk and reward in options trading. This strategy involves selling a put option and buying a put option while in the process, collecting a credit. When selling the put option, a premium is collected and simultaneously using some of that premium income to buy a further dated put option at a lower strike price. The net result will be a credit on the pair trade with defined risk since the purchase of the put option serves as protection.

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The required capital is equal to the maximum loss, while the maximum gain is equal to the option premium income received. If a put option is sold at a strike price of $100 and another put option is purchased at a strike of $95, then the max loss is strike width of $5 per share or $500 less the net premium received. Since the risk-defined approach has a max loss, the required capital is equivalent to the max loss. If the premium collected was $75, then the required capital would be $425, and at the expiration of the contact, an ROI of 18% is obtained for a winning trade.

10 rules for long-term success
Figure 6 – Fundamentals of options trading, 10 rules for long-term successful options trading results


Options are a leveraged vehicle; thus, minimal amounts of capital can be deployed to generate outsized gains with predictable outcomes. A diagonal put credit spread strategy is an ideal way to balance risk and reward in options trading. The COVID-19 black swan event reinforces why appropriate risk management is essential while holding cash-on-hand. The overall options-based portfolio strategy is to sell options that enable you to collect premium income in a high-probability manner while generating consistent income for steady portfolio appreciation despite market conditions. This options-based approach provides a margin of safety while mitigating drastic market moves and containing portfolio volatility.

Options trading is a long-term game that requires discipline, patience, and time. The COVID-19 black swan event reinforces why keeping liquidity, spreading out expiration dates, maximizing sector exposure, maximizing ticker diversity, risk defining trades, and continuing to sell options through all market conditions is essential. Continuing to stick to the fundamentals with defined risk trades via leveraging small amounts of capital to maximize profits is essential. Keeping a significant portion of your portfolio in cash is essential to the overall strategy.

Noah Kiedrowski
INO.com Contributor

Disclosure: The author holds shares in AAL, AAPL, AMC, AMZN, AXP, DIA, DIS, FB, GOOGL, HQY, JPM, KSS, MA, MSFT, QQQ, SPY, UPS and USO. However, he may engage in options trading in any of the underlying securities. The author has no business relationship with any companies mentioned in this article. He is not a professional financial advisor or tax professional. This article reflects his own opinions. This article is not intended to be a recommendation to buy or sell any stock or ETF mentioned. Kiedrowski is an individual investor who analyzes investment strategies and disseminates analyses. Kiedrowski encourages all investors to conduct their own research and due diligence prior to investing. Please feel free to comment and provide feedback, the author values all responses. The author is the founder of www.stockoptionsdad.com where options are a bet on where stocks won’t go, not where they will. Where high probability options trading for consistent income and risk mitigation thrives in both bull and bear markets. For more engaging, short duration options based content, visit stockoptionsdad’s YouTube channel.

2 thoughts on “Options Trading - Diagonal Put Spreads

  1. "Diagonal Put Spreads
    ...... A diagonal put credit spread strategy is an ideal way to balance risk and reward in options trading. This strategy involves selling a put option and buying a put option while in the process, collecting a credit."

    Is above as explained by you a diagonal Put Spread your title refers to? To me it looks like a simple Credit Put Spread. What's diagonal about it?

    1. Hi Burt

      It's a spin on a traditional put spread where the protection put is further dated and the two legs do not expire together. This provides more flexibility to avoid max losses, capture more than 100% premium since you can let the initial leg expire and sell-to-close the protection leg for any remaining value. This staggering of expiration dates also allows you to close the trade earlier in the option life cycle.

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